Nutopia is a new television production company specialising in large-scale history and science documentaries. This is an opportunity for several interns to become a valued part of an energetic production team, working on a new landmark history series for one of the UK's biggest TV channels. Nutopia offers MA Public History students month long placement to help research stories, themes, locations and interviewees, and experience the inner-workings of a large-scale TV production from the very beginning of the creative process.
Intern Imogen Middleton shared her experience:
"I’ve always loved watching history documentaries, and have long been interested in how they are made. When Nutopia offered me a fantastic 3 week internship with them, as an historical researcher and assistant script producer, I leapt at the chance. The internship offered the opportunity to experience life inside a proper London-based television production company, and allowed me to see how I could utilise me undergraduate History and MA Public History degrees outside the academic environment.
I spent my 3 weeks attached to the production and editorial team, who were working on a 6-part series for PBS (the big American TV network) and BBC2, currently entitled ‘Big Ideas with Steven Johnson’. This series focuses on big ideas that have changed the world, over time, and how they have led to other key inventions and innovations. For example, I worked on episodes about ‘Light’ (from the invention of the light bulb to lasers), ‘Cold’ (the ability to keep food cold etc.) and ‘Time’. Being an historical researcher involved being able fact check existing scripts quickly, providing the team with trustworthy and reliable sources of information; in addition, unearthing quirky, interesting stories that would help the piece together the scripts for other episodes. I also aided the team by crafting potted biographies of all the key inventors, to be featured in the episodes about ‘Light’ and ‘Time’, carefully selecting the stories that would make for fascinating viewing: the quirky facts and significant events in each historical figure’s life.
One particularly challenging task involved having to create a train journey from San Francisco to New York, as if I was travelling in the 1870s, before America standardised its time. This took days of research and brain-ache, just trying to work out the extremely complicated time differences across all towns and cities, as they would have been in the time period. Along my route, I had to find out which railroad companies operated on various railroad tracks, and in which cities I would have to change trains. Before 1883, everywhere in America ran on its own local time, which could differ in a matter of miles. So, if you were to travel in 1870, by train, the time on your watch would become irrelevant from the moment you left the station. To complicate matters further, train companies all rain on different local times too, making it very easy to miss connections, and have really no idea what time it was anywhere. After reading countless sources, and telephoning American museums, I reckon I am currently the world expert in 1870s railroad travel! Look out for all this in the ‘Time’ episode, as my work ‘made the cut’….3 days of research compacted into 90 seconds!
In addition to this, I was involved in many other interesting tasks. In my first week, one of the teams was just about to head off for a 3 week shoot in Dubai and New York, and so I was on hand to research photograph copyright and location scout for historical buildings. This involved calls to the New York Historical Society, and various emails to archives across the UK and US. Just before this particular team set off on their filming adventure, I sat in on an Assistant Producer meeting, where I discovered just how complicated it is to create just one segment of one episode. The team had to liaise with local fixers, location scouts, a freelance cameraman and Director of Photography, as well as making sure the presenter knew what he was doing and where he needed to be. It was incredibly insightful and definitely something that piqued my interest."