It is literally three years ago since I wrote my first blog for the LSM page. I know this because I just read it again to remind myself what I wrote in preparation for writing this entry. Hopefully my grammar has improved since then!
Three years ago I had been working for a little while on a show called My First Place, a real estate show about first time homebuyers. I was a production coordinator for the show so I was in charge of getting the legal releases required for the show so we could film people and locations. I loved this job, it was great fun. I got to talk to a lot of people, learn a lot, and really just enjoy my first non-entry job into television. I received on-screen credits and by the end of my tenure as a production coordinator really was involved in all aspects of the show, from pre-production to post.
Eventually, after two years, I was promoted to Jr. Line Producer. This was a huge step for me! I was further on my journey to becoming a full-fledged line producer within the company. The Line Producer is the person who looks after the admin side of the show, sets budgets, hires and books crew and has the final round of eyes on the legal releases. I was to be under a Sr. Line Producer. I hired (and fired) various freelance crew, booked them at all hours of the day, 7 days a week (including frantically on Christmas morning due to a child being born, which is a story for another time) and kept an eye on the amount we used various members of crew for budgetary reasons. I was also in charge of overseeing all of the releases for final cuts of the show and making sure everything that needed to be blurred was, which led to a couple of lively debates with the Sr. Producer on the show in the editing bay. I worked on a great show, with great people where we all knew too much about each other and spoke to one another on the phone entirely too much, which is the nature of working with a tight crew. Most importantly I got to go to work in jeans and t-shirts with Muppets and Star Wars characters on them.
However there is a sad flip-side to this story.
The company I was working for had had many great long-running shows that were in their tenth-plus series. Throughout the year and half of my being the JLP on My First Place (which, when I started at JLP was on its twelfth series) a lot of these shows were getting cancelled, with nothing to replace them and a lot of people were having to start to look for work. Being on our twelfth season of MFP, we could tell we were on borrowed time. The network was asking us to retool the show; they wanted us to shoot a ‘pilot’ episode of sorts with a host. It is rarely a good sign when a network wants you to completely redesign your show. If the BBC ever asked Eastenders to include science-fiction elements you would know that it wouldn’t be on our screen very much longer (despite the vast improvement that would be made to Eastenders). I could see the writing on the wall at High Noon, more than likely in six months there probably wouldn’t be anything for me there, at least not a for a little while after my contract ended.
Production companies, and your career, will always go through ebbs and flows like this as our business is one where you ride the trends and hope to set new ones. Now if I had been living in London, LA or New York this development in the company would not have been too harrowing. In this case you call up a friend at another company to see if there is any work going where they are, or you call up another company you have worked for, and finally use any other connection you might have to get in somewhere new. However I live in Denver where there is as much TV production as the Hebrides.
The extent of TV production in Denver is local news stations, one other production company and… that’s it. At Christmas, six months before the end of my contract, I began applying for a new job, trying to get my name out there. I applied to the local news stations, the other production company repeatedly without any luck. With contract termination day coming up I began to apply for anything and everything. I tried to get into the media department of the local universities, marketing companies, local ad production as well as non-media based jobs in banks, insurance companies and… well anything to be completely honest. Now you could be thinking “wait a tick, you espoused the brilliance of being a freelancer before and now you’re going back on that”. Hear me out.
Being a freelancer is brilliant, I mean your job literally begins with the word “free” as in “free to work when and where you want”. However part of that means accepting some freedoms that I do not wish to have such as getting up and moving elsewhere for a few months for another contract, before upping sticks again and repeating the cycle somewhere else. When I was just starting out in the business I did that and it took me as far as the Dominican Republic and Reading, and the stories I have from that time are ones I love to tell (“this one time in Reading…”).
Since then however I have settled down with my wife, we bought a house which I only want to leave when is absolutely necessary and I have a dog that is lovely/ needy/ too silly to realise he’s too big to be a lapdog all at the same time. We have friends here and my wife is tenured in one of the local school districts. We live near Red Rocks, a natural ampitheatre in the Rockies, where we have seen some of our favourite bands. We have a life here. Did I also mention I have a dog?
For me personally, upping sticks is not an option. I was now looking for a salaried position in a company where I could develop a career within one company, learning new skills and work my way up within one framework. Sadly it looked like my TV career was over.
Two months before my contract ended my boss, the executive producer of our show, called me into her office. She said she had some news for me. Was there a new position coming up? Did I have a place on a new show she was developing for a minor cable network? Either way, whenever I have been called into her office before something good has come out of it.
“We have to cut your contract by a month” she told me. “Without the renewal there’s really not going to be anything for you to do after that time.”
While I was admittedly in shock, I had to admit this is the nature of temporary contracts. It’s rubbish. Leaving her office it was painfully obvious to how empty our office was. All I could do was begin redoubling my efforts and just apply for anything and everything within my skill set.
Two weeks before my contract ended I came across a project coordinator position for a cinema marketing company in the US, which I applied for and then I also came across a position for a production coordinator at a local Internet Video Production Company. This was an avenue I had not considered before. The company specialised in putting together internet only courses for arts and crafts. It filmed with specialists and celebrities in their fields (a couple of which I had actually worked with on other shows) and sold it to users as paid content.
This is where I have to make a confession: applying for all of these jobs had truly developed my stalking skills. Everywhere I applied I would be on Linkedin.com, going through my contacts to see if I had any mutual acquaintances within the company and my own contacts which I could suddenly out of the blue buy a pint for and ask a favour.
At the cinema marketing place I did not have any mutual contacts, but at the internet production company I did. An editor friend at High Noon knew the guy who I had actually emailed my CV to. You literally cannot get a better connection than this, and after my friend had made a call on my behalf I got an interview set up with the production company.
And then another amazing thing happened:
I received an email from the cinema marketing company for a phone interview, which they wanted to schedule the morning of the day I had my other interview. I walked into my boss’s office and told her I was taking that day off. It was the first day of my last week of my contract with the company, so I was feeling a little cocky.
I spent the weekend researching both companies. You cannot be too prepared, especially if you are entering an area in which you have not had direct experience before. I signed up for their newsletters. Raked through web pages with mission statements and fun facts, and turned to my old friend LinkedIn to see what else I could find out. I would like to say I ironed my own shirt ready for my face to face interview, but my wife wisely thought she would do a better job!
The day of the interviews rolled round. Is it stupid I made myself look presentable for the phone interview? My phone interview lasted for ten minutes, and I thought it went well, but honestly I wasn’t going to hold my breath. I knew I had done my best, and honestly that’s all you can do.
Five minutes later the company called me back to come in for a face to face interview the next morning! I emailed my boss and told her I wouldn’t be in the next morning, she wrote back “that’s fine as long as you come to work in your suit.”
Next came the interview with the Internet production company. It lasted for two and a half hours, I met with five different people, one of whom I pretty much just talked about playing the ukulele with. Despite it being an exhausting interview, it also went well. I got to show my knowledge of the company’s field, and ask informed questions regarding where they were heading with the concept and how much growth they had had since opening their doors a year earlier. When we finished I went and rewarded myself with a nice cup of tea at a local tea room (yes, America has those), before heading home and writing a thank you email to the people who had taken the time to interview me. I received one back which told me I would hear by the end of the week.
The next morning I got up and got suited and booted for my interview at the Cinema marketing company. It was a lot more corporate than anywhere I had ever worked. Going in I met the head project manager, then the two project coordinators and finally the sr. VP of the department who asked me the greatest question I have ever been asked in an interview: What’s your favorite movie? Once again I spoke about my knowledge of the company, the events they put on in the cinema, and asked questions about the other media they produced. As my interview ended I was thanked for my time, and told I would hear at the end of the week. Friday was going to be a stressful day.
At the office my coworkers had great fun with the fact that for the first time since they had started working with me that any of them had actually seen me dressed like an adult. After having the Royal-Michael taken out of me I sat down and then wrote thank you emails to everyone who had spoken with me, making each of them different to the individual discussions we had had. I then did my best to get on with my week.
I had made up my mind that if I was given my pick of the two I would want the cinema marketing job. I liked the idea of working somewhere more corporate, and more established. As impressive as the internet company is I was looking for a complete change of pace for my career.
However, when the internet company emailed me early Friday morning my heart did jump to my throat. Shaking I opened the email; they had been impressed with me and wanted to schedule a second interview with me for the Monday. I wrote back immediately telling them I would be delighted to come in. If I wasn’t going to be working, I could at least be interviewing.
It got to lunch time and I still hadn’t heard from the cinema place. Then one, and then two in the afternoon. I had stopped doing any work because I couldn’t concentrate, and had started to pack up my things. It is amazing the level of crap you can accumulate in your cube after three years. People kept coming by to ask if I had heard anything, and all I could do was shrug. “Well, it’s still early” they’d say and then go back to their cubes to work.
Three. Nothing. My cube was bare, save my company computer on which I was watching funny videos on YouTube to try and cheer myself up.
Three-thirty my phone rang and everyone in my line of cubes looked at me expectantly. I didn’t recognise the number, and so jumped into an empty office. It was the Cinema Place, and they were offering me the job, to which I enthusiastically accepted, and I said “thank you” probably far too many times in the course of the conversation. I felt like the jammiest bugger alive getting a staff job on my final day with High Noon. When I walked out of the office I high-fived everyone on my team before realising the one person I should tell was my wife. Needless to say she was happy.
I called the internet company, and thanking them for their interest I politely declined the second interview, hoping I wasn’t burning any bridges between me, them and my friend who had pretty much got me the interview. I then looked forward to a few days off to hang out with the dog, watch movies and drink a few beers and whiskies before starting at a new company late in the week.
Before I began my new job in the next week I had to go out and buy a brand new wardrobe for more professional clothes (ie. Not t-shirts with prints on them and real trousers, not jeans). I don’t think I had ever seen my wife as happy as she dragged me round department stores.
This job is everything I had hoped for after working in telly. I still work with editors and graphic artists, as we put trailers together for events the company puts on in the cinemas. I even get to write the scripts for the trailers. I work with designers on the movie posters and web assets to help promote them, as well as other projects the company produces. I have also been involved in a couple of interactive projects for the company, working with the developers as they worked on websites and our app.
The first project I worked on was a rebranding of a cinema chain out here. I worked with our creative directors, as well as the team from the cinema to put together schedules and manage the expectations to get everything on screen. It still blows my mind to see things I have worked on appear on the big screen. It is a great source of pride for me.
The job plays to the strengths I learned in TV production of scheduling, budgeting and working with all types of people: creative and administrative.
Most importantly, I learn something new every day at the job, I enjoy going into work every day as I work with great people… and I get free cinema tickets.
I cannot lie; in my career, I have been extremely lucky (extremely-ridiculously-bugger me that’s-lucky). When it looked like I was going to be unemployed with few prospects I suddenly ended up with two job opportunities in my last week of employment, yet there were plenty of bumps on the way.
I was keeping my ear to the ground at High Noon to see if there were any contracts coming up around the time that mine ended, and there weren’t, nor were there any at the other production company.
In six months of staying up until half-one, to two in the morning most days I applied for over 150 jobs, and heard from nearly none of them.
The couple of jobs I did hear from asking me to come in for an interview, after doing some research turned out to be either a) unpaid “work experience” (which the original posting did not say) or b) scams promising “marketing experience” but you are essentially going door to door selling products purely for commission.
There are days I do miss working in TV, and the silliness that comes with it for the stuff you do for the perfect scene, but after seven years of it I realised that it wasn’t for me, and it took the lack of opportunity and my unwilling to take risks with being able to move here, there and everywhere to see that. I certainly don’t regret my time doing it (I’ve had my name in the credits of shows in two countries and I have my own imdb listing: that’s just cool!) but I am glad I moved on. I am especially glad that I managed to find a job that played to my strengths working in media, where I got to bring the skills I developed at Lincoln and in my TV career to it. When I left university, for me TV was it for me as a career. I have since learned that there are other opportunities out there which are just as fun and rewarding. You just have to work like hell to find them, and then work even harder to get them.