After handing in my final assignment in 2010, I only stayed at Lincoln for another month. I was tempted to stay longer of course and make use of the University’s equipment and try to delay the realisation that my student life was over, but I was pretty confident that I was going to get a job in London, or at least an internship quite quickly. How hard can that be, I thought. After an intense final year to complete a 50 minute television drama on a student budget, I thought I was prepared for anything. Looking back now, I was unbelievably naïve.
When I arrived back home, I got to work on applying for internships, runner jobs, I was even applying for production management jobs, camera operators, edit assistants, PAs and researcher positions. I was confident I could do all of this but of course, no matter how much you’ve done yourself, learnt at Uni, produced your own films, you have to start at the bottom.
At Uni, I discovered my strength was in pre-production. I love scriptwriting, researching, casting etc. I wasn’t one of those students who picked up their camera and shot an arty, indie, four minute short film. I wish I was and wish I could. I would write scripts in my spare time, and that was it.
Graduation soon came round and I was still unemployed, dreams of me saying to friends and lecturers that I’m working on next year’s Hollywood blockbuster with Spielberg shattered.
I noticed more and more of my time was being taken up on looking for local jobs just so I could get some money coming in, so shop jobs, cleaning jobs etc. I eventually got two jobs, one cleaning and one serving food at a hospital. It was a far cry from what I had imagined I’d be doing. But little did I know then that this non-media experience would help me secure my break in TV.
As months went by I saw friends giving up in the industry, and not just media, everyone was staying at home and finding a local job. This only made me more determined to get a job in something I wanted to do. The amount of rejection letters and emails I was getting was rising quickly, I must have applied for at least 500 jobs, internships or work experience places. Of course this amount of rejection is hard to take and I was starting to plan a summer away in America at a summer camp and teach media skills, just to get out and do something. At the same time, I was also applying for the BBC Vision Intake Pool (now the BBC Production Talent Pool), which is basically the BBC’s scheme for entry level jobs for people with little or no experience. It was a long process; I began applying in December and didn’t hear if I got in until April.
In the meantime I had started volunteering at my local hospital radio station. This was great fun and built my confidence up greatly as not only did I assist as a BA but I was also a presenter. At interviews, it’s always a great conversation piece and employers are always intrigued by it.
In February 2011, about 9 months after I left Lincoln, I finally got an internship. A three month internship as well, at a corporate production company. Now there have been many bad things said about internships, such as free labour and people being given unrelated jobs such as cleaning. I almost wish that was my experience. Out of the three months, I probably did about 2 weeks work. Most days there was nothing for me to do but they kept me in until 5.30pm just in case something would “come up”- and it never did. I spent basically three months reading Google news, with the occasional digitising tapes in edits, logging and serving teas- which they hardly drank! What media company employees don’t drink tea! Crazy! I didn’t learn anything new apart from how to make filter coffee, which took all of 5 seconds.
So about a year after leaving Lincoln and one terrible internship under my belt I was beginning to doubt my choice of career. But my luck finally changed. I’d got through to the interview and assessment stage for the BBC VIP Scheme. About a month after a tough interview and even tougher assessment where a group of us were marked by silent assessors as we acted as a development team for a hypothetical new show, I got the great news that I had got into the pool.
The pool consists of a group of people that have the CVs thrown about the BBC and whenever a production needs a runner or production management assistant, they might give you a ring. A huge stress on the word might. There was no guarantee of a job. I also got the great news that I’d gotten into a summer camp in America for the approaching summer. I now had to choose to go to America and hope I don’t get a call from the BBC for the next three months, or stay in the UK and lose just over £200 (the deposit for the camp.)
After much thought and no help from friends and family, as their views were split 50/50, I decided to stay and hope I’d get a call. About two months after getting into the pool, I got a call on the 21st June 2011. I had an interview the next day for a logger/runner position and I got the job. My executive producer was especially excited about the fact that I had been a cleaner after leaving Uni. It showed I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty and work. I started working the next day and was sent packing on location for two days. Thrown in the deep end seemed like a huge understatement. It wasn’t till I got home late on Friday that I realised that I had just got myself a job at the BBC and had been on location for the past two days.
That first job was on ‘The Manor Reborn’ a history meets DIY SOS kind of show, that aired late last year. I was lucky enough to work on it for 6 months, which is a rare contract length in TV, especially for new starters. I was completely in over my head when I first started. The only thing I felt confident about was the telly jargon, which of course I had learnt at Uni and was thankful for that.
Not only was my first proper job at the BBC, but I was working with people who had been in the industry for years and my final month I spent in the edit, every day, with the Head of Arts. I’m not afraid to say I was terrified. But every day my confidence grew a little more and by the end I was assisting and suggesting storylines to the producers, having logged all the footage, I knew which bits they should use in next week’s tease and what would be great jeopardy, comedy etc. It was great fun and the greatest experience I could have asked for.
Since then I’ve worked on ‘Bang Goes The Theory,’ a show about Westminster Abbey and just currently completing a contract working on a docu-drama about last year’s summer riots.
So even though it’s been a year and a half since I left Lincoln, I’m still a newbie in the industry and have a long road ahead of me which realistically will be a patchwork of employment and unemployment, even with an average amount of experience now behind me. But Lincoln did prepare us well for this. Late nights, long hours and not knowing where your next job will be or who you’ll work with. Luckily for me, I find that more exciting than scary.
Once you get your foot in the door it really is a lot easier, it’s an old cliché and you’ll have heard it a number of times but it’s true. It’s still unbelievably hard, but it’s no longer impossibly hard.
My advice to anyone starting out is:
– You have to have a lot of determination. If this is the industry you want to be in, then don’t give up. It may take years, but if you’re passionate, it’ll show through.
– Try to get as much experience as you can, from wedding videos, to volunteering at hospital radio stations or making your own shorts and getting your name out there.
– You need thick skin because in 99% of cases, you’ll receive a lot of rejections. A lot more compared to the number of interviews you’ll have.
– Be prepared to take on jobs and work. Don’t just wait around and hope you’ll get a job, just keep working even if it’s not in the industry. You make contacts in any walk of life and a great work ethic shows through. In my cleaning job, my boss used to be a prop and set builder for BBC and ITV shows. You never know who you’re going to meet.
– Unit List and grapevinejobs are both ‘must checkout websites every day.’ Even if there are no jobs you see advertised that you could do, you get to know production companies who you can research into and send your CV along requesting work experience.
– Be realistic that once you get your first runner role, you probably won’t advance to researcher straight away. Most people I know have run for a good year before being promoted. Even those who are APs, 3rd Directors and researchers still take on runner roles.
– Be prepared to lose a chunk of your social life and to be tired all the time, especially if you’re commuting to and from work. But hey, it’s worth it if it’s what you love.
– Stay late. If your working hours are 9-5, this really means 8-7, if you’re lucky. No one will be happy if you leave bang on 5. Oh and 7 day working weeks are not rare.
– Prepare for the stress to fall on you. Once I was given a job at 6 in the evening, the time I’m supposed to leave, to simply laminate some photos for the next day’s shoot. The AP left, leaving the job with me and what I hoped would take 15 minutes, took 2 hours. The simplest things are usually the things that go wrong.
– Learn to make a decent cup of tea. No one likes a bad cuppa, especially the big execs who have their tea a certain way! Ask how they take it.
And of course networking is a must – it’s who you know as people bang on about. This is true to an extent, however, I still feel that hard work, determination and passion will get you your next job. Hypothetical ‘Bobby,’ the producer’s son, will be stuck running for years having got an easy pass into the industry. But your hard work and determination will see you rise the ladder quicker. Passion wins out every time.