Daniel Haggett

London based Lighting Cameraman / DoP 

Getting your first job in Film or TV is really, really tough, so before you start cranking out resumes you need to ask yourself "Do I really want to work in Film or TV?"  Here are a few pointers before we start.

1) People think working in TV is glamorous.  It isn't

2) If HBO/BBC/Discovery posted a job for a Runner/Camera Assistant/PA today hundreds would have applied by the end of the week.

3) TV workers do bankers hours, without the wages.

4) TV work can be unpredictable, at times you'll be flat out busy, at times you might have no work at all.

If this hasn't put you off, and why should it, I knew all of these things when I started and it didn't put me off either, then read on.  Here are my top tips to get your first TV job.

Play the numbers game.  When I first started looking for a job in TV, I applied for a job that over 200 people applied for.  It was for a Camera Assistant.  Do you think the employer read every single CV?  I am guessing they looked through the first few and picked someone they liked.  Did I get the job? No.  Should you be put off by this?  Absolutely not.  All of the good jobs in the world a hard to get. If you go and ask NASA if you can have a go flying one of their space rockets, they are unlikely to say yes, but some dedicated people do become astronauts, by comparison getting a job in TV should be pretty easy.

There was a great Derren Brown "trick" I saw on TV where he tossed a coin 10 times, and 10 times it was heads.  How did he do it?  Did the camera cleverly cut without us realising? Was the coin a fake? Nope, he just tossed the coin a lot.  It took him the best part of a day, but in the end he got the result he wanted.  The odds of a coin landing on heads ten times in a row, is not high (it is 1/1024), but if you keep going, statsistics prove you will get there.

Ask not what a TV company can do for you, but what you can do for your company.   This is going to sound a bit harsh, but the people who run production companies don't care about the film you just shot with your mates on your new 4k Blackmagic camera.  At the beginning of your career companies are looking to see how you can help with their production, not the other way round.  Don't get me wrong, later on they may be very happy that you have aquired a few shooting or directing skills, but when it is your first job, chances are these are not the skills they are looking for.  

 

Use your skills.  If you are applying for a job as a Runner / Camera Assistant / Production Assistant, everyone who is applying has an education,is willing to work hard and probably has a good CV, so how do you stand out?  

Think of any skills that you have, that other people probably don't and think how you can use those in the TV world.  For example:  You have degree in Science, apply to Science based television programmes.  If you are interested in History, then apply to Historical programmes.  These kinds of programmes always need researchers and you could be useful to them.  If you speak a foreign language then find a show that needs translators or interpretors.  Having a language is a MASSIVE advantage.  TV programmes are shot all over the world, pre-production and planning these shoots may require your language skills, the crew on the ground might need your help, or they may need help translating the footage when it comes back.  If you are good with numbers and like sport, use your skills to work out the stats for football games.  If you are interested in politics, look at getting a job in current affairs.  If you like fashion/sport/gardening/achtecture - whatever, and you know a bit about the people involved in this world, then you could be of use to a production. This list could go on forever, but you get the idea.  Whatever skills interests or education you have, you can put them to good use somewhere. You don't have to stay in these jobs forever, but it could be a good way to get your foot in the door.

Be tenacious. When I was first looking for work in TV I sent of hundreds of CVs, literally hundreds.  This was in the days when people sent CVs by post.  I once even sent a CV inside a metal chicken through the post to a comedy channel, just to get noticed.  Did this get me a job?  No, but I still kept going.  In the end I walked round countless companies and knocked on doors pretending I had interviews with heads of departments, and the odd production company owner.   I didn't always get past security. I just kept going, untill eventually I had several offers on the table.

Here is an example of someone both being tenacious, and using her skills.  There was a girl I knew who wanted to get involved in TV journalism.   She saw a live BBC report from the town in Yemen where she was from (She lived in London).  She figured out that the crew would eat in a certain restaurant in that town, as it was a small place with few options.  She phoned up that restaurant and asked if a bunch of foreigners were eating there.  She asked to speak to the BBC crew and offered her services, she explained she knew the language, knew the region, and could help them out free of charge.  She ended up with a paid job at the BBC.

Use your contacts.  That old saying of "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is very true in TV.  If you know anyone in film or TV, keep in touch with them.  You don't need to hound them for a job, but get them to keep an eye out for you, that way if a job comes up in their company, you'll be the first to know.

Practicalities.   If you are wondering where to start, get a list of all of the production companies / post production companies / broadcasters or facilities houses in your area, depending on what type of work you are interested in.  Start by contacting these people.  There are lots of lists out there of production companies, databases like The Knowledge or Pact are a couple of UK examples.  Many of the larger organisations share CV libraries, rather than accept a CV as an email.  Upload your CV onto these databases, it is usually free and it is a good way of many getting access to several TV companies.  The talent manager is a UK example, and there are many others.  Keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook as there are many groups that advertise jobs in this way.

There are essentially two ways to go about contacting people directly to break into the industry:

1) Carpet bombing.  Get the general emails (info@ jobs @...) of every production company that is in your area and email them.  Chances are, most emails won't even be read, and many CVs will just find there way into the junk folder.  However, it is still worth while as some of those people might need someone, or they may pass you CV to the right person.  Remember, the larger the company, the more fortress like their email policy will be towards unsolicited mail.

2) Targeted shots.  This is more time consuming, but could give a better result.  Find a production company you are interested in, and then find out the contact details of the relevant people. Sending emails to addresses like"info" "CV" or "contact" usually means that your mail will be read by the office junior, who is not in a position to hire you.  You need to find out the contact details of the people that can hire you, this means a Production Manager, Production Coordinator, a Producer/Director or similar.   The trick here is to strike a balance between being motivated and determined to land your CV on the right persons computer, and pestering them.

No one wants to send off loads of CVs or enter their details into website it is boring, monotonous work that at times can feel soul destroying, however, it is a necessary evil in the early days of your career.  In order to get through it, split the list up and make a few goals.  Maybe decide to do twenty carpet bomb style emails per day, and two targeted emails. 

If you want to be really targeted you can even read up on what is about to go into production.  Online trade magazines often give information on programmes that have just been commissioned, and that means that the Production Company will most likely be about to crew up.

Get Connected:  Connect to your industry through any means possible: follow people on twitter, Instagram, Facebook, read blogs, comment on them.  Companies do this as they know people who are connected to them through social media are more likely to buy their product.  It is the same for individuals.  Someone is more likely to hire you if they have already had some form of contact through you on line.

Another example of this, just to prove I am not just pontificating and making all this stuff up, comes from Twitter.  Rodney Charters, a top Hollywood Cinematographer who is very open to social media, mentioned he was about to shoot in Austria.  Nino Leitner a young DoP from Austraia who is very well known online offered to assist him on twitter.  Rodney Charters gave him the job.  I don't know for sure, but I would say it was fairly unlikely they had ever met before this, and  the whole interaction happened solely through Twitter.  Would this have happened simply through sending an unsolicited email with a CV?  No way.  Incidentally, both of these people are well worth following on Twitter @ninoleitner @Rodneykiwi 

 

Film and TV is a tough industry to get work in when you are starting out, but it is a big industry that needs a lot of fresh talent to drive it along,  if you are really keen to work in it, you will get there in the end.