TV, radio, and film production is a fascinating but extremely competitive industry. It’s important to start getting relevant experience as soon as possible if you want to make it in this field - so 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 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 by watching plenty of films and TV dramas to figure out what works and why, and by reading plenty of scripts. It’s an industry that expects you to do a lot of work on your own time to stay up-to-date.
- 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).
- Consider starting a school newspaper or a personal newsletter! This will get you valuable experience with writing to deadline and incorporating current events into your work. It’s especially useful if you want to work in factual or news-based media.
- Find out if your school or college offers Level 2 (GCSE/equivalent) and 3 (A Level/equivalent) qualifications in Media. If not, you might want to think about looking elsewhere for a sixth form place.
- 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. 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, 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. Once you’re done, there are loads of online competitions for young people you can consider submitting your work to!
- 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, look 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. Remember to always be cautious when meeting up with people you don’t know - consider inviting a friend along, and make sure you’re meeting in a public place.
- Growing a network of contacts is important in any industry. It's 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 or arrange a phone call to talk about it. The goal of these meetings isn’t to get a job, but to make a connection in the industry and learn firsthand about what it’s like to do the work you’re hoping to do. Make sure you exercise precaution when meeting up with anyone you don’t know.
- Check out media-specific job search sites (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).
Routes into the Industry
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 as 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.
If you’re certain that you want a career in this industry, consider doing an apprenticeship. There are usually a range of paid apprenticeships offered by production companies and other organisations who produce audio and visual content, giving you experience, a qualification, and lots of great contacts! Use Unifrog’s Apprenticeships tool to begin your search.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Freelance Video Collective
Offers free resources and advice, and hosts a large jobs board for finding positions and sharing your CV
BBC Writer's Room
Download sample scripts and learn about courses, contests, and opportunities.
An organisation dedicated to providing careers information, education and training to young adults entering the media industry.