TV, radio and film production is a fascinating industry to work in. No two days are the same, you’ll meet other creative people, and seeing the end result of your hard work can be incredibly rewarding. However, this industry is also one of the most competitive, and many jobs within it are not even advertised. For this reason, it’s important to start getting relevant experience as soon as possible. Here’s how…
Who works in TV, radio and film production?
People in this industry generally work within one of the following three areas:
1. Pre-production: the work done on a film or TV/radio episode before full-scale production begins. Script writing, casting and location scouting are all part of the pre-production process.
2. Production: the actual filming of the film or TV/radio episode. If you’re making a film, for example, the production company will bring their crew, equipment, talent (actors) and all necessary props out to the location and capture all the footage necessary.
3. Post-production: sometimes referred to as ‘post’, this includes all work done after production, such as video editing, writing and editing the soundtrack, and adding visual and sound effects.
There are heaps of roles available in this industry. Here are just a handful:
- Script writers are part of the pre-production team. They write scripts for drama, whether it be for TV, radio or film, and some large-scale productions use multiple script writers on an ongoing basis.
- Script editors are also part of the pre-production team. They work with the script writer(s) and producer to bring their scripts to production standard. They also find new script writers.
- Programme researchers carry out factual and picture research to make sure the production is accurate.
- Location managers research, identify and organise access to sites for shoots.
- Directors oversee all aspects of the creative process and bring them together.
- Producers work closely with directors to make artistic and technical decisions about shooting, budgets and post-production.
- Sound technicians operate the equipment needed to record, mix and enhance the audio of a production.
- Lighting technicians operate the equipment needed to create the right atmosphere through the use of good lighting.
- Script supervisors are part of the production team. They make sure the script is followed correctly whilst on set.
- Film and video editors work with raw footage in post-production to create a final result that’s suitable to release.
- Film animators create multiple images, known as frames, which give an illusion of movement.
What key skills and attributes will you need to demonstrate?
- Enthusiasm – above all else, employers in TV, film and radio want to see that you’re truly passionate about the industry. If you want to become a script editor, for example, you’ll need to develop an excellent understanding of drama, watch plenty of films and TV dramas to figure out what works and why, and read plenty of scripts.
- Resilience – TV, media and film production is a notoriously difficult industry to get into, as many of the roles are creatively rewarding and therefore the competition is high! You’re unlikely to find your ‘big break’ straight away, so you’ll need to be able to overcome setbacks.
- Teamworking – Creating a high-quality production to time and within budget is no easy task, so you’ll need to have a good understanding of your role and how it interacts with those of others. No matter which role you end up in, you’ll need to demonstrate the ability to work effectively with others.
How can you get experience?
Through school, college or university
- Does your school have a media club? If not, set one up! It’s a great way for you to meet like-minded students and work with others on film, TV and radio projects. You might also be able to complete a relevant project through subject coursework (such as a TV script for English). Some schools and colleges also offer Level 2 and 3 qualifications in Media.
- The Careers Advisor or Careers Service at your college or university might have access to industry links. If that’s the case, it’s worth making the most of them so that you can pursue work experience and work placement opportunities.
- Many universities have their own student-led TV and Radio stations, so it’s definitely worth getting involved with those as soon as possible. They’ll give you the opportunity to try out different roles, figure out where your strengths lie, and begin to build up a portfolio of work.
- If you’re interested in TV or film, you can introduce yourself to the whole production process by writing a script or shot list, filming it, and then editing the video footage. It’s amazing what you can achieve with a decent phone camera (take a look at these for inspiration), and there’s some fantastic video editing software out there that’s completely free. It’s also worth searching for a MOOC to help you develop relevant software skills.
- If you’re interested in radio, why not start a podcast? It’ll give you experience in planning episodes and setting up sound equipment, as well as an understanding of what does and doesn’t work without visuals.
- If you’re based in the UK, it’s well worth looking into the opportunities offered by the BBC. These include volunteering opportunities, work experience, trainee schemes and apprenticeships. Keep an eye on their Instagram and Twitter pages to make sure you’re amongst the first to hear of new opportunities. ITV and Channel4 also offer similar schemes.
- Get involved with TV, radio and film groups. Search for groups using social media or Meetup.com (you’ll need to be 18 or over to join Meetup), and go along to their events. You might find a local film appreciation group, or a group that gets together on weekends to shoot short films.
- Growing a network of contacts is important in any industry, but especially so in TV, radio and film, as many opportunities aren’t advertised. Search for networking events on social media and, if you’re 16 or older, reach out to people on LinkedIn. Focus on finding hiring managers and people who have the job you’re interested in, and then send them a connection request with a short message. Mention that you’re interested in what it takes to be in the industry and see if they’re willing to meet up for a coffee to talk about it. Take along a copy of your CV, but don’t ask them for a job at this stage – simply ask them to keep you in the loop if they hear of anything. If you’re lucky, they might allow you to shadow them at work. Use our guide to build up your LinkedIn profile first, and make sure you exercise precaution when meeting up with anyone you don’t know.
- If you’re old enough to start work, there are a few media-specific job search sites that you should keep an eye on (see the bottom of this guide for links).
- If you’re specifically interested in scripts, look into volunteering as a script reader. Many production companies and film festivals hire script readers on a voluntary basis to read script submissions and provide feedback to the writers. You’ll need to develop a strong understanding of scriptwriting first and possess strong written communication skills (see the end of this guide for book recommendations and a list of film festivals which frequently take on script readers).
Production runner: the most common route into the industry
Production runners help out wherever they are needed. They might be involved with anything from office administration or crowd control to cleaning up locations and transporting equipment. Runners are usually employed on a freelance basis, are not very well paid (and sometimes not paid at all), and their hours are long and irregular. However, it’s a fantastic way to get an insight into the industry, gain some experience for your CV, and make valuable connections. Once you’ve been taken on a runner, put in 100% effort – if the production company are happy with you, they’ll often get in touch with you for future projects and recommend you to others. Click here for more information on how to become a runner.
If you’re certain that you want a career in this industry, consider doing an apprenticeship. There are a usually a range of paid apprenticeships offered by production companies and other organisations who produce audio and visual content. Use Unifrog’s Apprenticeships tool to begin your search.
Other useful links and sources
ScreenSkills: an organisation dedicated to providing careers information, education and training to young adults entering the media industry.
TVWaterCooler provides a TV job sites database, a Facebook TV groups index, and articles with advice on becoming a TV runner, writing CVs and cover letters, and unpaid work experience.
Job search sites:
For those interested in script reading and script editing:
- BBC Writers Room, where you can download scripts, access opportunities and find out about local events.
- BAFTA Rocliffe, Austin Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival and Screamfest frequently take on volunteer script readers. It’s also worth reaching out to independent production companies directly to see if they’re in need of anyone.
- Recommended books:
- Into the Woods, by John Yorke
- The Art of Script Editing, by Karol Griffiths
- The Art of Screenplays, Robin Mukherjee
ShootingPeople: site for independent film makers.
MyfirstjobinTV: great advice for young people entering the industry.
People looking for TV work: Runners: a Facebook group which advertises available runner positions and gives useful advice.
Larger independent production companies like Endemol and Princes TV, RDF and Working Title may provide training opportunities and/or graduate schemes.