The Irishwoman ‘putting a human face on the work of the UN’

Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Grace Barrett, originally from Dublin, who lives in New York, shares her experience of working as a TV producer for the United Nations.

When did you leave Ireland?

I left Ireland in the spring of 2009. I’m endlessly curious about other places and cultures, and I felt New York, a diverse city of immigrants, offered many opportunities to work in creative fields. I was fortunate to be a dual Irish/US citizen since birth, so America was always an option, and I decided to take the leap.

Did you study in Ireland? Where?

I studied in UCD, obtaining a BA in English and Philosophy, and an MA in Modern English Literature. While teaching in China the year before I started my MA, my mind opened to the possibility of further experiences living abroad.

Have you done any training or studying in New York?

Yes – in video editing and camerawork at New York University, and I also took several courses at the Downtown Community Television Center. Editing software and camera technology is modernising all the time, so keeping up with these developments has become vital in the industry. The profile of writers and producers has changed a lot in recent years, especially in digital video production as the expectation is not only to write and direct but also to master skills in filming and editing. I used to consider this something I had to do to get the jobs I wanted, with my true interests more firmly fixed on the writing and development side, but I loved filming and editing as creative endeavours in themselves.

To create your own films from start to finish is empowering. However, I still think writing, filming and editing are separate professions that should be honoured as such, given the depth of expertise they demand. Also, you can gain a lot more in creative collaboration with a DP and an Editor when they add their own styles to the mix.

Tell us about your career there?

It all kicked off when I met a film director at the Tribeca film festival soon after arriving in New York. He put me in touch with the company that had produced his latest film. I interned with them for six months, mostly on the development side, doing script treatments and optioning rights to films. After that, I interned in the Television Features Section at the United Nations, now named UN Video, my current place of work for the last six years. To finance the internships, I worked evenings and weekends, alongside aspiring models and actors and other interns of all descriptions.

The UN has complex eligibility criteria for staff positions, so for a year I worked in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations editing diplomatic correspondence such as code cables (a fascinating experience, largely classified!) until a contract with UN Video came up.

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