February 16, 2017, by Carla Froggatt
So, You Want to Break Into the Television Industry?
By Debra Henson, Senior Careers Adviser
The first thing you need to know about television is that it’s competitive. You must have passion and perseverance. Consider why you want to work in this industry, and what you think that actually means. ‘Working in television’ could mean a career that takes many different shapes and sizes.
I recently went along to the annual Royal Television Society Futures Careers Fair in London. Billed as ‘The Ultimate TV Careers Fair’ it not surprisingly sold out. Students flocked from across the country looking for advice on the first steps into a very popular career aspiration.
Perhaps some of you found your way there? If you didn’t, here’s some valuable advice from the experts who did.
What’s the story?
The way we consume TV is changing rapidly, and how we consume it depends on our demographic. Older people – that will be me – still like to make a date with the flat screen in the corner; while younger folk – most likely you – consume more on demand television, streamed via tablets and phones. Either way, the broadcasting of TV might be diversifying across many platforms, but it is still largely created by production companies. These are large and small companies, many of which are based in the UK.
Starting your first chapter
It’s not necessarily what you start out as that matters. Getting your foot through that first door should be your focus. Having a long-term goal is important, but you won’t be hopping into the director’s chair anytime soon. For now, you need to concern yourself with finding the right entry-level job for you.
Generally speaking, there are three main entry-level routes into the television industry. A popular choice is to apply to be a production runner, working with the production team in a studio or on location. Tucked away from the bright lights, you could be an office runner, working with the production management team and as the job title suggests, be based in an office. There are also an increasing number of roles as a researcher. This could require you to work on a factual programme, or on one of the growing number of reality shows. Usually, these opportunities last anything from a couple of weeks to a few months.
Getting experience when you don’t have any
This is a common conundrum whatever industry you want to get into. Even more so when it’s competitive. Here’s something to think about though: everyone working in TV had to start somewhere. Many were probably in a similar position to where you are now – unless you’re say, the nephew of Martin Scorsese. It takes perseverance to get that first piece of experience on your CV, but sometimes it just about knowing where to begin.
Speculate to accumulate
Some larger organisations offer structured internship programmes – more on this below – however, smaller production companies tend to recruit from the speculative applications they receive. If this appeals to you, firstly you need to identify and research production companies of interest. The Knowledge and PACT are great places to begin your search and then Prospects have some great advice on what to do next.
Skill up on a structured scheme
If getting a big name on your CV appeals, you can either opt to try to get some part-time work experience during your degree or look for an internship afterwards – aim for both if you’re smart. Whether you’re in your first or final year, the conference highlighted some really interesting opportunities to research now.
Some short-term options include the ENVY post production work experience academy, who are particularly looking for students on a sandwich course, and also Endemolshine UK’s 40 centrally funded, two-week work experience placements. To apply to Endemolshine UK, email your CV and covering letter here.
If graduation is looming and your sights are set on London, try this one year internship with Viacom International Media Networks UK. Also based in the capital, FreemantleMedia have an interesting Post Production Runner role available – just search for ‘Entry Level.’ The Media Trust have opportunities in London on their Transforming Hidden Talent Programme, but also recruit in Manchester and Birmingham.
A couple of other projects that really stood out were the Mama Youth Project and The Network. The Mama Youth Project run What’s Up TV Training, which is aimed at increasing diversity in the industry. You don’t need previous experience and you get three weeks of free training followed by a 10 week paid placement. The Network offer an industry introduction at the Edinburgh International TV festival, and then 12 months of mentoring with access to job opportunities.
Prefer to scout for vacancies yourself? The Talent Manager is a popular job site, which lists an array of exciting options.
Seven insider tips from industry experts
- Companies are looking for nothing less than a passion for TV – show them it; don’t just say it
- Sending a speculative application? Ring companies to ask for the name of their talent manager first
- Keep your covering letter to a succinct one page – include information about what you watch, what you like and why, commenting on programmes made by that particular company
- Think about what part of the company you would like to get experience in – even if it’s a short internship, it’s important to be specific
- Being involved in student media is good, but equally so is any other activity you have done – whatever your extra-curricular activities; show your passion for them
- Admin experience is useful for office runner positions; highlight it on your CV
- Practise using social media as a research tool as it’s great experience if you want to be a researcher on reality TV – you also need to demonstrate the ability to write good notes, find facts and log details
Find out more breaking into the television industry and hear from people working in at Spotlight On… Media Production, 23rd February 6-8pm. If you want to get some experience on campus, check out NSTV.