Alumnus Gub Neal (English Literature and American Studies 1981)

Award winning producer talks shows, advice and volunteering

Alumnus Gub Neal (English Literature and American Studies 1981) is an award-winning producer and former head of Drama for Channel 4. 

Gub recently came to Exeter to speak to XTV, the student television station, giving them advice and guidance on how to break into the sector. We caught up with him to find out more about his career and learn what inspired him to volunteer his time.

My big break came from moving from theatre to television

After my degree, I founded a theatre company working on small productions to a tiny budget and supported myself working as a festival organiser. After a few years I applied for a role at the BBC, it is very difficult to get your foot in the door and I must have written to them at least 12 times. Eventually I believe it was my previous experience working as a clown as part of my theatre work which set me apart and secured me a place!

I then took roles as a floor manager and assistant director but all the time had my eye on moving to the script side of production as I was more interested in the idea orientated creativeness of script design and ultimately producing, rather than the mechanics of making the show.

I gained a role in Granada (now part of ITV) and had my first opportunity to produce a show, it was a hospital drama called ‘Medics’ which was ultimately successful and ran for 5 years. After this baptism of fire I had the opportunity to produce a number of different shows and started to develop myself as a freelancer.

Building my experience I worked as Head of Drama for Granada and then Channel 4, working on a range of shows such as Prime Suspect and particularly focused on pushing into America, remaking British shows for the US market. Ultimately however I decided that I wanted a more hands on approach to producing and so set up Box TV where we worked on series for the BBC and Channel 4 such as The Last enemy with Benedict Cumberbatch and Wind in the Willows. I then moved on to found Artists Studio, where I currently work, producing and co-producing shows both in the UK and internationally.

Although invested in all my shows, Cracker is the show I am proudest of

Of all the shows I produced, the one I am perhaps most proud of is Cracker, starring Robbie Coltrane. I had developed the idea of the show almost as an anti-detective show, going against the grain of usual crime dramas. It featured a detective who was an alcoholic and chain smoker, foul-mouthed and sarcastic. As such it was a huge risk but ultimately one that paid off and it received brilliant recognition with Robbie Coltrane winning the BAFTA for Best Actor three years in a row.

My advice is to be proactive and gain the most experience you can

I think that it is so important for people who would like to get into this line of work to be proactive in developing their skills, no matter how modest their budget is or how small their production.  Waiting for an opportunity to fall into your lap is not going to work. The skills you develop yourself are ultimately what will give you a chance at securing that first job and getting a foot in the door.

I cannot imagine doing anything else

I have always been creative, I wrote my first play when I was eight and forced all of my friends to take parts in acting it out. From that point on I knew I wanted a job which would allow me to tell and realise stories.

My degree gave me a good background in literature, arts and history which is really important knowledge in my line of work, helping you to create, find and shape your story.

I volunteer out of loyalty and the desire to share my experiences

I have great loyalty to Exeter as it was able to give me fantastic experiences, the teaching was superb and I have great respect for the academics here. Exeter also gave me the opportunity to undertake an exchange to Berkeley California which was an amazing experience and one I don’t think I would have got anywhere else.

With volunteering I feel strongly that, once you are a professional and have had the benefit of several years of experience, you have a responsibility to share the knowledge you have gained with those just starting out. It is also important to note that volunteering is never a one way street and you always get something back for it. Meeting students and speaking to them is very inspiring and it is exciting to hear their perspective on the world and their ideas for the future. 

Date: 23 November 2017

Read more University News