Seen these icons?

If we have events, jobs or news that are relevant to the page topic, you can access them by clicking on icons next to the print button.

TV & Film | The Careers Service TV & Film – Oxford University Careers Service
Oxford logo
About this sector

Are you enthusiastic, creative and flexible? Are you a good people person? Are you talented at research? Can you continually come up with fresh ideas and stories? Do you understand the technology behind broadcasting? Working in TV and film is still seen as a glamorous career and holds great appeal, despite the long hours, hard work required and tough competition for jobs. To succeed, you need a lot of energy and tenacity, as well as the ability to get on with anyone and the ability to turn your hand to any task. Don’t expect to have a permanent job in TV – usually your career will change and you will find yourself working on a range of projects on different fixed-term contracts. More than a third of people working in the industry are freelance. However, while employment may be varied, it ultimately depends which roles you are most interested in and where your skills fit best. To understand this you need to understand the journey from commissioning to production and airing the finished product.

No other country exports more TV than the UK (according to Creative Skillset). They give the following outline for commissioning a programme:

‘Most TV programmes will start with an idea developed by an independent production company – usually channels will not accept pitches from individuals. If the Commissioning Editor is interested in the idea then it will go into further development, in some cases with a budget to support that work. A small team, or maybe one person, will work on the idea to show that it is worth developing into a full length programme or series. This could involve doing further research, finding contributors or writing a script. When a programme ideal has final approval, it is ‘green lit’. This means that a production schedule and contract will be drawn up and the programme will go into production’.

Although the main channels continue to produce some programmes in-house, (Channel 5 is the exception) they also contract out a substantial proportion of their programme making to independent producers and other broadcasters, while most digital TV stations buy most of their programmes from independents. Large companies such as Endemol Shine Group and All3Media own common names like Kudos (Broadchurch), Tiger Aspect (Panorama) and Lime Pictures (TOWIE) but the vast majority are very small production companies, often run by one or two people. Find out more about production companies in the UK via The Production Guild and The Knowledge.

Lots of films and TV programmes are still filmed in studios. Studios will employ permanent and freelance staff who are responsible for negotiating contracts with incoming companies, organising production schedules, keeping facilities and equipment in good working order, and looking after the production companies and talent who come to film there. Some of the big UK studios include Pinewood (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), 3MillsStudios (The Inbetweeners) and MediaCityUK studios (Cbeebies and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown) but a comprehensive list is best accessed via The British Film Commission.

After filming is complete in a studio or on location, post-production teams take centre stage. Post production includes editing footage, animation, visual effects, sound effects and more. Have a look at the other job role overviews in TV and film on the Creative Skillset website to find out more about working in animation and VFX.

Much of the British media is concentrated in London and is sometimes accused of having a “London bias”, but Birmingham and Bristol are expanding hubs and Manchester is becoming the go-to production destination in the UK. MediaCityUK has grown rapidly too after a number of BBC programmes and offices relocated to Salford. There are lots of opportunities for production, technology development, training and digital media within MediaCityUK. Nearby Manchester is home to over 600 film and TV companies and major independent production companies, such as Red (Happy Valley, Cucumber), Baby Cow (Alan Partridge, The Trip) and award-winning documentary maker Nine Lives Media.

The traditional skill sets and work in TV and film are changing rapidly. The expansion of digital communications across all areas of the economy means that there are increasingly large numbers of opportunities in digital and online media, and in content production for webpages, non-traditional channels and on demand services such as YouView and BT Vision.

Types of job

Around a third of people employed in the sector are on freelance contracts, with many more employed on short-term contracts. The vast majority of contracts are obtained by word of mouth, so interpersonal skills for networking are paramount. One driver for this is that producers often have to build up teams for projects at very short notice. For example, they may receive confirmation of commissioning last thing on a Friday and need to have everything in place for Monday morning. Given this dynamic, being visible on relevant social media (e.g. People Looking for TV Work: Runners) and industry websites is critical (see Broadcast NowPACT; and External Resources recommended below).

It remains true that the excitement and interest of working in TV and film is seldom matched elsewhere, so if you remain open, flexible and have drive, determination and enthusiasm, it is possible to sustain a long-term career in the industry. Many graduates who consider TV and film as a career are often looking more generally for some kind of ‘creative role’, and are open to ideas and possibilities. The full range of creative jobs is broad and employs a wide variety of skills and expertise, so the first task will be to consider where your strengths and interests lie.

Some questions to think about are: would you prefer to get involved with pre-production and the production team, e.g. as a producer, scriptwriter, researcher, production assistant, television or network radio engineer or within camera or sound operations? Perhaps within the broadcast presentation team, e.g. newsreader, presenter, announcer? Maybe within the news and current affairs team, e.g. broadcast journalist or special correspondent? Alternatively, the more technically focused positions within the post-production team, such as film and videotape editor, sound editor, transmission engineer may be worth exploring. There are also many interesting roles within management, e.g. planning and strategy, financial management, interactive systems design (websites and interactive television) or marketing, sales and promotion.

For production, responsibilities include of the job include:

  • planning
  • problem solving and troubleshooting
  • clearing copyrights
  • booking studios, production equipment, performance and production staff
  • liaising with a wide range of people
  • organising meetings and interviews
  • preparing and distributing briefing notes and scripts
  • organising schedules and contracts
  • overseeing cues, timings and continuity during recording
  • budgeting.

Many job roles in film combine creativity with high levels of technical or managerial ability. There are dozens of pathways in film for people with a variety of skills including artistic, craft based, business and technical skills. The bigger the production, the larger and more varied the crew, employing everyone from scriptwritersproducersdirectors and editors, to carpentersriggersmake-up artists and accountants. Skill shortages are reported in script development and the business and finance areas of the industry, with production accountants in particular demand.

Have a look at the range of roles in TV and film on the Creative Skillset website.

 

Entry points

There are several routes into television but these two are particularly common: one is through the studio route – going from runner on a studio floor or on location, moving up to assisting the director, floor manager etc. and then possibly into directing. The other (most normal route in shows like This Morning) is from runner to researcher and then onto Assistant Producer (AP). APs on This Morning sometimes get to go out on shoots and learn how to direct from there.

To get a job as a researcher, you need to show that you can conduct interviews over the phone; write a report on a subject or interviewee, including celebrities; look after guests who may be nervous, excited, angry or just plain rude when they come onto the show; and many other things besides! Real research is all about finding information, digesting the most important bits and then writing it out in the form of a ‘brief’ – so called because the presenters don’t have time to read too much information. They need the researcher to point out the most important bits and help them decide which direction an interview should go in.

In order to become a good director, you need the opportunity to go out on shoots and to spend time putting a show together in an edit. Directing is not all about being in the gallery of a live show or on location but is also about telling a story on tape in the edit suite (where you cut the films together). Story telling is what television is all about so journalism can also be a good route in.

Cable and satellite channels are also good places to start because they often run on a tight budget and expect people to do a variety of different activities. This gives you an opportunity to get a foot in the door by volunteering your services, and you can learn quickly about different aspects of the job. However, pay can be low or non-existent.

If you are thinking about a career as a journalist, please read our sector advice on the Journalism pages of our website.

BBC

Each year the BBC welcomes over 1,000 people on work experience. These are usually two-week opportunities to see how things work at the BBC. Apply online and give your preferences about dates, location and chosen area. The BBC invites applications for work experience four times a year – in August, November, February and May. The experience is unpaid and they are unable to offer expenses. Beyond work experience opportunities there are a number of BBC trainee schemes across journalism, technology, production, and business support. They also organise schemes with partner organisations including Mama Youth ProjectStephen Lawrence Trust  and Creative Access InternsTo find out more see the BBC Academy website and for new talent news and opportunities follow @BBCGetIn or check bbc.co.uk/getin. The BBC is committed to increasing the number of people with disabilities working for them and as a result have created the Extend Hub – a new talent disability recruitment portal. Find out more via the Extend Hub website.

Independent television companies & production houses

Increasingly, TV content is commissioned from and produced by independent production companies, and this trend is set to continue. A number do run trainee schemes, but not necessarily annually. Companies who have recently run graduate schemes include Tiger Aspect, Freemantle Media, Touch Productions, Endemol, Sky (both a News editorial and Finance scheme), Working Title and Princess Productions, while the training organisation Ft2, sponsored by various TV companies, also runs a programme.

Formal training schemes are the exception, with the vast majority of new entrants to the sector getting their first post as a result of an independent company receiving a contract (often at relatively short notice) to produce programmes to order, hence why additional staff are needed. Sometimes these companies advertise, but usually they have had enough recent speculative applications or personal contacts to fill any vacancies. Some independent production companies specialise in the ‘non-broadcast’ market (for example training films, corporate communications, advertising, education) and this can be an excellent way to break into the industry.

The UK Handbook of Independent Production Companies website has excellent information about the output of their member companies, with a searchable directory of production companies.

Commercial radio

Beyond the BBC, there are approximately 120 commercial radio stations and 180 community stations that broadcast. Opportunities exist beyond creativity and production in areas such as finance, HR and IT. As with other sectors within broadcasting, usually the first stage is to get work experience, in this case with a commercial radio station.

If your interest is with programme making (rather than presenting), it is also worth noting that many radio programmes are produced by independent production houses (some specialise in radio, but others develop programmes for both TV and radio). The Radio Academy has useful advice about this area of broadcasting.

The most common entry-level position in radio – after work experience – is often called a ‘Broadcast Assistant’ or a ‘Production Assistant’. A Broadcast Assistant is usually a multi-skilled role that might cover everything from programme administration and research to co-presenting, making packages and operating sound desks. On the broadcast engineering side people may start in roles such as Technical Assistant or as a trainee on a graduate programme as a first paid job; but most people will have some unpaid experience in local/community/student/hospital radio first.

If you are interested in media, then radio is a great industry to join and a potential route in to other areas of the media. For example, a Production Assistant could also offer their skill set in sound for TV as a result of being able to mix radio programmes. Interviewing people and making contacts are requirements in both industries.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

If you are to be considered as a serious candidate you must have evidence that you have some relevant transferable experience and that you possess the skills employers will be looking for. These include:

  • Flexibility, drive and perseverance.
  • Good team-working, organisational and project management skills.
  • Very confident and articulate communication skills.
  • Creativity and an inquisitive mind.
  • Awareness of the technology used in broadcasting.
  • Evidence of your broadcasting ability – if you have recorded material and posted this on appropriate social media sites, this will give you a head start when impressing future employers. Also develop your online presence through LinkedIn, Twitter and setting up your own website to use as a portfolio or blogging.

As well as having skills to offer, you need to show technical knowledge too. You should start to think about how TV, multimedia, radio and film communicate and be aware of how a programme maker approaches a subject in order to package it. Once you have that understanding then you can begin to think how you would approach new or existing topics in ways that would broadcast well. Hence it is important to watch and listen to a lot of TV, film and/or radio so that you can offer constructive suggestions and points of view about specific programmes, channels and stations.

Getting experience

It is most unusual to be offered paid work in this sector without first having gained unpaid work experience. Try to gain experience whilst you are still studying – and also join relevant societies or create your own projects (see What to do while at Oxford, below).

Even when you leave Oxford you may need to continue a portfolio approach to your career. This involves undertaking a variety of paid and unpaid roles in various sectors in order to develop skills and experience, whilst still surviving financially. However, a little experience can go a long way – and the people you will be competing against face the same challenges, so if you combine some experience with passion, commitment and good research into your chosen areas, you can make a stand-out case to be considered.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer as well as on the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Relevant industry work experience is increasingly important if you are looking to develop a career within TV and radio. Not only will you gain an understanding of the type of work undertaken and the various roles, but you will also have the chance to develop contacts, which may lead to more work experience and eventually, paid work.

It is also vital to get work experience ideally in the vacation periods, although usually this will need to be followed by a further period after graduating. Some employers do operate work experience and internship schemes, such as BAFTA, Tiger Aspect, Endemol Shine UK and Channel 4. However, the vast majority of employers do not advertise opportunities, but instead rely on speculative approaches from those seeking work experience. Start by making good use of the contacts on the Oxford Careers Network and alumni via your own college and LinkedIn. You may need to write to a lot of places and receive a lot of rejections before you get what you want, so be prepared to work at it and tailor your approach to each person. Most film and TV companies have their own websites, so find them, explore them, find a relevant email address and write to them. When writing, explain who you are, what you want to do and what skills you can bring to the job. Be passionate in your application and demonstrate your enthusiasm for new ideas, preferably with examples of your own ideas. If you’ve been making your own films, radio shows or writing your own blog then let them know. It all points to your ability to communicate. Finally, make it clear that you know the show you are applying to, i.e. make sure you watch it!

What to do during your work experience

When you have the opportunity to get hands-on experience, seize the opportunity to build and cultivate a reputation for being hard-working, affable and willing to go the extra mile. In your early jobs, make a contribution and learn what you can: get stuck in and don’t become frustrated if you seem to be the team’s ‘dogsbody’. One Oxford alumnus commented that “time spent making a cup of tea is never time wasted – and there’s often a chance for a chat when you deliver that cuppa”.

  • Be happy, engaged and friendly – this is a very social business and while you will work hard it is also often good fun.
  • Talk to your colleagues: getting on with people is crucial, but most importantly genuine passion for the job or the programme you are associated with will show, and that will be appreciated.
  • Ask people about their jobs – learn about the job from as many different perspectives as you can. People love talking about themselves, but choose your moment!  Don’t start quizzing them if they are busy or stressed out.
  • Don’t claim to know it all until you are sure you do!
  • Make yourself indispensable – the more people come to rely on you, the better chance of keeping hold of a job or getting another contract.
  • Make other peoples’ lives easier – anticipate what needs to be done and do it for them or volunteer your services. Look for solutions rather than bring problems.
  • Know your audience – make an effort to meet the people who watch the shows you are interested in. Read their letters and emails if you have access to them.
  • Be prepared to put in that extra shift… to stay on to help clear up at the end of the day. Your next job will probably come through word of mouth, so being willing to help the team to the end is a good reputation to foster.

What to do while at Oxford

There are many ways to build up relevant and transferable experience while at Oxford, from theatre reviews to writing op-ed pieces in one of the student newspapers like the Cherwell or OxStu. It’s also worth joining the NUJ (National Union of Journalists)as a student and keeping an eye on publications such as MediaGuardian or Press Gazette for work experience opportunities. Do not despair at rejections; editors appreciate and respect persistence and the desire to succeed.

If you’re considering a career in this sector, join a relevant student group like the Media Society, the Oxford University Film Foundation, Oxide Radio or the Oxonian Globalist.

In addition, try to develop your multimedia skills by using Twitter, setting up a blog, learning how to shoot a documentary… You’re not expected to be an expert, but demonstrating your understanding of different multimedia tools will be useful to employers. It is important that you curate your content to present your best work – so do not simply put up everything you have ever done. And, periodically check your visibility on a range of search engines to make sure that other people will find only what you want them to find.

Getting a job

Unless you are very well connected, this is the hardest part. TV and film is a challenging industry to work in, offering opportunities to work with the best in the world in every field from journalism to camerawork, writing drama to editing, across all genres of programming. Gaining entry involves being highly-committed, passionate and having some relevant experience and good transferable skills.

Creative Skill Set gives the following suggestions:

  • Apply for jobs advertised, but…
  • …you should also be approaching companies ‘cold’ as well, because many jobs are simply not advertised. It may depend upon being in the right place at the right time. However, always research the company’s record before contacting them.
  • Get involved in developing ideas, working on projects (funded or non-funded) and show that generally you are a TV person who is prepared to go ‘the extra mile’ (or ten) for something that you genuinely desire, i.e. to work in TV.
  • You should also take a look at the skills shortages within the UK television industry and film industry – because although there is an abundance of talent, there is also a shortage of skills that may provide you with a way in.

Use the list of sector vacancy and information websites below, such as Mandy and Grapevine Jobs to find opportunities and contacts, as well as following the advice in the Skills & Experience section mentioned above.

Fewer than 30% of people working in the media industry are in their current job as a result of applying to a job advertisement. It is therefore vital that you learn how to do an appropriate and effective speculative approach, as you will need to be continuously networking, even after you have found your first paid job. For advice, use the information above, the section on Getting experience and our online briefing Making Speculative Approaches. Our Careers Advisers can also help you with that first approach in a 1:1 appointment. How you tell your story and how you come across is key!

Once you have done some work experience (a placement or two) then you are probably ready to start applying for paid jobs as a runner. The work experience should have given you an insight into how the workplace operates, and once you have got that experience and know what is expected of you in an entry-level job, then you can start seeing yourself as a credible applicant.

You should expect to work on short-term contracts of a few weeks to up to a year. These may follow one after the other within a single role, but if this isn’t possible, you will need to be looking out for the next job whilst you are working. It requires a degree of confidence and resilience to cope with the uncertainty this pattern of working entails, so do consider carefully whether you will be comfortable with that.

Equality & positive action

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) London is a charity that provides access, training and mentoring for outstanding young people from under-represented and under-served communities. This includes students from BME communities and also those that are from low-income families, or families with no history of university education (irrespective of their ethnic origin). SEO have partnered with Creative Access (CA) to better educate and provide students from under-represented ethnic backgrounds with access to a wide variety of internship and graduate opportunities in TV, Film, Music, Radio, PR, Publishing, Theatre and Journalism. Internship/graduate opportunities with leading organisations exist including Channel 4, ITV, NBC Universal, SKY, SONY, Brunswick, Harper Collins, Endemol, Cherry Red Records, One Media Publishing, Marv Films, Keo Films, Wall to Wall, Hat Trick Productions, and Big Talk.

Find out more on SEO London’s webpages.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • How to Get a Job in Television, Elsa Sharp
  • The Radio Handbook, Carole Fleming
  • Contacts 2012
  • On Air – A career in TV & Radio, Chris Alden
  • Careers in Media and Film: The Essential Guide, Georgina Gregory, Ros Healy, Ewa Mazierksa
  • The TV Presenter’s handbook, Kathryn Wolfe
  • Getting Into Films & Television, Robert Angell

Podcasts of past events

Routes into Professional Acting

In collaboration with the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS), the Careers Service hosted ‘Routes into Professional Acting’ in TT17. This panel talk was aimed at students interested in an acting career and brought together different perspectives from an acting agency, drama school and a successful working actor. Speakers included:

  • Alex Nair, New Applicants (Actors) & Drama School Liaison, The Avenue (acting agency)
  • Aly Spiro, Head of Acting at The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA drama school)
  • Edwin Thomas, actor and Oxford alumnus (featuring in ‘The Happy Prince’, due to be released later in 2017)

Careers in TV & Film

In this podcast we hear four very different stories about routes in to working in TV and Film: Gavin Hyatt is the Director of Oxbox.tv, a local television and film company he set up just four years ago from scratch to move into the sector. Oliver Kassman, an alumnus of MSt English here at Oxford (2010-11), talks of his experience breaking into film, internships, flexibility and humility along the way, which have led him to his current role in Development at Qwerty Films. Clare Holt talks of working her way up in broadcasting (including early morning starts for GMTV!) and her move to found her own company: Nice Tree Films. Finally, Paul Olding (Director, Writer, Producer, Camera) tells us about his life at the BBC, from working with Brian Cox to filming in a helicopter over lava.

Breaking into Film & TV Production

This talk includes representatives from the National Film & Television School (NFTS). One such speaker is Oxford graduate Emily Everdee who is a 2017 Prince William Scholar supported by Warner Bros. and BAFTA to complete the MA Producing Film & Television at the NFTS. Emily was named ‘One to Watch’ by Hiive in January 2017.

External resources

General

  • British Broadcasting Corporation
  • Skillset – the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media – includes lots of useful industry links and profiles from a huge variety of job roles in film and TV
  • Mandy – International Film & TV Production Directory, includes a good vacancies section
  • Televisual – Blogs, news, relevant articles and jobs search
  • The Knowledge Online – Source of UK Film & TV contacts
  • PACT – Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television, representing independent television, feature film, animation and interactive media production companies
  • Broadcast Now – Popular trade paper Broadcast.
  • Want to Work in Television – There is a list of links to production companies to get you started on the Useful Links page on this website
  • Production Guild
  • ACE – European producer development scheme
  • Screen Daily – with online news bulletins
  • The Radio Academy – advice about how to get into the radio business
  • Sound Women – Network of women working in radio
  • Raindance  – Useful course for film makers
  • National Film and Television School
  • Start in TV – Charge an annual subscription to applicants to post their CVs on the site. Prospective employers can browse CVs and call candidates for interview. For students this costs £19.99 per year
  • Production Base – Same as above (Start in TV) and costs £15 per month
  • TV Watercooler – For lists of active company talent bases and general industry advice
  • Frame 25: Media Jobs – Introduction to broadcast media, with many links to further sources.

Job sites

  • ITV Jobs
  • Mandy – International Film & TV Production Directory, includes a good vacancies section
  • Grapevine Jobs – Source of broadcast and media jobs

Entry level jobs

  • People Looking for TV Work: Runners – Read the first section, it’s really helpful. You can post your CV there, and jobs and last ditch opportunities are posted all the time. Good way of picking up ad hoc work experience too.

When you’ve got a few credits

This information was last updated on 20 November 2017.
Loading... Please wait
Recent blogs about TV & Film

Exploring Careers for Arts Students

Blogged by Julia Hilton on November 14, 2017.
  • When: 16.00-17.00, Monday 20 November
  • Where: Denis Arnold Hall, Faculty of Music

Have you wondered what to do with your degree? What have alumni studying English, Music, Classics or History of Art done? How do you navigate the huge range of options out there and are there any relevant internships available? Come along to answer these questions and more at this Careers Service event. There’ll be plenty of examples to inspire next steps and practical information on how to be successful in the graduate labour market.

You do not need to book a place at this event but please bear in mind that spaces will be allocated on a first-come, first served basis and popular events may fill early so arrive in good time.

This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.