Television is a fast-paced and highly competitive industry and because of this is it notoriously difficult to get into. Black History Month spoke to Jude Winstanley, an experienced production manager and the founder of recruitment and career development website The Unit List, to find out her essential tips for taking your first steps towards a career making programmes in the crazy, dynamic, exhausting and incredibly rewarding, creative industry of broadcast television.
Jude will also be presenting an exclusive workshop for Royal Television Society (RTS) Futures members entitled ‘How to get that job’ on 23 May. RTS Futures is a ground-breaking venture targeting young people interested in television. It hosts a number of events throughout the year so to find out more about their events or to sign-up to become a member visit: https://www.rtsfutures.org.uk/.
- Watch TV
Sounds simple doesn’t it? But I mean REALLY watch it, with the thought of how you might put together what you are actually viewing.
Think about the story you’re being told. Can you condense that into a paragraph to describe the beginning, middle and end? Look at the locations – how were they chosen and who organised everyone to be there? Think about the casting of the contributors, presenter or actors. What are they wearing and who decided on and organised that? Think about the words you are hearing and the other sounds you can identify. Do the sounds and the pictures provoke an emotional reaction in you? Are you excited, sad or humoured by what you have experienced? Most of all, watch all different kinds of TV programmes and think about what programmes you might like to make.
- Research roles
The more you research, the more you will learn what job might suit your interests and talents. Don’t just think about being a producer, director or editor. There are a wide range of roles and skills required when making a TV programme. Look at the credit roller when a programme finishes (the boring bit that you normally switch channels on with all the names at the end) and make a note of the jobs. Look them up. There’s a lot of info out there in articles, videos, podcasts, blogs and even job vacancy descriptions.
Do research on team structures. Junior roles and the most common jobs you are hired for when you are starting out in the industry are runners, loggers, location assistants and location marshals (in drama). Even if you think you can take on a more senior role, like a researcher, trying to find employment in this type of role when you have limited experience is a waste of time for both yourself and the recruiter. This is a fast-paced and busy industry so unless you fulfil exactly what they are looking for you are unlikely to get the job.
- Research genres
There are loads of different kinds of programmes made and they fit into broad areas. The most common ones you will be aware of are ents. (entertainment, sometimes also referred to as ‘shiny floor’), factual, drama, fact ent. (factual entertainment), ob doc (observational documentary), natural history, current affairs, children’s and sports. Next time you watch TV, try to work out which one the programme fits into.
Each of the genres listed above has a different audience, time of transmission and budget which reflect what you see on the screen. Some people will specialise in certain genres and others will work across a range of them depending on their role and talents. But it is good to have an idea of the type of progammes you hope to make.
- Get work ready
Having your CV approved by your school/college careers advisor and thinking you’ve done everything you need to in order to get a job in TV production, would be a mistake. The CV format for the TV industry is a bit different to other creative industries.
Employers will expect to see your essential contact info at the top, locations you have a base and could work in (e.g. London, Bristol, Cornwall – where you can stay with friends or family perhaps), what we call ‘hard’ skills (quantifiable not subjective – driving licence, language skills, software operator levels, etc.) and a project based credits list with the most recent at the top. There are some examples of this at www.tvwatercooler.org and www.theunitlist.com written by recruiters/employers in TV just for you.
Having a working mobile and active voicemail is essential. A joke message on your voicemail is not going to impress a potential employer. It will make them wonder if you are also a joker and less than professional in your work. A simple and professional sounding personal message is best.
Your name is best for your email address. The one you had since you were 12 and says something like email@example.com suggests that perhaps you haven’t yet embraced the world of professional work. You don’t need your own domain, but you do need to make sure the sender ID on your email is your first and second name so the recipient knows who is contacting them.
- Freelance or staffer
If you want to make TV programmes you will most likely have to be a freelancer on a fixed term contract. This means that at the end of the project (once you have finished making the programme), you will need to look for more employment either within the company or at another one.
Production companies have a limited number of full time staff, because if they don’t have a programme to make there is no income and no ability to pay people. If a steady income is more important to you then consider a career at a broadcaster or perhaps within post production.
Also it’s worth nothing that freelance does not mean the same as self-employed. This is a tax status term and can only be used by some job roles as dictated by HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, a government dept.).
- Where to find the jobs
There are three main ways of finding employment.
1) Responding to published adverts placed by employers (online platforms are now the fastest way for employers to recruit freelancers. The preferred sites are known to be specialist groups on Facebook, The Unit List, Talent Manager and employer’s own Twitter or Facebook platforms)
2) Doing research on what is about to go into production and offering your services to the right person (this takes a bit of practice and detective skills using industry press, but can pay off!)
3) Talent managers (some companies employ a talent manager or talent coordinator to assist with recruitment. They work with producers and production management to find the right people for the jobs and generally have an overview of what vacancies are available or coming up in the company)
- How to apply
Apply as soon as you see something that looks like you fulfil the criteria as it may have disappeared within an hour due to the recruiter finding exactly who they need.
Then FORGET ABOUT IT. If they want you they will call you.
It’s not good form to chase up to see if your CV has been received. The recipient usually gets in excess of 50 applicants in the first few hours of a vacancy being published.
- Training schemes and courses
There are a number of training schemes and courses available in a wide range of specialist subjects. Some of these are run by independent production companies and others are organised by broadcasters. These are great ways to get ahead and receive structured learning and experience. Do as many as your finances and calendars allow both for the education and the networking aspect, but you should not equate completing a scheme, or course, as a golden ticket into employment.
Experience is of the utmost value to an employer and courses should be viewed as your own personal education and reviewed regularly. It’s a mistake to assume you know everything because you graduated from a degree course some years ago. It’s a fast moving industry and technology, procedures and legal responsibility change frequently.
Many of these schemes that specifically targeted to increase diversity within the industry. Typically these are longer engagements, often up to a year, on a reasonable salary.
When looking at possible schemes to join, the key thing is to research what content is being delivered, by whom (are they actually professional experts in this role in their day jobs?) and is it value for money?
- Simple networking
Getting ahead in TV is not always about the work you do. It is often about how well you get on with people and is sometimes why you won’t even have an interview for a job if someone rates you and recommends you for it. Because of this networking is important. Official networking events are often awkward and useless if the entire room is in the same position as you and there are no hosts to introduce you to people or steer a conversation. Simple networking can be done in the pub with your team (you don’t have to drink booze!), after work, and involved meeting other people in the company. You don’t have to stay for long but do try to have a conversation with work colleagues you haven’t spoken with before. Another good networking opportunity is the tea round. In the communal kitchen, take the opportunity to speak to people you don’t know, doing the same thing. In both situations, it’s easier to briefly intro yourself and what you are working on and then ask them loads of questions about them and their current job. The purpose being that you never know when the other person is recruiting and may suggest you for a vacancy.
Working as a freelancer means you need to be organised at home as well as in the office. File EVERYTHING. Keep all your payslips and tax documents (P45, P60) for reference. Keep all your contracts too. You may need proof of employment further down the line for a variety of reasons.
Open a new bank account just for your wages to go into, it makes identifying if you have been paid very easy and you can transfer money into your normal spending accounts from there.
Ensure you read up on data protection and destroy any documents no longer required. A home shredder is recommended for discarded documents with personal information about you and your team on it.
- Online presence
Recruiters will search online for individuals so an online presence that lists email, mobile and CV is essential. Never list your date of birth or home addresses though as that’s enough for individuals to create false identities which could cause all kinds of issues for you.
- The importance of social media
Facebook and Twitter are essential tools for finding work now but they can also be the downfall of some individuals who haven’t been careful with their security settings. Imagine a recruiter considering someone for employment and they look up their Facebook profile to find some less than professional statuses and uploaded photos. It could be the one thing that stops the individual from securing their dream job. Be careful what you publish online and create separate public and private accounts if you need to.
- Building a reputation
TV production is a dynamic field. Consider getting involved in projects or organisations outside of your day job. Producing/attending industry events, writing articles and vlogs, etc. all help to build a profile of you beyond your day job. This can go some way to you being considered a ‘safe pair of hands’ in your chosen field and lead to more employment opportunities than you may receive otherwise.
Look at some industry YT channels or well-known websites and check out who is behind them. It will most likely be someone who has a day job in the industry too.
- Getting the next job whilst doing your current job
Do the job you have been hired for well. Then look to the other members of your team to see if you can help them with their tasks. In a gentle manner, not in their faces, let the team know what you are interested in working on next. You never know who has connections and would be willing to help if you prove you are great at your job!
- Keeping motivated and getting work between jobs
Weeks of unemployment between jobs is common. Consider signing-on for Jobseekers
Allowance benefit. You may also be eligible for housing and council tax benefit while you look for work. It is a myth that freelancers (and the self-employed) cannot get benefits but there are criteria you need to meet.
Keep your mind active when looking for work, by doing it part time. Looking for work all day and every day is counterproductive and makes you miserable. Get out of the house to be inspired and consider your own development projects – perhaps write a blog or create a vlog or instagram series. Anything to keep you active.