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30-01-2015 12:29:38

Creative Media Jobs and How to Get One

Tom Pammenter|Industry, Inspiration

An editor, two continuity announcers, a former runner and an executive share their insights, experience and advice on the more creative media and TV jobs – how to get one and how to get ahead.

It’s true what they say – it’s often not what you know but who you know. Contacts count. Frame 25, one of the UK’s leading media recruitment agencies, lifts the lid on some of the more creative media jobs and, crucially, what it takes to land one.

A unique blend of technology and creativity lies at the heart of the broadcast media industry.

The successful production of television, radio and film requires skills which are partly learned and partly innate, with many of the more creative positions tending to rank among the most highly-paid.

And that, of course, is a massive attraction to many who are looking to break into the industry.

Throw in the glamour that many believe goes with every TV, film and/or radio job and it’s easy to appreciate why competition for roles in these fields is always high.

But what’s it actually like in the business? How do you land one of the more creative media jobs? And what does it take to build yourself a successful career if you’re lucky enough to get such a job in the first place? Frame 25 decided to find out…

 

“Stay focused and don’t get sidetracked” – the editor

Matt Michael is a freelance Avid & Final Cut Pro editor who studied film (at what was the London College of Printing and is now the London College of Communication) and specialised in editing in his final year.

Matt describes his job as “partly creative, partly technical. It can be like a sausage factory at times,” he says, “but it can also be quite creative. Obviously if there’s a tight turnaround [little time between receiving raw footage and having to deliver the finished package] the scope for creativity is limited.”

“I love editing, editing’s great! It’s a creative role but a lot of it is technical and it’s best if you have a natural interest in television and the technical aspect of it. You’ll enjoy it a lot more.”

Matt has this advice if you’re looking to start a career as an editor: “Learn as much as possible, stay focused and don’t get sidetracked into production, for example. It can be very hard to get back onto the path to becoming an editor.”

That covers one specific area of post production but what about those wishing to build a career which places them on the air?

There’s a group of people working in television who normally go unnoticed and yet they are heard by millions of people every day of the year: the voiceover artist, also known as the continuity announcer or on-air announcer.

Some work live to air, others pre-record their links. All play a vital role in making television that little bit more personal.

Those who work live to air tend to be on the bigger channels and must be unflappable. When things go wrong, it’s they who must inform and reassure the viewing public that their favourite programme will be back on air in no time, should it ‘fall over’.

Sometimes these outages happen because of a technical failure. Sometimes they’re due to good old human error. But when the channel you’re watching suddenly goes black or shows a countdown clock for no apparent reason, that’s when the announcer steps in to save the day and reassure us that all is not lost and the programme will indeed be back shortly.

One man with this responsibility is Dominic Green. Watch Coronation Street or I’m A Celebrity? Then you’ll have heard Dominic’s calm, cheerful and warm tones – he’s the flagship voice of ITV1 and BBC Worldwide.

But just how creative is he allowed to be on ITV1? “The channel likes us to reflect our own personality in scripts and delivery but there are limits, obviously,” he says.

“We have to be sensitive to the viewer and there are lots of messages that we have to get across, such as warnings and points to priority shows.  As long as we cover the basic information, we are generally trusted to do it in our own way.  Plus, we have a read through with the continuity producer, so that they are happy, beforehand.”

Dominic says the level of creativity allowed for VOs depends on the channel and/or broadcaster. “It varies,” he says. “Some channels are very prescriptive about what can and can’t be said and, increasingly, broadcasters pick voices that reflect their brand, so there’s a fair level of trust.  There is of course, room for creativity in scripting and delivery but it’s not without its limits!”

 

“It’s not as glamorous as it sounds” – the continuity announcer

Speaking on the telly to millions of people while watching your favourite programmes? Little wonder jobs such as Dominic’s are hugely competitive – and misunderstood:

“Sitting in a darkened booth at evenings and weekends is not as glamorous as it sounds and we don’t just watch the telly either!”

Having worked for Sky News, presented a show for ITV and reported for ITV at breakfast time on camera, Dominic honed his fast scripting skills and developed an ability to adapt and change things live on air at the last minute without sounding fazed – all useful attributes. “Unlike being a live news reporter, there’s no requirement to stand outdoors in all winds and weathers, which is an advantage!”

“Chalk up some experience, wherever you can get it and send out mp3 showreels to get attention”

What’s the one piece of advice Dominic would offer someone trying to get into the industry and do what he does?

“There is no certain way to get in to the voiceover industry,” he says. “It’s trial and error really.  Some actors naturally have that ability to be adaptable and varying your tone, script and delivery are certainly useful skills but probably more useful is a background in live TV or radio.  Certainly live continuity requires quick thinking at times, a confidence that comes across on air and so many come from news, as you can probably imagine.  Chalk up some experience, wherever you can get it and send out mp3 showreels to get attention.”

Another continuity announcer, who worked live-to-air on ITV between 1991 and 2002 – “Up to the point when ITV died and all the regional stations dissolved and all the teams of announcers in all the regions were after a handful of jobs in London” – says his route into the industry was “not straightforward.”

“It kind of evolved. An electronics engineering qualification led to a stint as a volunteer helping to build a studio for a hospital radio station, which in turn led to a few slots presenting, filling in when required. Then I got a lucky break – the manager of a local BBC radio station heard me, liked me and invited me in for a chat.

“That led to a Sunday job, putting the station on air in the morning, rather like a TV continuity job. I decided I liked it so sent demos looking for more work on other stations. Freelance cover evolved into a full-time job on Radio Trent and I tried to get voiceover work on TV. Full-time work on the radio and freelance TV jobs gradually changed to freelance radio and full-time TV work.”

 

“Be prepared to work long hours and do horrible stuff for very little pay…or none at all.” – the ex-runner

Another common route into the industry requires an attitude like no other. If you can smile when those around you can be unpleasant on a whim, if you can work hard for long hours for little or no pay, if you can repeatedly put up with doing stuff that nobody else either wants to do or hasn’t got the time to do, you can be a runner.

As well as thick skin, you’ll need some luck at the outset in order to land such a job in the first place, of course.

There is glamour to be enjoyed, somewhere along the path. But this route into the industry is generally anything but glamorous. Being a runner is tough but remains a great way in to all kinds of TV jobs.

One ex-runner we spoke to had this to say: “Yes it can be unpleasant at times. You have to be prepared to work long hours and do horrible stuff for either very little pay or none at all. Companies know that if you don’t fancy it, there’s a queue of people right behind you who do.”

“Some jobs I had to do as a runner were horrendous,” he adds. “Shovelling up brown stuff in an old railway arch in Borough, south London to prepare for a video shoot for a cover version of a song that didn’t even chart – that was probably the worst.

“Other things included having to go the busy pub down the street in Soho with some petty cash on a Friday evening, buy a round of drinks, then carry them on a flimsy old tray back up the street, up a flight of stairs and into the office, while being pointed to and laughed at by strangers the whole time. It was a test of nerve! But I did get to work with Guy Ritchie, long before he was directing blockbuster movies. That was fun!”

Doors can open when you’re a runner. Attitude plus luck, ambition, some kind of skill or talent and you could be on your way to your dream job in TV. And that is what keeps people queuing up.

 

“There’s a lot to be said for bypassing Uni and bashing on doors to get an internship when young” – the Executive

“What kind of entry-level creative roles are generally available?”

We put that question to Graham Smith, co-founder at Grand Scheme Media and former Head of Comedy & Entertainment at Channel 5, Executive Producer at BBC TV Comedy and Commissioning Editor, Comedy & Entertainment at Channel 4.

“[You have] two choices – follow the creative media/TV production Uni route – many Uni courses are now becoming much more industry-focussed by establishing closer relationships with broadcasters and producers, and so can feed talented graduates into junior jobs. The second route is to hit the internship/gopher/junior researcher route. There’s a lot to be said for bypassing Uni and bashing on doors to get an internship when young – particularly in post-production, etc. Inevitably, internships are the way in, to lead to junior researcher positions.”

The intern route “is now the ‘traditional’ route,” says Graham. “Many young creatives are now producing their own content and posting it online – be they comedians, directors, visual effects geeks. And telly is more and more looking at You Tube et al for talent. There is a chronic lack of training in TV these days – so people basically have to learn on the job, even if they’ve done a reasonably good BA course…The internet’s created an online noticeboard of opportunity. There are many ways you can make some noise online, and broadcasters and producers are always dredging the web to find creatives and the next breakthrough directors, etc.”

What does it take to get in and be successful in creative media jobs?

So, assuming you’ve done what it takes – or know someone 😉 – and you’re in and are doing your dream job, how do you thrive and build a successful career?

Graham advises: “Like any creative endeavour, it takes great determination, a willingness to learn as much about your chosen area as humanly possible, being prepared to knock on doors and ‘market’ yourself, accept that you will be knocked back, but that you will still persevere! You can never do too much research. Think laterally.”

Want further information to help you land a creative job? Get in touch.

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