Whichever part of the industry you are interested in, you will need to demonstrate a range of technical and transferable skills relevant to this area. For example, if you are interested in script writing, it helps if you have written scripts that have been performed (it can be a short piece), if you would like to be a producer, producing short films, plays etc. is a great way to gain relevant experience. It sounds obvious, but with such high levels of competition, applicants to entry level roles often have a vast body of amateur (and sometimes professional) experience behind them. In addition to the technical skills you will need to have transferable skills such as:
- 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 ability – in the form of portfolios, showreels, websites, social media etc.
Getting paid work experience in the sector can sometimes be difficult, especially at the beginning, however there are lots of opportunities to develop your craft and technical skills whilst at university and during the vacations, which can improve your chances of finding paid opportunities. It’s important to collaborate and find like-minded people to undertake projects with, as all TV and film productions involve working closely with others. If you are interested in film-making, join The OU Filmmaking Foundation which supports and promotes film making at the university, including producing, advising on productions and offering financial support and equipment rentals. You can also make your own short films using a Smart Phone – it’s a great (and relatively cheap) way of creating your own work.
Many of the roles in TV and film can also be found working in stage productions, so working on these is also a great way to get relevant experience - get involved in OUDS or college productions. Over the past year many student stage productions have been filmed, so there may still be opportunities to get some filming experience.
During the vacations, look for work experience opportunities at the various film studios across the UK, such as Pinewood, Leavesden, Shepperton, Media City (Salford). The National Film and Television School also offers volunteering opportunities on their student productions.
Even when you leave Oxford you may need to continue a portfolio approach to your career. This involves undertaking a variety roles in order to develop skills and experience, build networks and survive financially. It’s quite typical for new entrants in the industry to have a “day job” that pays the bills and practice their craft in their spare time, to build enough expertise to apply for paid roles. 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. Use every experience as a networking opportunity, no matter how small it may seem, as you never know what it may lead to in future.
When making “speculative approaches” you may need to write to a lot of places and receive a lot of rejections (or just don’t hear back!) before you get what you want, so be prepared to work at it and tailor your approach to each role. 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, why you want to work for them (write about their work), 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 – always supporting this with real examples of your work/previous experience, If you’ve been making your own films, writing, designing etc, it’s important to let them know.
Also, be persistent, you can contact them every few months to remind them that you’re still interested and you never know, the right opportunity may appear several months after your initial contact.
Getting work experience on a production or in a company's offices may be a little more difficult right now, if there are restrictions on crew member numbers on set or how many people can work in an office (as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic), however don't panic, persevere! It's an evolving situation - keep up to date on industry news by, reading columns on TV & Film in national newspapers, following leading organisations in the industry such as the BFI, BAFTA, Royal Television Society and publications such as Empire Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
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, personable and willing to go the extra mile. In all of your jobs, make a contribution and learn what you can: get involved and don’t become frustrated if you seem to be asked to do anything and everything by the team. 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”.
- Work hard and be professional – in an often high pressured environment, it’s important to demonstrate the same level of commitment and professionalism as your colleagues
- Be engaged, interact with your colleagues and be friendly – this is an industry built on networks and often involves long hours, so people need to want to be in your presence for long periods of time
- 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, ask them how they got to their current position. People usually like talking about themselves and their experiences, but choose your moment! Don’t start quizzing them if they are busy or stressed out.
- Don’t claim to have a skill or know something unless you actually 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.
- 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.
In this industry “you are your brand” so make sure that you reflect the image you would like to portray in everything you do. Periodically check your on-line presence on a range of search engines and make sure any social media accounts also correlate with your chosen professional image – your future employers may check!