Madonna Benjamin, documentary executive - Careers - Stylist Magazine

Madonna Benjamin, documentary executive

The One Born Every Minute executive producer's day

Madonna Benjamin, 46, is Channel 4’s executive producer for One Born Every Minute. She lives in Highgate with her husband Lawrence, a charity lawyer, and their two children, Miriam, 12, and Ben, 10

I get up at 6.30am and I’ve got my shower and dressing routine down to 15 minutes. I rotate set work outfits, mixing black and grey pieces from Agnès b and Jigsaw, and throw my hair up into a French twist, which people think takes ages but only takes 30 seconds. I have muesli before walking my son to school at 8.30am, looking forward to a takeaway coffee from my favourite cafe, Lantana in Fitzrovia.

As a freelance executive producer, I’ve been hired by Channel 4 to work on One Born Every Minute, The Hotel and 24 Hours In A&E, overseeing the editing process for each series. I love hearing people’s stories so I’ve always been attracted to working on documentaries. It’s my job to ensure that the shows are as moving and entertaining as possible.

Series three of One Born..., currently on air, was filmed at Leeds General Infirmary using two or three cameras in each room and was directed from an outside broadcast unit so they were unobtrusive. Part of the reason the series has been so popular is down to the humour of the midwives behind the scenes.

During just one month of filming there were the most incredible stories that reflect Britain today – from an older man and a very young woman, to a Mormon couple and a father about to go on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

My mornings are spent in edit suites in Soho, which are like mini hotel rooms with a sofa, lots of screens and computers, so we can view different bits of the programme.

I meet the people working on each production – executive producer, director, editor and series producer – to watch each episode. I view up to three episodes in a sitting – after that I tend to zone out! The first viewing is a ‘rough cut’ – at that point we can still make radical changes, such as moving around the order. I give suggestions on how I think the episode can be improved. I watch and give feedback on each episode three times, so for a series such as One Born... with 14 episodes, I’ll attend 42 viewings.

The key to making programmes work is to look at what to focus on – the interesting thing isn’t the medical stuff, it’s the human aspect. We often do follow-up interviews to find out more about the relationships. For example, in episode 11 we interview the mother of a gay woman having a baby by IVF, who said that it took her 10 years to come to terms with the fact that her daughter is gay, but now she is incredibly proud.

As my job involves so much sitting down, I love walking from Soho through St James’s Park to Channel 4, picking up a sandwich for lunch en route. In the afternoon I meet with press and publicity. We’re conscious that the shots must maintain the dignity of the women, so the legal team sign off every episode. Viewings with the families usually go smoothly – they might ask for a few scenes to be taken out but normally people are happy with what they see.

What I love about documentaries is finding the emotion and humour in the everyday. My favourite One Born... was about people who went through tough times before having a baby – I had three miscarriages before our first child, so I had a lump in my throat watching it.

I work three and a half days a week, so some days I pick my son up from school at 4pm but the rest of the time I finish at 6.30pm. Lawrence and I have been together for many years but we still like to carve out time to have dinner together – I make an effort to cook, light a candle and have a glass of dry white wine before going to bed at 11.30pm.

One Born Every Minute is on Wednesdays at 9pm on Channel 4

Tags: TV

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