Saturday, 27 September 2014

Getting a Job in TV/Film: The Myths

Anyone catch that article on The Guardian "6 Myths About Getting a Career in the TV & Media Industries"?

It's always interesting to hear from insiders and I'd definitely suggest a read of it (and a lot of the other stuff on The Guardian's media pages). However, in trying to encompass all aspects of the media industries the article becomes misleading. I also question whether the author can really know and understand the obstacles facing new entrants, if they are now at manager level. Having spent almost 3 years working in the industry (I include my various internships whilst at university, from which I graduated a year ago) I am much farther down the ladder and have quite a different opinion on the subject.

So in response to that article, here is what I think you also need to know about the 6 Myths....

1. You'll spend all your time partying with celebrities
As a runner in TV you will meet celebs and probably get to attend some cool parties. However you need to know that fandom is extremely looked down upon in the industry. If you meet your all-time favourite actor you have to behave like they are any other regular Joe. No autographs, no selfies, no incessant chat. You won't get fired if you do any of these things, but it makes you look unprofessional and people will trust you less - the result will be less access to celebrities. And after a while the novelty of seeing famous people will wear off, as you realise they are just like everybody else and just want to get on with their job. Some will be divas, some will be super down-to-earth. However they behave, you need to be cool, calm and, at parties, one of the more sober attendees.

2. You'll spend years in unpaid positions, making tea
Getting the chance to do more than make tea does NOT justify unpaid work - it makes it worse! If you are giving a company "fresh insight" or are on a "panel" to discuss new ideas, strategies and programs, but you are not getting paid for it - you are being mugged off. If you are contributing towards the running of a business and therefore helping that business to make money - even in small ways - they are legally obliged to pay you. By law, unpaid work experience cannot last more than 4 weeks. However, companies use this to their advantage, taking on a new unpaid intern every 4 weeks in a "rolling scheme" - they do this all year round, essentially getting a full-time employee for free. If we go by the National Minimum Wage, they are saving over £12,000 a year in doing this. Sound fair? Not particularly.
The dark result of this trend is that only the privileged and wealthy can afford to break into TV. If your parents own a home in London and can support you while you spend a year interning and getting contacts you are sorted. But in reality few have this chance. This means that those from outside the capital or from poorer backgrounds have no way into the industry. It is not fair and it gets my Marxist back up.

3. It's not about what you know but who you know
Knowing someone on the inside will always benefit you - it's the same for every industry and if your aunt's best friend is an executive producer you should take advantage. But equally, if you don't know someone, it's not the end of the world. If you go to university, my advice is to get chummy with the 3rd years on your course - by the time you graduate they will already be out in the industry and voila! instant contacts. So help out on their final year projects, impress them and (as it was with me) they will probably think of you when the production they're on needs a runner.
Another method is to simply approach execs or managers via email and politely ask for their advice. Whilst at university I saw my dream job advertised at the BBC; I wasn't yet qualified to apply, but I emailed the head of department and asked what I would need to do to get to that point. She invited me for coffee, gave me great advice and once I was out of uni I had a contact there who (gratefully) remembered me the next time she was hiring.

4. You need a media degree from a top university
It doesn't need to be media-related but for some aspects of the industry a degree from a top university is your best ticket. For example, if you want to work in TV or film development, an Oxbridge degree in English or History will get you in with the drama crowd. The advantage of doing a media degree is the contacts you can gain through your lecturers, through the course's reputation and, as I said before, through your fellow students. If you have a degree in something completely unrelated, like maybe marine biology, look out for companies producing TV around that subject - you could be a real asset in their research!
Overall I would say having a degree is another arrow to your bow and worth the money - but if you don't have one, don't be discouraged. You can definitely break in by really impressing people through work experience and building up credits, as well as working independently to build up a super great portfolio if you're aiming at the more creative side of the industry.

5. You'll need to bombard companies with CVs
This is a funny one because most will put your CV straight in the bin. On the other hand, my biggest break came from sending an email with my CV attached just as they were discussing getting an intern; I was extremely lucky in my timing. However I've also spent hours sending the damn things to literally hundreds of people and had no response at all.
So my advice is this: send an email to every company you'd like to work for once a year, in case they keep it on file or you get lucky with timing. Be tactical about it; offices are dead during August and December and graduates are filling up inboxes from April to September. The best time for a CV bomb is around February/March, when big productions are gearing up to film over summer. In the meantime, make sure your social media profile portrays you in a positive light (because they 100% stalk you beforehand) and sign up with the various job sites out there - I'd recommend The Dots (just beware My First Job in Film, eesh).

6. You have a lot to learn and nothing to offer
While it's true that new entrants have a mountain of knowledge to gain (which is really exciting, by the way) it is silly to think that you have nothing to offer. We do have the advantage of growing up in the digital age and the big execs above us are all a little bit scared by social media and you'd be surprised at their limited IT skills (one CEO didn't know how to put paper in a printer and so cancelled a meeting, all because her assistant was sick that day).
But even disregarding all this we need to remember that they have runners, assistants and interns for a reason - we are small cogs in a big machine but without us they wouldn't be able to function properly. At my last job the joke was that the interns secretly ran the department: we knew everyone, were in every meeting, were across every project at every level - essentially we were the glue keeping all the big players together. So don't undermine the role you have to play: do your job to the best of your ability and take pride in your contribution (this also means not accepting unpaid work, ok?).

If anyone wants any advice or whatnot, drop me an email! I've got my foot and maybe an arm and a leg through the door now and we all need to stick together.