Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Now is a better time than ever to be writing a piece like this. Jobs are uncertain whilst our thoughts have been given even more space to wonder. So, if you are thinking of a change in career – specifically into TV – this might help.
I have been sent a lot of messages from people that have found me on Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and Instagram about how to get into TV and how to know if TV is the right career path for them.
In answer the first question, I push them in the direction of my blog post titled: ‘How to get a TV production running job with no previous experience’. Catchy… I know…
In answer to the second – how to know if TV is the right career path for them – I usually advise them to ask themselves three questions.
Firstly, do I love TV?
This might seem obvious to many of you but for some of the people that I’ve posed this to they have often been unsure.
If you cannot be certain about whether or not you have a passion or even just an interest in television, then it probably isn’t the right avenue for you.
At the end of the day, we are not saving lives. We are creating programmes because we enjoy the process and love the result.
If you are thinking of going into TV to make money or become famous, stop right now.
When you start out in TV you are a runner. As a runner you make about £10 an hour, depending on the job. You could be a runner for one to three years. Although executives, and of course the on-screen talent, make a good salary, it will take you many years before you can afford to buy a Tesla outright – sorry to knock down your dreams.
Secondly, am I proactive?
Some of you may be considering a change of career and others might just be finishing university or even sixth form. Whatever stage of your life you’re at, it is never too late to start working in TV.
There are a number of different personality types that suit to being in television but what is most pertinent is whether you are proactive.
Every. Single. Job you get you will have applied for.
When I say EVERY SINGLE JOB, I mean it. Even if the job is ONE DAY of work.
OK, so that might be a slight exaggeration. Because when you have been working in TV for a while, even as a runner, jobs start coming to you. People remember your name and the work you did for them. A chatty producer that you babbled to in the back of an Uber on the way to return some production papers to the office after a long shoot on a pilot studio show might shoot a WhatsApp to their mate the producer and get you a stint on Taskmaster that will turn into a flurry of shoots with comedians that you have adored for years and you might gently weep in your little student-but-not-anymore-a-student home because now your contact list is far bigger than you could have ever imagined and a little ball of pride begins to balloon within your belly…
But, to begin with, it is a slog. I sent, on average, about 30 emails a day when I started out. I would reply to posts from social media groups – but I must remind you to only apply for the jobs that you tick all of the requirements for, otherwise your name might be remembered for the wrong reasons. I even cold-emailed some production companies whose work I particularly enjoyed. Some production companies find this very annoying, others don’t mind it. You can never be sure who is which so just send emails to the ones you really love – you have nothing to lose.
So, to get jobs in TV you have to be proactive in your approach to apply for them. And, to keep getting jobs, you must also be proactive once you’ve got a job. You probably won’t be shown the ropes and your hand won’t be held along the way. You have to hit the ground running on every set you walk onto… or should I say RUN onto… because you are a RUNNER…
Anyway, you will hear this time and time again but ‘you are only as good as your last job’. So, ask cast and crew if they would like a cuppa, empty bin bags when they are full, and become the eyes and ears of the crew. This is how you will know you don’t need to worry about getting your next job because you will have done so well in your previous job.
Well… don’t become lazy… still work your socks off for your next job but… you know what I mean.
Lastly, am I prepared to work incredibly hard?
I think you can see, as I have gone into a lot of detail in the above section, that you will have to work really, really hard.
In the beginning it will feel like a lot of effort for not a lot of reward. But, if you are determined to work hard and succeed there is a high chance you will be able to do so.
Unlike other creative careers, working behind the scenes in TV doesn’t necessarily involve luck and ‘being there at the right time’ but rather hard work and perseverance.
Yes, it is about the contacts. But these contacts can be found by anyone. Of course, it is about ‘who you know’ but you don’t have to know people in the industry before you find your first job in TV. You will meet people along the way and if you are confident and charming, you will go a long way.
Within the umbrella of this question, another one you’ll want to ask yourself is: Am I prepared to do some jobs that I might really dislike in order to eventually work my way up the TV cherry picker of possibility and success?
I once had to ask for piss from people on the streets of Liverpool. On another street casting I had to ask couples in Manchester if they wanted to test out some sex toys for TV. In short… you’ve got to be gutsy.
It is rare in TV that someone bags their first job half way up the career ladder. Almost everybody in television will have been a Runner at some point in their life. It is a rite of passage. Therefore, you will be tested. You will be given jobs that are not necessarily the most glamorous. You might be asked to pick up a presenter’s suit from the dry cleaners or to take food orders for the cast and crew.
Sometimes you will feel like a waiter again. But in between these moments you might have five minutes with a cameraman who will give you a quick tour of his camera. Or, you might be asked to assist the art director in dressing the studio in vinyl. You will get imposter syndrome like you’ve never felt before. But reflect on the many skills you are learning along the way. You will flow between all of the different departments and you might just stumble upon the perfect role for you. But, most importantly, you will learn humility.
Always stay humble.