Exclusive: BBC Producer William Mager talks about See Hear and answers your questions

Posted on August 21, 2013


Regular readers will know that William Mager is a deaf director, film maker and contributor to the The Limping Chicken. Our Editor Charlie Swinbourne caught up with him this week to talk about his new job. You can ask your questions too as William is on stand-by today to answer your questions in the comments. 

Hi William, tell us what you’re up to?

I’m the new Series Producer at See Hear. I’m only the second deaf person in its 33 year history to lead the programme since Terry Riley stepped down as Series Editor in 2008.

My role is basically to decide, with the Executive Producer and Forward Planning Producer, what content goes into the programmes we make in a series – and then how to make that happen within budget, on schedule and with as little pain and suffering as possible to produce the best programme we can!

I have to wear a lot of different hats in the job. On the editorial side of things, along with the forward planning team I help come up with ideas for the series and then decide which ones we’re going to run with . I decide who is going to work on those stories and then I oversee the research and scripting, make sure the filming is scheduled at the right time, then view the edits and give feedback, monitoring the programmes all the way through the final dub and subtitling to the online finish.

Then there’s the budgeting, the staffing, dealing with editorial and legal issues, dealing with compliance paperwork, writing the billings for each programme… I think it’s fair to say my days can be quite busy at times. That’s why I start checking work emails at 8am each day.

Luckily, I have a really talented team of deaf and hearing production coordinators, researchers and directors to work with – all of whom work really hard to tight turnarounds and even tighter budgets. Most importantly we have Caroline O’Neill, the Forward Planning Producer who constantly finds new stories, whilst keeping existing stories going so that we always have something to film at any given time. Without her I think things might fall apart pretty quickly.

What are your ambitions for the programme?

At the moment I’m just an interim manager, like Rafael Benitez at Chelsea – I’ve taken over the last 3rd of the series from the outgoing SP Sarah Tavner, who’s done a great job so far. If I can get through to the end of this series with my sanity intact, and the powers that be think I’ve done a good job, I’d love the opportunity to do a full series next year.

That would be when I could try and influence changes in how we make the programme, and think about different ways of doing things.

How will it change this series

Some of the changes have already been made. See Hear is no longer ‘boxed’. It’s a full screen programme again, and the in vision signer appears against a full screen background. Some viewers didn’t like the ‘boxed’ format of See Hear of the last few years, so hopefully people will respond positively to that change.

There are some other changes that you might spot – the title sequence might be a bit different.

We’ve got some great stories coming up this series.

Hard hitting topics like mental health, drinking, the decline in teachers of the deaf; alongside some more thought provoking progs like a studio debate on cochlear implants, an update on the exciting research that’s being done into the deaf brain; and some quirky profiles on a deaf woman who runs a cat spa, a nonagenarian motoring enthusiast, and more.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s something for everyone in the programme.

Tell us about your history of working on See Hear?

I’ve put in a lot of years on See Hear! I first started as a researcher in 2003, helping other directors out with their films. Then I picked up a camera and started self shooting (badly) for deaf news segments on the programme. I then left the BBC to work for VEE TV as an insert director, returned to See Hear as an AP. I moved on from See Hear to Watchdog, The Culture Show, Crimewatch, and other mainstream progs within the BBC.

Then the last couple of years I worked as a Producer/Director on See Hear out of Birmingham and Bristol, and am now acting up as a Series Producer.

When I look back on my time as a researcher and director on See Hear, I’m really grateful for the opportunities I was given by Terry Riley and by others to make films, and to get the training and development opportunities that enabled me to get to this point. I’m hoping I can do the same for the next generation of deaf people who want to work in the media. I’ve already seen the likes of David Hay and Erika Jones flourish at See Hear, which is really nice to see.

What’s it like working away from home? 

Now that See Hear is based in Bristol, I work away from my London home four days a week. I live out of a hotel room round the corner from the office. I don’t like being away from my family – in fact on Wednesdays I start to really miss my wife and son – but this just makes my weekends more precious than ever before. And I feel really lucky and privileged to be able to do this job, and to have my name on those end credits as Series Producer.

You’re also a filmmaker, how is making SH different to directing dramas?

Factual television is harder to make than drama. With drama you control every aspect of production from the people you put in front of the camera, the size of the shot, every single word that people say… with documentaries there are a lot of unknowns – and the story you set out to film is often very different from the story you end up with!

There are so many factors which are out of your control, but sometimes those mean you end up with an even better film than you expected. There are times when it can be very stressful though – and I always try to make it less so for the team whenever I can.

Why do we still need See Hear?

Deaf and hard of hearing people are under-represented on television and elsewhere. Their concerns, their issues, their day to day lives aren’t addressed in the mainstream, and while we’re seeing a growing number of deaf people in drama and on other factual programmes, this still lags some way behind other minority groups.

For 33 years, See Hear’s recorded and represented the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people – their battles, their campaigns, their day to day lives. Whether speaking, signing, deafened, deafblind, CODA or hard of hearing, See Hear’s tried to give them a voice. Deaf people in other countries round the world look to See Hear as an inspiration, and try to emulate it in their own broadcasting.

At a time when services, funding and general quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people are being gradually eroded, I feel that there’s a need for a programme like See Hear now more than ever, to continue giving a minority its voice.

At the same time, people shouldn’t take See Hear for granted. So use the programme. Interact with us through email, facebook, talk about us on twitter. Tell us what we’re doing right. Tell us what we’re doing wrong. We’re listening.

How can people watch the next series?

We’re back on Wednesday 18th September at 10.30am on BBC Two. We’ll be on iPlayer too, and the repeat is the following week after midnight. Check your listings.

You can find out more about the content of each programme by checking http://www.bbc.co.uk/seehear and looking at our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/bbcseehear

William is answering questions in the comments today – please feel free to put your questions to him about See Hear and allow a little time for moderation (but only a little).

Questions put by Charlie Swinbourne. Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and an award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, pennedMy SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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