Iris Interview: Jeannette Francis of The Feed (SBS2, Australia)

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Currently celebrating “drug week”, Larry Heath caught up with Jeannette Francis from SBS2’s current affairs series The Feed to talk about the week, a taste of what’s to come before this series comes to an end – and we celebrate the fact SBS has commissioned the series to return in 2014, doubling its length from 15 minutes a night to 30!

So what’s happening this week on The Feed’s Drug Week?

Well, there’s a shitload happening! There’s a whole bunch of stuff happening. The briefs we were given were just that we were doing this week about drugs. But we wanted it to be as lateral as possible. So moving away from the clich√© stories about addiction, and look at it from different angles. And so that’s been our goal for the week.

So tonight for example, there’s a magazine in Denmark that’s kind of like The Big Issue for drug addicts. So you have heroin addicts you sell the magazine, openly on the streets. And the money they get from it goes to fund their heroin addiction. And people actually buy it! The guy who started this was saying, OK, if we’ve got people who are shooting up heroin on the streets, and they’re having to steal to feed their addiction, or they have to do X, Y or Z, we should create something they can sell instead.

Andy (Park) is doing that story, that was shot in Denmark by one of our reporters who was over there. And then we’ve got a piece on The Pill, with a whole bunch of amazing infographics. We have an amazing graphics department if I do say so myself! Believe me… it’s absolutely true. So we’ve put together a graphics info piece on the pill. There’s a lot of things in there that I didn’t know… I had no idea some of these things were the case! And being a lady, you’d expect me to know!

And so that’s just one show… yesterday we had a story that I filmed about pets on prozac. This increasing trend of giving pets drugs to curb things like separation anxiety. So there’s a whole bunch of quirky stories… and some a bit more solid, too. There’s one I’m working on for later this week that’s about MDMA being used to treat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), particularly with war veterans. It’s not happening in Australia just yet but there’s a group trying to get a trial up and running in Australia, trying to emulate a US trial. We spoke to someone in LA who swears by it.

This is a week that’s keeping us very busy, and very informed on drugs!

So what’s the lifespan of a week like this? At what point did you get the pitch that allowed for filming in Denmark and the like?

You’re looking at about four weeks of production… so six weeks would be the absolute max for the initial pitch. And you’ve got to keep in mind we’ve got other stories happening during that period too. So it’s pretty much a mental note that – OK in six weeks we have the week of stories on drugs, and four weeks out we decide what we’re going to do and we work our filming in Denmark or whatever we need to do. In the meantime you’re covering other stories and features in the weeks leading up to it.

What’s one of the biggest challenges for you with this style of daily current affairs style journalism?

Well, I come from a news background, so that’s not a problem for me at all. The challenge for me was working on those slightly longer term features, and really having to manage your time to meet deadlines. They’re sort of self-imposed deadlines, so they can be a bit harder to adhere to, so they can be a bit more lax I guess? So it’s sort of been a bit of the opposite. I relish when I do the daily stories, even with a bit of pressure during the day for the turn around, over the longer, extended deadlines. Day-to-day pieces you come in, you pitch, you film, edit, voice over and then you’re done and you go home. Longer features you often end up taking your work home with you, and thinking about it over dinner instead of living your life! It all seeps in… so it’s been a bit of time management that has been a challenge.

In terms of content coming up, is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?

I’m working on a piece about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve been lucky enough to get an invitation to go out to their main Kingdom Hall in Western Sydney, and actually be there for one of their sessions – not quite a mass, you wouldn’t really call it that. I’ve been working with a family of preachers that go out… the kids are 14 and 17… really into what they do, really committed into this way of life. And that’s the next story I’ve got coming along.

And we’ve already shot a piece on Esperanto… it’s that made up diplomatic language that someone created a hundred years ago in the hopes that the whole world would speak this one utopian language. Which I don’t think has happened! For me, those two stories are quite exciting, and with only four weeks left of this series, that will just about bring us up to the end of the year!

And then next year – congratulations – you’ll be doubling your time on the screen!

Yeah you’ll be getting double of us next year! So sorry about that! Yeah that was pretty good news. We were anticipating to see what sort of changes woudl happen next year. we didn’t know for sure it would be commissioned… all we knew was that we were commissioned until the end of this year. So not only did we keep our jobs and get re-commissioned, but we got… more of a job! So that was great news. I can’t say having a job feels bad.

The Feed screens weeknights at 7.30pm on SBS2. You can also follow them on Twitter at @TheFeedSBS2.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.