I am enjoying a career in television out here in the United States. I just moved to Colorado last year to be with my wife and have landed myself a job in a local production company called High Noon Entertainment.
But it wasn’t always like this……
Here’s the full story:
I have tried five different ways to start this, and each of them was a cliché, but one thing I learned at and put into practice since graduating LSM is perseverance, so here we go.
LSM was very good to me – it gave me a great education, a lot of fantastic memories and one of the most amazing opportunities of my life. In the first semester of my third year I was able to take the opportunity to study in America at Minnesota State University. My only other friends who got to study abroad were either the foreign exchange students at LSM (hi guys!) or studied languages at other (not so awesome) universities.
I fell in love with the country and knew one day I would return there, however I figured that would be when I was forty and a world famous director…
When I graduated I was amazingly lucky to walk into a runner’s job for a post production company in London; I won’t mention the name of the company because it was the worst job I have ever had the misfortune to have and will warn anyone who asks me about working there! I was lucky to have a job, but I was unlucky to have this particular job.
Runners there were nothing more than glorified tea boys and to move up in the company someone had to move or die and unfortunately neither one of those happened very often. After five months of no opportunities and being abused by my boss who deemed it acceptable to have me sleep on the couch after finishing a shift at midnight so I could wake up and be at work half seven the next morning, I quit to preserve my mental wellbeing.
After a month of looking around and doing unpaid work experience I landed a job as a live logger for a BBC show that was like Big Brother but with children. It was a fun show to work on. For those of you who don’t know, loggers are people who watch raw footage of a reality TV show and write down everything that’s said and done so the writers can compile a script from the action. In this case it was live so we had to type pretty quickly.
It was during this job that something amazing happened. I met an American girl who was studying in London who I would try to spend every moment of my free time with. When she had to go back home I was just starting a new contract with a different BBC show (this time similar to Big Brother but with horses) that I got through contacts on the previous show. However, I booked a plane ticket to the States for the day after the contract ended and spent two weeks with her in Colorado.
Returning back to the UK after a great holiday I realised that I needed a job so I could afford my next plane ticket. Getting on the job site Production Base I applied to anything and everything and very soon (once again luckily) I got a phone call for a job. This started a long and happy relationship with RDF Media. I began logging for them on one show, and then for another and then another.
One thing always impressed on us at LSM was networking. Make friends with as many people as you can because people hire who they know and like. At RDF, and in particular on one show that after ten years of being on TV has just faced its final renewal, I was able to remain employed as a logger. My boss was very nice and would occasionally send me on errands to deliver equipment to our crew around the UK and on one occasion let me go on a shoot for two weeks as a PA. However the majority of my time I spent logging.
The compromise of being able to take weeks off at a time to visit my girlfriend, or have her visit me and be able to go back to a job meant that it was the same job with a heinous commute. I could not get promoted as promotions went to more ‘reliable’ people. I spent the next year and half working on my film “Just a day – day of logging” (which became a minor hit in the office for a week – thinking I was going to get fired by my boss – instead she e-mailed it to nearly everyone who had ever worked for her!)
In this time my girlfriend and I, sick of the 5,000 miles distance between us, became engaged and we began the lengthy immigration process for me to move to the States. It would be another year before I could make the move. In the year I logged a lot more tapes for RDF and thanks to a contact I made there I got to work for a different show transcribing in the Dominican Republic for a couple of months.
Though that is a completely different story, the importance of contacts really came into play as one day I received a phone call from a friend who was a researcher at a different company asking if I wanted to do it and two weeks later I was basking in the sunny Caribbean. (I told you I was lucky!) Once that show was finished I went back to RDF to log for the same long established show as before until my final day there, which was celebrated with a bottle of champagne and a High School Musical cake (don’t ask).
After two and a half years of making tea and typing I was moving to America to be with the woman I loved and not a damn clue as to what I would do. Colorado is famous for many things: Jack Kerouac, micro-breweries, skiing and South Park to name a few, but it isn’t so famous for television production.
While waiting for my papers to come through the post so I could begin working I began drawing up a list of other careers that I might like to try. Maybe I could be a banker, a shop manager, I could possibly work in insurance, or some office where I would have to forgo my usual work uniform of jeans and a t-shirt and possibly have to wear a tie.
However, my media student sister-in-law gave me a couple of names of small local production companies and the day I received my work permit I called one up to see if they were hiring. The next day I had an interview and the following Monday I began my new role… as a logger (cue guitar riff).
The difference being a logger at this company from the others before was I was in Colorado for good. I wouldn’t be taking weeks off at a time to go gallivanting around the globe, my base was in Colorado and so I was able to commit. I also leave the office with the most amazing view of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Within a few weeks of work the opportunity to talk to a producer for one of the company’s studio shows arrived and I was given the chance to be a field production assistant for a studio show. Four episodes were being filmed in one week in the studio. This meant early mornings, long days and driving home in the snow for the first time at one in the morning. I had great fun being in the studio with the crew and learning the differences between US and UK production – and the big difference is it’s bigger!
More cameras, more crew and less bad language (it turns out in comparison British people really like to swear a lot! One place I worked for in the UK, you knew what mood the boss was in by where she placed the F word in her sentences). Everyone involved pushed themselves to the point it was amazing that anyone was left standing at the end of it and all I could do was pray I would be asked to do the next set of shoots.
Transcribing and PAing at this company I was having a great time. I worked with fantastic people, I really liked the shows I was working on and most importantly there were opportunities. A position for Production Coordinator came up on a real estate show that my wife and mother-in-law were fans of so I applied and in the interview with an all female board somehow ended up talking about girls with big bottoms. Even with this foray into derrières au femmes I landed the job and one of the best parts it was a long contract!
A production coordinator is the guy on the team who obtains all the releases for who, where and what the producers of the show want filmed and help to organize the various shoots. A lot of the times shoots are preplanned, and I have time to arrange the appropriate releases for locations and who we are filming with, but sometimes a shoot will come up at the last minute, someone getting the response to an offer they made on a property, and we want to film it as it happens for genuine reactions so I have to arrange a location to film in within hours of us filming there, and that includes using Google to find the location.
There are a lot of E-mails, faxes and phone calls that happen from my cubicle to three different cities in America. It can be challenging, and difficult, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be any fun!
Once filming has finished and the show has been put together I have to watch the episode and make sure that we have all the releases for it. If we don’t (which can be for a variety of reasons) I then have to try and get the missing releases, or ensure the offending shots are removed.
My job also means I work closely with the story managers, who are in charge of getting a linear story out of real people being filmed and condensing it into 22 minutes, which is a very difficult job!
While being a PC isn’t a role too focused on the creative side of things, working with the Story Manager you get to make suggestions and see what would work best for the story. Figuring out what houses they see, where we take them as part of their back story, e.g. if they go horse riding finding a stable that will let us film. Sometimes my job means reining in the Story Manager (“Sure I think we can get a psychic, but I don’t think we can film at the White House!”).
There’s a lot of collaboration and debate as to what will be best for the show. One day I am trying to get a release for a small coffee shop in Philadelphia, the next I am trying to get permission to film inside Adidas.
It is a job where you are involved from the very beginning of production up until the very end. At the moment I am seeing out the end of one season while simultaneously jumping into the middle of a production of another show, while helping with the start of the next season for the show I am currently on and I am having a great time doing it!
At the beginning of this piece I said I had planned to move to America as a famous forty year old director. Well I moved over 15 years before that and by doing this job I realized that when I left LSM I wanted to be an ‘artist’, be creative and direct television and maybe film and while that sounds like a grand ambition it is also very narrow. By doing the administrative side I have realized that I am much happier doing the paper work, communicating with those who come up with the ideas and doing what I can to see that their visions make it on the TV screen.
I also said I learned to persevere. I cannot deny I have been very lucky with my career so far, however it has never been easy. Working in TV is hard and it is scary: contracts end, shows don’t get renewed and sometimes there just don’t seem to be any positions out there. You just have to keep your head down, work hard and play well with others. Though I had a rocky start at my first job (stupid Post-House) by transcribing for various productions and companies I learned to do just that. There were times where I would sit in front of my keyboard with a tape playing and think “Is this going anywhere?” but I just couldn’t quit, I had to keep going to see where it was going.
Little did I know when I collected my degree at graduation it would be leading me to Colorado, to a great production company that is really supportive of its workers, a show that I get to have a lot of fun working on and the best part… I got the girl of my dreams!