Monday, 1 July 2013

Getting Started in TV & Film

This is meant for people just finishing their A-Levels or university and thinking about a job in TV or film.

Frankly, it's super hard to get a job in the industry, unless your uncle's an exec producer or your cousin is the BBC controller (dontcha just hate nepotists?). But there are ways. I'm no media mogul but in my short experience, this is what has worked best for me...

The best CV advice I've ever read

Don't put things like "makes a great cuppa tea" - a 5 year old can make tea (if you actually don't know how then you need to learn FAST). Don't make it funny. If it's looking empty and bare find transferable skills in your non-directly relevant experience and make it clear that you're eager to learn - eg. sales assistant? Then you have great communication skills, are used to long hours on your feet and you work well in a team etc etc.

To fill your CV you need....

Work Experience

Before you can get paid in TV, you need to work for free. It's a fact of life and a rite of passage. But NEVER do more than a month unpaid - at least get your travel expenses covered. If they ask/expect you to do more than 4 weeks without any money they are ripping you off and they know it. The catch? They can replace you in a heartbeat so it's up to you if you think the slave labour is worth it.

Here's where to get (un)paid work experience:

Also try Lots of film production listings around London with email addresses. That low-budget feature filming in your town may be advertising for a DOP, but they probably won't say no to an enthusiastic and cheap local runner - so get in touch!

Most companies offer rolling work experience schemes (2-4 weeks) - all you need to do is send in a nice cover email/letter and shiny tailored CV or check their website for more details. Follow up with a polite phone call a week later. Never get your mum to do it for you (I've been on the receiving end of a mum call and it was horrendous - we laughed about it in the office for weeks).

Cover Letters

This is good advice:

Speaking from my own experience, be as polite and enthusiastic as possible. It sounds obvious but at my last internship I read so many cover letters that were boring and impersonal. Compliment the production company's latest show/film, wish them a nice weekend... but keep it professional. Sign off "Yours sincerely, [insert name]" - they're suckers for good manners.

Impressing in your First Job

When you get work experience stick to the Unit List's handy guide of Do's and Dont's:

If you become a runner, this is what's expected of you:

Warning: hours are LONG in this industry. I've spent 16 hours at work, 6 days a week, the rest of that time travelling between location and home and sleeping. But it's worth it.


Degrees are very expensive nowadays. If you can make it in without one - do. It will help if you're from a media city (such as London, Manchester, Bristol or Cardiff) so you can work cheaply/live off mum and dad while building up credits.

If not uni may be the only way to go. University of Westminster gets my vote for best degree programme and location, Bournemouth University in terms of reputation and industry connections, and Ravensbourne is also highly regarded. If you can get into one of these it's probably worth the £9000+ tuition fee.

Choose a Department

Whether you go to uni or not, spend a year or two trying out as many different roles as you can before you pick a career route. The most typical ones (loosely put) are...

Floor Runner > 3rd Assistant Director (AD) > 2nd AD > 1st AD
Post Runner > Logger > Junior Editor > Editor
Production Runner > Production Assistant > Production Secretary > Production Manager > Line Producer
Office Runner > Development Assistant > Script Reader > Script Editor > Development Producer

Factual or Entertainment/Reality
Office Runner > Junior Researcher > Researcher > Assistant Producer > Producer

Clapper Loader > Camera Assistant > Focus Puller > Camera Operator > Director of Photography (drama & feature films)
Sound Assistant > Boom Operator > Sound Recordist
Studio Runner > Production Assistant > Vision Mixer > Studio Director

If you want to be a Writer or Director then I'm afraid there's no real route - you will have to write and direct as often as you can in your spare time until you get noticed.

Other departments to think of:
Art Direction/Design
Set Design
Make Up
Live Events/Sports Broadcasting

Graduate Programmes

For graduate jobs and schemes, applications will begin as early as January of the year you finish uni. They are lengthy processes but they really pay off if you get through. The biggest is undoubtedly the BBC Production Talent Pool (or PTP) - 4,700 applicants this year for 110 places.

Here's the best advice on that:

The biggest grad schemes:
Working Title Films - £14k, applications begin December.
BBC - starting at £16K, applications from February to July.
Channel 4 - from £16K, apply from March onwards.
Disney Channel - from £16K, source all their interns from Bournemouth and Ravensbourne Unis.

Doing well in the industry

Follow The Unit List on Twitter for instant job updates. is also good for media jobs.

Go to networking events as often as possible. The Edinburgh TV festival pays for successful applicants to attend, hotel and food included (applications in April). The Royal Television Society (RTS) holds some great ones too.

Keep up to date with the news and industry advances - especially if you're going for technical roles like camera assistant. Watch as much TV and films as you can whatever area you're interested in.

Hope this helps anyone out there who's not sure where/how to start. Any questions I'm happy to help!