TV and Film

The UK screen industries contribute over £7 billion to the economy and currently employs c. 215,000 people. The UK is also home to some of the world’s leading production facilities and talent pools in the industry, known for their creativity, innovation and technical excellence.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic meant that productions were forced to shut down temporarily, many are back up and running and producing content to address viewers' increased desire for even greater content choice.

The industry is evolving and changing fast, with a myriad of roles and opportunities spread across a range of different visual media such as, terrestrial TV channels, film studios, subscription channels, social media platforms, sales, distribution, exhibition providers and independent production companies. Opportunities are also growing to work in the sector outside London, as Salford, Glasgow and Belfast have become highly successful production hubs.

The advent of more on-line content and the wider use of Visual Effects (VFX) in TV and film also means that the industry is seeking out entrants with strong IT/software skills in addition to the more traditional technical skills of directing, producing, designing, lighting etc.

 

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The number of different types of jobs is immense, spanning all parts of the production process from commissioning, development, production, post-production and through to distribution. To give an idea of the scale….a big budget film can create as many as 10,000 jobs.

The one unifying factor about all of the roles, is that the industry is increasingly becoming one in which people work on a “freelance” or fixed term contract basis. The advent of more advanced technology also means that some roles can be done remotely. So, when considering a career in the sector, think about whether you are suited to the freelance style of employment, which also means that you will have to pro-actively build networks and contacts to find work.

The full range of industry 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. Watch the end credits of TV shows and films to see the range of roles that exist and which production companies were involved.

Some questions to think about are: What type of work do you want to do? Do you want to be involved at the inception of the project? Do you want to create the content (write, design, direct), do you want to be involved in the project’s production (produce, production accounting, lighting etc.) or post-production (editing, marketing, distribution)?

Many roles in film combine creativity with high levels of technical and/or managerial and organisational ability, so regardless of which role you choose, some of the skills below will be very useful:

  • planning
  • problem solving and troubleshooting
  • liaising with a wide range of people
  • organisation
  • flexibility and adaptability (at very short notice)
  • working to tight deadlines
  • working in challenging environments and conditions

To find out more about some of the different roles that exist, read the ScreenSkills website, which has detailed job descriptions for a number of  roles in TV and film such as, director, editor, production manager, producer, costume designer, hair and make up designer etc.

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 experience

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!

There are several and different routes into film and television and it’s important to know what the typical route is for your area of interest. Screen Skills  and BAFTA Guru are great resources for finding out about various entry routes into the business. Also do your own research on people whose work you admire, using websites such as IMDB (Internet Movie Database) and/or LinkedIn to find out more about their career path and trajectory.

You may also need to consider further study to develop the technical skills for your role. It’s not mandatory for all roles, but can make a huge difference to your abilities and also crucially help you build your networks at the start of your career. For example, The National Film & Television School offers a range of short courses, diplomas and postgraduate courses.

When choosing a course it’s very important to conduct detailed research not only on the content, but also teaching staff (visiting and permanent), other support they may offer such as, careers advice, their contacts within the industry and what their graduates have gone on to do. It’s highly recommended to visit and attend open days to meet staff, ask questions and see the teaching space and equipment available (they may be virtual events).

If you’re not sure exactly what type of role you’re interested in, a role as a “runner” on a production or in a company is a great way to get experience and exposure to the different options available. As a runner, your role is unlikely to be strictly defined and you will be expected to provide support whenever asked. This can involve, photocopying, greeting guests, driving and delivering equipment. The work may not sound “glamorous” however it’s a fantastic way to meet and work with people doing different roles in the organisation, so use it as an opportunity to ask questions and learn as much as you can.

Runner positions aren’t always advertised, however you can find out about upcoming productions via IMDB or IMDB Pro (there is a subscription fee for the latter). Some television studios such as ITV, BBC may advertise roles, so it’s also useful to check their vacancies pages.

Another first foot in the door could be through the ScreenSkills Trainee Finder, an industry led programme to find and assist new talent to join the industry. There are eligibility criteria that you will need to meet and you do need some experience to apply, however it offers a great opportunity to start in the industry. 

Application tips

  • Apply for jobs advertised, but…
  • …you should also approach companies directly, as many vacancies are not advertised. It may depend upon being in the right place at the right time. However, always research the company before contacting them.
  • Get involved in developing ideas, working on projects (amateur or professional) and show that you are a truly dedicated to your craft and developing your skills
  • Attend industry events hosted by BAFTA and the Royal Television Society for careers tips from professionals in the industry, to network and meet other like-minded people with whom you can collaborate in the future

When searching for roles that aren’t advertised, it’s important to learn how to make an appropriate and effective speculative approach. Make sure that your CV and Cover Letter are tailored to that particular role/position and organisation, as standard formats will vary depending on the role. For general advice see our briefing on Making Speculative Approaches. You may also need to showcase your work/portfolio online – websites such as Wix, Square Space and Fabrik provide templates.

Graduate programmes and trainee schemes

There are a few graduate/trainee programmes in the industry, unsurprisingly they are very competitive, but are still worth applying to in addition to pro-actively searching for other roles. Below are some examples:

Independent television companies and production houses

Increasingly, TV and film content is commissioned from and produced by independent production companies such as  Banijay GroupFreemantle, Working Title 

Some offer formal intern/trainee schemes and advertise roles, however vacancies are often filled by those who have made speculative applications or through their networks.

General

Job sites

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and Insight events and many are being recognized for their approach to being inclusive employers. To find out the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in, explore their equality, diversity and inclusion policy. Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks, look out for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work. Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Creative Access, Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club (disability), EmployAbility (disability and neurodifference) and there are many more that are working for specific communities. A key place to look is to see what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability,  gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 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.

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