Here, three recent graduates pursuing different production careers talk about their experiences, their plans and their advice for others thinking about working in film, TV, video and media production, an area that ranges from working on corporate videos to making films and includes planning, creating and editing footage. It’s a popular and competitive industry involving many different roles and types of work.
James is 22 and a graduate in film and television, specialising in outside broadcast and live events. He has undertaken a video production internship at GTI, the company TARGETjobs is part of. Ryan is 23 and a graduate in film production, currently specialising in post-production and editing. He has done a video editing internship at GTI. Laura is 22, a graduate in English and a freelancer in video production. She is about to begin an MA in film at the University of Amsterdam.
The best parts of working in video | What our specific roles involve | Learning film skills outside uni | Should you do postgraduate study in film? | Favourite projects | Issues you may encounter | How to find jobs | Equipment | Unexpected parts of the job | Advice
Why do you enjoy working in video?
Ryan: I come from an acting background; I studied drama, media and literature at school and college and they’re all part of creative storytelling. I guess it all comes from that – my love of characters and telling stories.
There are different things I like about different roles. When you’re editing, you get to put it all together at the end and you get to see all the footage and the whole production. If you’re a director, it’s brilliant to work with actors and to help them to get their best performances. Meanwhile, camera operators have the pleasure of capturing something brilliant or unexpected on camera, knowing that it’ll never happen again, and they caught it just in time.
James: I get to go places. Getting to see the world, visit different people, meet them and hear their stories is something I take full advantage of. I also enjoy being hands-on with the equipment, and being able to critique myself, to see first-hand that I’ve done something wrong and to learn from it. It’s just great to have a career doing something... outlandish? I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, my only real indulgence is chocolate, so I thought to myself, okay, I’m going to try to make a career in something that will interest me, something more exciting than sitting at a desk.
What does your specific role involve?
James and Ryan talk in more detail about their internships at GTI.
James: I film interviews of recent graduates working at various companies. I set up the interviewee and the lighting stand so that they’re illuminated in the best way for filming, then I film the interview using two cameras, one for a medium shot – from the waist up – and one for close-ups. After we’ve done the interview, I take some B-roll – overview shots of what the building looks like and what the environment looks like inside the building. Then I download it all onto a single hard drive, take any last shots I need and go home.
Ryan: I take James’ footage and edit it; I’ll turn a 45-minute interview into a 3- or 4-minute video. Out of those 45 minutes, 30-ish minutes will be usable, so you have to be very brutal and decisive about what you want and be attentive to what the subject’s saying – if they repeat themselves, it’s out. Then you’ve got to make it flow well, get text over it and a nice soundtrack, and make sure the visuals and sound complement each other. It takes me about ten hours to edit one video together.
How do you learn film skills outside of university?
Laura: I’d done social media at my previous job and a production company wanted me to do social media for them, and they taught me how to edit and film. My thinking was to go somewhere small and to do a bit of everything, so they had me doing some filming, sound, editing stock footage, coordinating the setup, location scouting, as well as social media.
James: Freelance jobs give you varied experience, because the contracts are short, so you quickly move between clients with different priorities and films with different subjects.
Also, if you’re starting in unpaid experience and you talk to the cameraperson on set, you can easily get them to teach you what the menus are like in a camera and what the distinguishable features of that camera are in relation to other cameras. Everyone’s very down-to-earth; if you’re friendly, people will talk to you. You’ll also pick things up if you pay attention on set.
Should you do a postgraduate degree in film?
Ryan: Doing a masters can get you a lot of experience, but it’s not necessary – the experience is the necessary part, and you can get that outside of uni. If you can find another way to get into it, through connections or word of mouth, I’d probably do that first, see where that leads, and then maybe go to uni later.
Laura: There’s a lot of emphasis on how hard it is to make it in media, so I figured that if I do a masters, I can gain skills and educate myself about the field. It’s much cheaper to study in Amsterdam, though – I don’t know if I’d have gone through with a masters in the UK.
James: There are a lot of universities that say they do film and media, but what they actually do is theory of media and film. So, the university hires 30 lecturers to teach you the theory of cinematography, but if you’re trying to go into practical film work as a career, taking a course like that is very impractical. You don’t get any actual physical experience. Finding a university that isn’t ludicrously expensive and gives you hands-on experience in the field is difficult.
What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on?
Laura: I got to film out in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and that was amazing – just pointing the camera at whatever looked interesting was so cool and meant having a lot of creative freedom.
Ryan: My final piece at uni was a period drama short film, and we found a set near Portsmouth which is used by the BBC and it’s essentially a whole small village. We got to film there for five days, which was awesome. I’ve also done some underwater videography, and when you’re 30 metres underwater, you need to be careful about pressure – your equipment needs to be reliable. My GoPro’s case broke from the strain, and it was actually my then-girlfriend’s GoPro, so that wasn’t great.
James: My first rugby experience was good fun. With some types of camera, like ‘pole’ cameras, you have to physically move with the action instead of sitting or standing with a fixed camera. If one of the players is running at full pelt across the field to get a try, you have to run with them!
What issues might you encounter when pursuing a video production career?
James: The media industry in general, especially the production side, is extremely competitive, and the most difficult thing I’ve found is getting a nine-to-five job. Upon graduating, I must have gone through between 45 and 50 interviews, all of which I got rejected from aside from my current job. Everyone’s going for the same jobs. It’s even harder if you want to work as a camera operator, because there’s always somebody with more experience in more cameras than you. It’s best to have a speciality that isn’t just camera.
If you’re working freelance, your contract lasts a day, maybe two. You have to take whatever you can find. And if you don’t have experience, unpaid work is unfortunately something that you need to embrace, or you’re not going to get any experience.
Unless you’re in a media hub – Manchester, Glasgow, London, other big cities with lots of media presence – or you’re able to commute every day into one, you cannot sustainably live on a freelancing salary. That takes a full-time job or a reliable client.
How do you find work?
James: I find some jobs on Facebook. There are specialty websites which feature some low-paid opportunities, as well as others where you can pay a subscription fee to see jobs. There’s a site called Grapevine for outside broadcast work. LinkedIn and the like – but that's mostly for more permanent jobs. If you’re not in London, most opportunities are online or through word-of-mouth; the word-of mouth stuff comes once you’ve met people on previous productions and they want to take you on again based on your previous reputation.
What equipment do you need for your job?
James: If you’re going out and doing freelance jobs, your life will be much easier if you can drive and you have a car. If you want to do your own video work, get a camera once you have experience with a certain type. A starter camera will probably run you at minimum £300. You’ll also need a good computer to do your own work. I’d go for a Windows computer with an I7 or I8 processor, a decent graphics card and a good amount of RAM. Make sure you do your research on any kit you’re getting.
Buy as much black clothing as you can: multiple black T-shirts and black trousers. Make sure you have a pair of heavy, durable boots and a warm pair of gloves. You might be out there for long days in all kinds of weather, so you have to do everything you can to make yourself comfortable.
Ryan: I use Adobe Premiere Pro to do my editing work, which is an industry standard for editing smaller video projects, though Avid Media Composer is often used for bigger projects. The whole Adobe Creative Cloud suite is £50 a month, and so most people use Premiere because you’re not just getting Premiere – you get After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and a lot of other tools to do video and image work.
What parts of working in video do people not expect?
James: There are lots of jobs that need doing in video that people just don’t know about. I didn’t expect for them to need to colour-grade the cameras; I didn’t know how replays were done. Lots of people don’t think about how that happens, about how much work goes into it. Look up a behind-the-scenes picture of Good Mythical Morning, which is just two guys behind a desk. The number of cameras and crew… you’d be amazed.
What one piece of advice would you give to people starting out?
Laura: Learn to drive and start getting runner jobs. Ryan: Build a team. Filmmaking and video production are so much about relationships and trust. You need to be able to rely on each other for support and to make the project the best that you can. James: Be open-minded and have a passion for what you do.