So you are passionate about television, you may be even studying a course, you might be a modern day Dawson Leary from Dawson’s Creek (hopefully without all that angst), you might watch TV and think I can bloody well do that! Any of the above is great, but often the question is how do I get in there, how do I get past the metaphorical dragon guarding my entrance into the world of TV? For some it’s easy, “my uncle is an exec producer” so I got work experience, not taking away their talent but they don’t have the struggle. If you are not from London, or NYC, or LA, or Paris or any major city then there can be this daunting question of “do I really want to move my life somewhere on the promise of nothing much really?” That’s tough, I’ve done it and don’t regret it, but you have to love big city life and be hungry for it, it doesn’t suit everyone and there is no shame in that.
At the heart of any work decision, there has to be ultimately a passion, a real passion to want to do it. People go into careers for development, money, stability, interest which is all good, if you are going into a career in TV you need to have that passion and that hunger. The stability, money and development will not always come so easily so that is why passion is key. I’ve outlined below some hints and tips which will hopefully help you on your path to success
The mystery of TV is often individual jobs aren’t advertised, particularly at entry level. If they are advertised they are generally not through recruitment agencies (unless PA/Exec PA) level. Sites like Monster, Reed etc probably don’t advertise a lot of TV jobs either. Firstly look at the company websites and see what’s advertised there. Register for job alerts, and keep a close eye on what comes up. Due to the short turn around when crewing up for shows, a lot of jobs won’t get advertised. Why? Well simply it’s not worth the time, if you get green lit on a commission on Friday more often than not you will need people to start early next week so it doesn’t make sense to formally advertise. Don’t be disheartened by this though as there are other ways to find this information out.
Look locally as well if you are not living in the hub of TV production at more local radio and TV opportunities. Get to know the output and if you can volunteer once a week to answer the phones, do some running. It all adds up to great experience.
Trainee and Apprenticeship schemes
These will always be advertised and whilst hugely competitive they are always worth applying for. The process itself will hone your skills and make you think do I really want a career in this industry?
There are loads of great apprenticeship and trainee schemes out there. in the UK to be an apprentice you can’t have a degree. When doing your application, it’s important to be you, don’t try and be something you are not, don’t try and predict what the interviewers are looking for. Everyone has something great and different to offer so focus on what you’ve done and what you want to do. Make sure your passion and enthusiasm leaps from the page and that you have an abundance of ideas. Keep them relevant, topical, different , but try not to just simply relegate what is out there. Try and be innovative. Be bold, be yourself and don’t give a half arsed attempt at filling a form out, simply give it your all.
Utilising social media
Twitter and social media are vital in your job search. Follow everyone you can that can help you on your career. Don’t stalk or pester people but do engage politely with them. Promote the stuff you are doing as well, short films, new technology you’ve learnt, blogs, websites etc, let people know that you are keen and interested in TV and actively doing something about it. Essential people to follow and engage with and they post jobs are @theunitlist, @thetvcollective, @mediaparents, @bbctrainees, @4talent, @itvjobs, @tellytalklondon to name a few. There are loads more as well, so follow, engage, look out for jobs and read up on advice.
Use twitter as a platform to promote yourself (in a good way no one needs to see that drunken night in Ibiza- no matter how great if was). Engage with,like minded people and if you are making your own stuff, shout out on twitter for help. I’ve seen this really work, networking can be just as effective with your peers than those in a position to offer you a job.
Follow groups on Facebook as well, chat to people on their “want to work in TV” and “TV/Film events and information” are good. There are lots of runners ones to, so don’t be shy find out what’s going on. Find out what’s going on closer to home as well, whether that be local radio and TV. It might not be glitzy prime time television but it’s an amazing training ground and will look good on your CV.
Build a portfolio and name for yourself that sells you as a future TV professional, talk, engage, leave your whinging for the pub, but you can totally utilise this for your benefit.
Contacting people directly
You know this can be truly effective but it has to be done in the right way, and it has to be done to the right person. You don’t want to go all stalker ex on someone you have never met, save that for Tinder not your job hunting. Having said that, I have heard of people who’ve watched a programme, loved it and then contacted the Exec Producer or editor, or production manager with the reasons why they loved it, and a bit of information about themselves, this has been accompanied by a showreel and cv and requesting advice. Now some may not have time to read these emails, some may reject them, some may forward on to the talent manager to deal with! but some will respond directly back. The more keen, enthusiastic you are without being sychophantic and needy the better. It’s about acknowledging their work, asking their opinion on your work and also expressing your interest in working with them in the future. Like I said sometimes this can work but needs to be phrased carefully. You also need to read the situation if you are contacting people many times. It’s easy to annoy people so just contact them on an ad got basis and only with a new bit if information, whether that be about their new programme, your new work experience, new skills you’ve learnt
Events are great ways to get to meet people that can help you on your career, and can often lead to jobs. Networking events as scary as they may sound are essential. Not only do you get access to people who can potentially give you work, you can also expand your peer network and help each other out. Telly Talk and TV mingling are great examples of events aimed at entry level roles and breaking down the mystique of getting into telly. Check out my article on Networking (shameless plug there) on how to be the best you can be in those situation and not be forever remembered as that drunk girl or that rambling idiot.
Make your own stuff
If you can, make your own stuff, film, edit, produce short films, get involved with charities to do more of the same. Promote them, get your work out there. Now I am mindful this isn’t available or affordable to everyone, but network, get involved with charities and groups that can help you with these skills. The Media trust in London is a great organisation to get involved with. I’ve known people who’ve written their own plays, got them staged, made their own films and own competitions with them, it all looks awesome on your CV. You don’t have to wait around for someone to offer you the opportunity to do something you can grab the opportunity yourself. If not documentaries or films, then maybe blogging, getting involved in a local project. Find a story that’s going on in your community and write about it. Today there are so many opportunities to promote your work, if you say you are passionate about television or journalism yet you’ve never shown an interest in TV or written anything then why would someone give you the opportunity? Now that sounds harsh but if you want to break in, you need to demonstrate that passion, hunger and drive!
Getting in the side door
There are thousands of none production jobs in television particularly in larger broadcasters. So maybe your route in is through marketing, hr, IT or working on reception, whatever works for you. Think outside the box, look at your skills, look at what you can do. If you are an amazing whizz on excel and can type like a speed demon then use those skills as a way in. Be mindful though when interviewing for non production roles, no interviewer likes to hear that the person they are interviewing really doesn’t want the job and is using it as a stepping stone. That’s too honest and it will piss them off. Also try and stay for a significant period of time to show some loyalty, whilst doing that build up your relationships with production and the move will feel much more organic and supported by all sides.
Know your specialism
Think about what makes you different and unique, think about the skills you have that might be needed on a TV show. Think beyond shooting, editing, research (all very important though). Do you speak languages, specialise in history, arts, religion, work with a community group, teach young kids, have a physics degree. Think of thing that might not be obvious but could be a great addition to a team. I’ve none people come on board a production because they’ve spoken Arabic, or know about horses, or worked with young offenders, or whatever it may be. These unique things can really help a team, so start thinking about your USPs (unique selling points) and start thinking how that can benefit a production.
Breaking into television isn’t easy but the key attributes, are passion, enthusiasm, and a drive and resilience. Perserverence is the key.
Best of luck, keep smiling, keep dancing, appreciate what’s important, be kind but if this is your goal stick at it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.