As a graduate now working in the television industry, I thought I would share with you my ten tips about what it’s like to work in TV land! Whether you’re a prospective Runner, just generally interested in TV, or if you’re just procrastinating about writing an essay, hopefully this will be of some interest to you! Obviously if you have any more specific questions, feel free to give me a tweet or facebook message, I’d be happy to help.
1. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do! When you leave university, there’s a lot of pressure for you to suddenly ‘know’ what you want to do with the rest of your life, but you don’t need to know right away! When you work in TV, most people start off as a Runner, working on programmes in all kinds of genres. This is a sort of ‘try before you buy’ stage, you can see what genre(s) of shows you enjoy working on, and hopefully you can specialise into that as you progress. That also includes trying out different roles, and you can decide whether to go down an Editorial (PD / Researcher), Technical (Camera / Sound) or Production (Production Manager / Prod Coordinator / Prod Sec) route.
2. There isn’t a set way to get into TV. From talking to people who work in the industry, it is clear there are many different ways to get into TV. Some people are lucky enough to know someone, a few stumble into it from other industries, and others (like me) have worked hard to get where they are!
The best places I have found to find work are The Unit List, The Talent Manager, and a Facebook group called ‘People looking for TV work: Runners’. Obviously there are also the bigger channels such as BBC and ITV which advertise their jobs on their websites, but the sheer volume of applicants they have can make it hard to stand out / get chosen (though it’s definitely not impossible)!
The best thing to do if you want to get into TV is to keep applying! Don’t give up – which leads to my next point!
3. Don’t fixate on job applications too long. In TV, a lot of the jobs are last minute and quite instant, so the best thing to do after you’ve applied for a job is to forget about it! Sometimes it’s hard when you’re particularly passionate or excited about working on a certain show, but if you focus on not hearing back you are going to get yourself down – you need to keep your motivation up, and keep applying!
Even if you’ve got a job, you’ve always got to be thinking about your next move (to put this into perspective, nothing I’ve worked on so far has been longer than 3 months).
4. Always have your CV ready to send. You’ll be surprised when your dream job working on The Undateables pops up on the job listings, so you’ve always got to be prepared! You could be on a shoot in the middle of Wales, on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic, at the house party of the year… you get the idea, it could happen any time! Be ready!
Having a draft cover letter is also a great idea, but make sure to add the person’s name if you have it, and make it job specific – they won’t want to hear about your editing skills when the job is just driving contributors to location etc.
5. Learn how to make great tea and coffee! If you’ve already mastered this then sorry to add it to this list, but you’d be surprised how many runners CANNOT make a passable cup of tea or coffee! On a long shoot, tea and coffee is the fuel for your Producers, Directors and crew! You will get to know all of their specific orders (watch out for the coconut chai latte with a sprinkling of cocoa powder and half a sachet of brown sugar – they WILL know you added white sugar instead). The main thing is to preempt when the crew will need it, and preempt other things that may be needed to save everyone time!
Another top tip (you heard it here first) – if everyone’s flagging, whack out some Haribo* and you’ll be everyone’s best friend. *If there’s limited Haribo supplies available, make sure to hide some in preparation for this. [Ed: Other sweets are available!]
6. Be prepared to do anything! When you start off in TV as a Runner, your day to day job can vary so much. One day you could be driving a van full of kit across the country, the next you could be painting the set of The Great British Menu. However, that’s the beauty of this job, no two days are ever the same. All the researchers and producers I have spoken to have fond memories of the things they were made to do as runners!
One of my personal job highlights so far has been going to fill up a humidifier tank for the X Factor judges, and bumping into Louis Walsh on the way! I am also the proud writer of all the numbers and dish names which will appear on this year’s Great British Menu blackboards!
7. Say hello to 5am alarms. One thing to know about this job is when you’ll be working. For a lot of shows, there are early call times, and late wrap times. You’re also expected to work a lot of weekends, but you’ll get other days off instead (my current weekends are Wednesdays and Thursdays, Friday feeling on a Tuesday wooo). However, you’ll be looked after and you do normally get free food and drink when you’re working which is good! Also remember all the crew are in the same boat, so look out for each other, and keep the tea and coffee flowing when times are bad!
It’s definitely hard work, but it’s very rewarding, especially when you’re watching a show you worked on and your name pops up in the credits!
8. Talk to everyone you work with. Working in telly, you get to meet so many different people! I’m not just talking about crew, I’m talking about contributors, talent, members of public, anyone. Every day you get the chance to work with some amazing people, and the best thing you can do is talk to them – you never know what you’ll find out!
Last year, one of my first full time runner positions was on E4’s Body Fixers, every day we had amazing contributors coming in to discuss their personal stories, and opening up to us about their insecurities before we gave them a professional makeover to ‘fix’ their problem. It was often very eye opening and inspiring to hear their stories, and seeing their confidence boosted after their reveal was a moment to cherish. One contributor who particularly stuck with me was Sadie, a victim of an acid attack, who was given treatment by Dr. Esho to heal her chemical burns. Despite being involved in such a horrific attack, it was great to see her courage and fighting spirit growing throughout the filming process.
9. Not all TV jobs are in London. It is a common misconception that all TV work is based in London. In fact, there are many jobs in TV across the country, and all over the world too! The main TV hubs are in London (variety of genres), Bristol (Food / Nature), Manchester (Kids / Sports), and Birmingham (BBCThree / Entertainment). However, there are always regional shows which will need local runners across the country! It benefits the companies as they don’t have to pay Runners to travel from other places, and it also means they can get someone with local knowledge. I’m currently based in Reading so have managed to bag some work around Swindon, Eastleigh and Surrey – there’s normally a little bit less competition for these regional gigs too which is good.
If you can drive it’s also a bonus – but not compulsory! It means that you’ll be able to get to more remote filming locations, though most jobs which require driving are for 23 or 25+ year olds (I have had quite a few driving roles though, and I’m only 22, so you can still get them sometimes).
Big entertainment shows like The XFactor and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway also look for people regionally when they are holding auditions, and for Ant & Dec’s ‘Sofawatch’, so they’re definitely jobs to look out for if you’re outside London!
10. You can do it! The main thing to remember if you want to work in TV is that you can do it! No, it’s not easy. Yes, it will take time to get there. However, it’s a career like no other – you meet so many different people, get to visit some mind blowing places, and best of all you don’t ever have to work two days that are the same! You have to just keep applying, and your first job will come.
Remember – if you don’t believe in yourself, then nobody will!