Edinburgh: The talent-spotters' view

by Shane Murphy, FremantleMedia Enterprises

It’s the perennial problem of the Fringe talent spotter: You're sitting in the front row of a tiny Fringe venue, at six or seven in the evening, it’s baking hot, and this is the fifth show you’ve seen today.  And try as you might, you can’t help it, you start nodding off.

You just can’t stay awake, and you know that the second you’ve been spotted by the act, everybody's going to be upset.  It’s not nice for the talent and it’s certainly not nice being seen in public as a middle-aged drooler.

And despite such hazards, I’m back in Edinburgh for another week of back-to-back shows, trying to cram in seven or eight performances a day. And this time I’ll be bringing my cheque book, or to be more precise, FremantleMedia Enterprises’ cheque book.

So what’s a TV distribution company like us doing hanging around at the Edinburgh Fringe, when we are usually selling programmes like American Idol and The X Factor? Well, we’ve always had a powerful comedy presence, thanks to the Thames TV back catalogue, and over the past three years, we’ve been busily re-establishing the company as a developer of comedy talent, with the reach and international clout to get projects on to TV.

As part of that, I have been coming to the Fringe for three years now to keep an eye on what’s going on, and to reaffirm our commitment to supporting comedy talent.

However, this year is slightly different. One of our main aims is to spot specific ideas or shows, whether it’s just one sketch out of an entire hour, or a unique character a performer is working on, and to provide development money, so that they can knock it into a shape that’s presentable to a broadcaster.  Basically, to nurture the talent.

When asked what top tips I'd have for talent and Fringe newcomers, I'd say that when it comes to networking, an awful lot gets done in the bars. And once again, we’re sponsoring the Assembly Rooms club bar.

Another top tip would be for the act to start and finish on time, because a lot of people in the audience have another show to go to, and they can end up leaving before your grand finale - which does tend to take the wind out of any performer’s sails.

I also learnt a valuable lesson the first year I was at the Fringe. Always make sure that when you’re going from show to show, that the next one is either close by or in the same venue. I spent an entire week running from one side of the city to the other. I’m sure it contributed to the nodding off.

Having said all that, I'm not whining – it’s a privileged way to spend a week or two. And one of my personal highlights is being able to see a show purely because I just love this person’s stand-up. Those close to my heart include anything by Daniel Kitson, plus We Are Klang, because it’s the most inspired, old-fashioned, anarchic silliness, in a 1980s, Freddie Starr kind of way.

There are a few others but I’m keeping them to myself for now because we want to sign them up before anybody else does.

Shane Murphy, Head of Acquisitions and Development, FremantleMedia Enterprises is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until August 24.

Published: 21 Aug 2008

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