Choosing a course
I knew from before taking my GCSEs that I wanted to study music at university, and I never seriously considered applying for any other subject. For me, going to university was all about spending three years learning about something that I really cared about and would enjoy, and having played music from about the age of 8, music was the natural choice. As I didn’t have any idea about what I wanted to pursue as a career after graduating until a couple of weeks before my final undergraduate exam, choosing a degree that would lead me down a specific career path wasn’t an influencing factor.
Because of the large number of people applying for work in TV, the ability to be concise and identifying the important parts of any job advert is really important to make your application stand out, or in some cases not get thrown straight in the bin, amongst the hundred or so other applicants. This is a very similar skill to the techniques used in research and essay-writing, where sticking to the point is of critical importance.
Another skill that I gained from my degree was the ability to adapt quickly to working with new groups of people, and that has been of great help already in my career. During my studies, I played in a large number of different orchestras and chamber groups and each time the makeup of each group would be different, in terms of structure (multiple or single parts for each instrument), the style of the music and the people I was playing with. All this meant that you had to be able to adapt to each different situation quickly in order to get the best performance possible. Similarly, in TV the vast majority of contracts are temporary, so most people work freelance, meaning that you may be working on 5 different shows over the year for different companies and not work with the same person twice. Similarly, coping under pressure and being able to manage your time are extremely valuable skills when an unforeseen event means that your shoot the following day has to be cancelled and rescheduled to take place in another city four days later!
In my current role, I’m part of a team who oversee all of the television shows made in the UK for broadcast on MTV and Comedy Central. As the vast majority of our shows are made by independent production companies, we are involved right from the beginning of a show, from its pitching and progress through development to production and delivery of the shows to the channel. We’re also responsible for running MTV Live Music events, such as MTV Crashes, MTV Brand New and to a lesser extent obtaining footage for programming from overseas events, such as Tomorrowland, Isle of MTV Malta etc. For these events we are hands-on with production, booking crew, travel, equipment and organising the post-production schedule and show delivery.
It took me a while after graduating to get into the TV industry. I only had a vague idea that I wanted to work within the post-production side of TV when I graduated, and having had a couple of periods of work experience with a facility in Manchester I then had a couple of day runner jobs on Dickinson’s Real Deal and the Britain’s Got Talent Producers Tour. As you can imagine, these were very glamorous jobs, with early starts and particularly for Britain’s Got Talent, dealing with thousands of members of the public over the course of a 14 hour working day.
I started my current job, my first full-time job in TV, two years after graduating, and I spent the vast majority of the intervening time period working in office jobs in Manchester, both in and outside of the University. This experience helped me a lot, not just to make me realise that being in a totally office-bound environment wasn’t for me, but also giving me skills and experience that would be helpful in applying for jobs in TV. Given that the main challenge for new entrants into the television industry is just getting that first job, any experience of working is useful to help separate your CV out from the crowd of hundreds of other applicants who have come straight out of university.
Getting a job
To a new graduate wanting to work in TV, the best thing that you can do is get yourself out there, and always be ready to apply. As contracts tend to be quite short, especially at junior levels, it’s worth finding a day job with some flexibility in terms of when you can take holiday, as often productions will post on Facebook a couple of days before a shoot saying that they need a runner. Not having a lot of experience of working in TV isn’t a major barrier, so long as the advert isn’t asking for someone with previous experience, as you’ll be told what to do on the day. More often than not you’ll be dealing with members of the public, so any experience in a customer service environment is really helpful.
Because of the large numbers of people trying to get in TV, there were about 200 people who applied for my internship at the same time as me, paying attention to the job ad is the best way to make sure your application gets noticed. A few quick tips:
• Check the ad for instructions on who your e-mail should be addressed to and what the e-mail subject should be. If there aren’t any specific instructions regarding the e-mail subject, just make it clear and easy to understand, so if it’s an ad for a runner in Bolton on the 26th May, “Bolton Runner – 26th May <your name>” is all you need to put.
• Keep your covering letter concise. Recruiters, especially for day runners, are generally members of production staff, rather than a full-time HR employee, so chances are they’ll be looking at runner CVs alongside all of their other duties in setting up the shoot you want to work on, so if they open your e-mail and see a two page cover letter you can be sure they’ll use it as an excuse not to look at you over the hundred other applications they’ve got to look through. Keep your letter down to the bare essentials:
• Your name
• Confirm that you’re free on the dates asked for
• If the ad has asked for any further experience (speaking a certain language, drivers licence etc.) confirm it here.
• Although the ad probably won’t name the show, find some information out about the production company and show that you’ve done some basic research into them.
• Your phone number
• Make sure your CV is easy to read and understand.
• For short-term/daily roles, your interview will probably just be a phone call later that day, so stay close to your phone and know what you’ve put on your application!
My job is mostly office based, Monday to Friday, in our main office in Camden, although depending on what’s in production I do tend to go out to visit shoots or perform runner duties on productions a couple of times a month. Most of my day-to-day duties involve helping oversee show deliveries, raising purchase orders for production companies and crew, distributing viewing copies of the shows to our internal departments and generally helping with office management, getting IT accounts set up for new freelancers, making sure that we have enough stationery.
I’ve loved my time working at Viacom, so once my internship finishes I’m going to continue looking for work within TV. My current ambition is to move over to Drama and Scripted Comedy and work my way up to assistant director/producer, as working on shows like Line of Duty is my idea of heaven, but I’m keeping my options open for the time being because you never know what opportunities can open themselves up!