Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Paul Atkinson finds out what’s expected to bag that dream job in the industry…
Getting your dream job in the television industry can sometimes appear to be just that, a dream. Invisible walls seem to keep you from the career you want, impenetrable to the exciting ideas and unwavering passion bubbling away in your head. However, with the right tools, some thick skin and a tardis full of persistence, any obstacle can be overcome. On 16th November Exposures Trailblazer hosted a crack team of five industry insiders eager to utter some golden rules, hot tips and sage advice.
Experience, the bugbear of anyone attempting to get a foot in the door of the television industry, without it your career simply won’t materialise. Obtaining it can be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do and worst of all you won’t be getting paid, which in the current climate isn’t exactly what you want to hear. Fran Baker, a producer/director with fifteen years in the industry, said that she worked unpaid for six months before getting her first paid position, while Paul Sapin, an independent film-maker wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of hiring someone for free. Paul said if you’re good enough you won’t be expected to work for free for long. While members of the audience expressed concerns about exploitation, all the panel members agreed that experience should be treated as an opportunity to learn, make connections and earn a reputation for hard work and reliability.
While we all like to think our dream job is waiting for us to stumble into it, this simply isn’t true with the television industry. Hard work and persistence are your greatest weapons as you try to storm the castle to claim your career. Sending out dozens of CV’s isn’t enough, you need to put some time into personalising each communication, whether it be via phone, email or in person. Know who you want to work with and why, which leads me to your new best friend, research. Research the programmes you like, why you like them, who makes them, what else have they made and what are they currently making? Once you have the answers to these questions then you are ready to contact them for work experience or a junior position. Paul suggested getting involved in the industry by attending festivals and networking, you don’t have to be well known to get in, just see what’s going on in your area and make the most of it. One member of the audience even suggested founding your own festival as he had done, not only does this look fantastic on the CV but it could lead to some great contacts.
While the panellists didn’t agree on everything, they were unanimous in their desire to work with people who exude enthusiasm and good manners. Yes, when you start out, you may be asked to do things that aren’t exciting or make use of your skills, but Claire Judge, a recently graduated researcher for Nine Lives Media, advised us to consider all experience positively and with enthusiasm. Do this and your senior colleagues will notice the breath of fresh air you bring to their team and will feel more inclined to bring you back to do something a little higher up the pecking order.
So you have some experience, you have a degree and maybe even a postgraduate qualification, but you may be overlooking some of the simple skills you need to get your break. According to Fran, a driving license is as essential as knowing how to use a computer. Phone skills are also imperative, having the gall to cold call a production company to ask for work experience, or interview a reluctant source for a documentary both tasks require empathic yet assertive communication skills. Poor grammar and spelling in letters or emails can also dissuade companies from hiring you as it reflects badly on your attention to detail and work ethic. Also consider the length of you communications, according to production designer, Anthea Nelson, a one page CV is enough so keep everything conscience. Mike Lewis, executive producer on BBC’s the One Show, suggested that you can never have too many practical skills but most importantly learn to understand the difference between a story and footage.
Last, but by no means least, your individuality is key to your success. We all have our own USP and you need to find out what you can offer to set you apart from the rest of the crowd. Be positive and proactive about your skills and your personality and how you can use these in the role you want and you won’t have to just dream about your job you’ll be living it.