As part of the Beyond Reality interview series, I interviewed Supervising Producer, Katie Horbury who carved out her TV career in the UK before moving to the US and finding further success there. She shares her stories of growing up in the small UK town of Pontefract, chasing her dreams of working in TV from London to LA and everything in between. Katie has worked on production including Big Brother UK, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (UK and Australia) and Love Island US.
To listen to the full interview, check out the Beyond Reality podcast here: Beyond Reality – Katie Horbury or find it under Beyond Reality in your favourite podcast app.
Hayley Ferguson: When I wanted to do this second series, I wanted to have more of a focus on people that have experience outside of Australia and you’ve obviously worked in the UK, you’ve worked in Australia and now you’re also working in the US so, I guess you’ve kind of done it all! So what I like to ask people is, did you always want to work in TV?
Katie Horbury: I think I just wanted to do something big! I guess it’s middle child syndrome – I needed to be seen… so when Big Brother started in the UK, I was in high school, and I was obsessed. I just thought it was the best thing ever I was so addicted to it. Back then – yeah I would have definitely wanted to work on it, but I just never really thought I could. You know, I was in this little town in the north of England called Pontefract. I didn’t even know you could study the media until I got to college and then it became an actual possibility. But yeah, I always wanted to do something. I even applied for the police and all kinds of random stuff, I thought about going in the Navy once!
And was TV kind of non-existent in Pontefract?
I mean like the most exciting thing in life in Pontefract was when the local news filmed at Pontefract castle – which is basically ruins like three bricks and some grass. They filmed a big festival there and the local news came, and I remember sitting at home and we could see my brothers head, like tiny tiny dot in the corner, we were all screaming like Mark was on TV, this is amazing! That was like the biggest thing that ever happened in Pontefract. So yeah, my TV career certainly wasn’t gonna take off from home.
So at what point did you actually think of television as a realistic career option?
At high school we studied media and we watched an episode of Faulty Towers and studied it. I didn’t know you could even study that so, I just loved it. I loved everything about it. The way we were talking about it, I thought like everyone would want to work in TV. Just assumed that’s what everyone wanted to do. Then I went to college I realised I could take media studies as a subject, and they had a whole fake studio, going to an open day at college and finding out you can actually study this stuff I was just like so happy! I just knew then that’s what I wanted to do. I went to university and studied Media and Communication and I specialised in Film and TV. I wrote my dissertation about Lost. It was the best degree ever!
Once you finished uni, what happened next?
Well that’s the funny thing – so I leave uni thinking okay, I got a first in my degree, then no-one asked me about it – ever! Then because I’d done X Factor work experience and I did Big Brother as well while I was at uni, I left thinking I’m sure I’ll get a job soon. Like honestly a year later, I’m like still at my mum’s, I was working in a petrol station, a two minute walk away form my mum’s house and I honestly used to stand looking out the window thinking I’m gonna grow old and die in this petrol station. This is not what my life was gonna be. It’s not what I thought, I’d gone from X Factor to petrol. It was really stressful. But then eventually y’know you persevere and you persevere. I knew I had to get to London. That was my thing. I couldn’t be in a small town, even if I didn’t work in TV, it was still my goal to get there. Then a friend from uni ended up working on a show, and she got me on it for 4 weeks. My mum was freaking cause I was like I’m doing it [I’m moving to London] I’m just gonna go and wing it!
That’s the thing though, television is so hard to break into and it’s all about timing and connections and being in the right place at the right time.…You’re not in a place where there are opportunities, so you don’t have money to live in the most expensive cities in the world where the opportunities are. It’s a catch 22.
It’s a difficult industry to get in to, I was embarrassed to tell people in Pontefract that I wanted to work in TV because it was just to ridiculous to anyone at home. Or if I told them they’d be like oh great, but I know they were thinking yeah good luck, like no chance, haha! But I will say for all the doubter and as many people who said oh you don’t know anyone that works in TV, I was like, well then I’ll go and meet some people who work in TV. I never had the attitude that I couldn’t get there. Until after a year of sending emails and I started to think okay, maybe I can’t. I was always just so determined and as soon as I had studied it and met people and knew people that worked in TV it felt more achievable. And you’re right it is timing and it is difficult but then as soon as you get one step closer or one thing happens, you start getting really creative about how your going to contact people and what you’re going to say, and how your going to connect yourself to people. I used to go through the credits of the shows I want to work on and I’d work out people’s email addresses from the credits and email them. You only need one person to consider you. You can send hundreds and hundreds [of emails] but eventually someone will need you. Someone will get sick, or someone will not turn up to a shoot. That’s how you’ll get in.
How many emails do you think you would have sent, in that first year out of uni?
Oh honestly I just had this massive list of contacts, and I just added and added and added to it…I sent hundreds like literally.
During that time, did you ever lose your passion or question whether TV was the right way to go?
I think I started to, towards the end of the year I started to think about what if this doesn’t happen? It’s hard! To this day it’s an industry where you think you’re never gonna work again and the next minute you’re like on top of the world. And then – every job you have is five or six weeks long, and then you have down time in the middle. You don’t spend money in the down time, you’re sending out resumes, sending out emails trying to get the next job and then the next job comes up and it’s like can you start tomorrow? And you wish you enjoyed those two weeks more that I just had off. It’s just so unpredictable, it really messes with you!
You moved to London off the back of landing your first role in TV, tell me about that?
It was an assistant, like a runner. So I was literally going to the supermarket, buying snacks for the crew, water, labelling tapes, it was so minor but they just need an extra pair of hands there sometimes – like holding people behind doors while they’re interviewing people and helping with lights, all the odd jobs. It’s like when you start out though, you’re in the perfect position. If you’re a runner, you’re in the thick of everything that’s going on. So you’re looking after presenters, you’re looking after guests, you obviously have no control at all over the content, but you see it, so you just learn so much. Once you become a researcher and an assistant producer, you’re not quite so involved in every single aspect of the show. At the time it feels like you just want to move up and just want to be doing more but it’s the best time of your life. You can work on a show, if there’s ten runners on a big studio show, you just have the best time because you’ve got no responsibility. Even though you feel like you’ve got the responsibility of the world on your shoulders, because you’re a runner and you just want to make a good impression and move up and go somewhere quickly but I look back now like man wish I enjoyed those times a bit more!
What were those first years of working in TV like for you? Was there a pivotal moment?
At first I was doing a lot of casting researcher jobs, where you’d cast a show, go on the shoot, I didn’t really want to do casting though.I learnt so much from that whole process, so I totally appreciate the casting side of the industry and the people who do that, but I just wanted to produce. I wanted to be more involved in the story and the editorial, than the casting. And then I got to casting assistant producer, and I was trying to move over to just assistant producing that’s not in the casting realm. I’d known that there’s an assistant producer job, that’s based in the gallery on Big Brother, and I just always wanted to do it, and I’d write to them all the time and stuff. I finally got an interview, and I didn’t get the job. I was so upset. I just thought ahh that was my chance to get out of casting and to move into producing. That was the perfect gig! And then…two weeks later someone dropped out and they called back and offered me the job. And I feel like that changed everything! It changed my path, everything that’s on my CV since then is off the back of that show. As well as just learning how to produce. I always say this, I’m so thankful to be able to work on that show and I moved up to producer on Big Brother as well, and in that producer role, you produce in the gallery, you produce story and you produce in the edit. Which is quite unheard of really. Especially in America like people only tend to do one job here, mostly, so to get that experience of seeing every single part of how the whole show is put together, from so early in my career, it was the best grounding I could have asked for. It was the best show to learn on and everything I’ve done since then, always comes back to how that worked. Everything I learnt there, I’m so thankful for. And I got to be the voice of Big Brother so I was like insanely happy, haha. I’m Big Brother this is wild, haha!
You’ve had a career, working all over the world on some of the biggest shows, what advice would you give someone starting out in Television?
Well firstly I always say, if anyone tells you you can’t, ergh, it’s irrelevant! You can! I was from this tiny town, where no-one thought, including me, that for a second I would actually be able to do it. But the second you get out into the world, every reason someone has for why you won’t be able to do it, just turn it on its head. If someone said to me oh to work in TV you have to know people who work in TV. So then go meet some people that work in TV. Work out where they’re going to be, put yourself in that environment. If you really, really want to do it, and you listen to things like these podcasts and it motivates you and inspires you to want to be in that environment and in that world, then you will find creative ways to get yourself there. Just get yourself in the environment. Talk to people. Don’t be afraid to tell people it’s what you want to do. Cause someone will know someone. Someone will help you, at some point!
This was an excerpt from my interview with Katie Horbury for the Beyond Reality Podcast, click here to listen to the full interview.
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Katie Horbury is an LA-based supervising producer who has worked extensively in television across UK, Australian and US productions including I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! (Australia and UK), Big Brother (UK), Celebrity Big Brother (UK), The Only Way is Essex, Love Island (US) and Wrap Battle (US).
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