Before you read the below, I feel that I should put that I wasn’t one hundred per cent sure about writing a short bio as to what I’d done since graduating from the Film & TV MA. I think it is helpful to see what alumni of the course have achieved and how they got there, but by looking at what others have achieved it can lead to quite negatively comparing where you are with them. Which is never helpful, and as I’ve learnt, in the media industry, there is no set path to success, sometimes it can take longer than others to get paid work, and sometimes it happens straight away. I was the last of the five who graduated on the course my year to find solid paid work, but I got there eventually. Anyway, read on and apologies for some of the hyperbole.
Upon graduating from the MA course in September 2011, I was immediately struck with the knowledge that I had a very clear idea of the latter part of my career (make Horror into a respected genre, direct the 30th James Bond film, win several oscars, marry Jennifer Lawrence etc.) but little notion as how to begin.
I was still working as a trolley boy at the local Waitrose and though pushing 15 trolleys downhill pass Mercedes and BMWs has its charm, it wasn’t as compelling as you’d imagine. However, I managed to get some work writing for a local free newspaper called ‘Harborne News’, small articles on local political issues (only exaggerated for dramatic effect a little) and as it turned out the editor was looking to produce some video content for his website. We made an incredibly unbiased short documentary about the local clock tower which the council was threatening to demolish, and several promotional videos for local businesses, including one for national charity ‘Headway’. These can be viewed on the website www.harbornenews.com if you have a strong urge to ‘Save Our Clock Tower’.
Now, all of this was fantastic experience, but completely unpaid, off the radar and didn’t seem to be actually getting me anywhere. I also did some work for a couple who were producing a series of webisodes about ‘Birmingham Bakers’, which was enjoyably tasty, though also unpaid. A short side note here to point out that whilst I’m not obsessed with money, it is sort of necessary to live. So while I was working on these small projects I was still stuck at the supermarket, so I could afford to pay the bills. Which in turn means you have less free time (and inclination) to find other work, or do the unpaid projects. It’s really tough to find the balance between earning money and helping your career; a balance which is different owing to everyone’s circumstances.
It would turn out to be the much derided Gumtree which provided my next two pieces of work. The first was Persona, which billed itself rather dramatically as the ‘World’s First Soap Opera Phone Ap’. It is, as far as I’m aware, and there may well be a reason for that. The company would provide the ‘Director/Writer’ with a budget of £150 and for that they would provide ten ‘appisodes’ of 90 seconds each. These would then be broadcast through the mobile phone app (which had over 100,000 subscribers we were confidently assured), they made their money back from adverts and everybody wins. Now whilst this didn’t bring us the overnight fame we had all dreamed of, it did do two very important things. Firstly, it gave us more experience in terms of putting together what was effectively a short film. We filmed it all in one weekend, and the reason it worked was down to a great deal of forward planning and preparing for every contingency. Secondly, and here I will address the ‘us’, it was a great way of building contacts. Luckily, someone I had worked with from the ‘Harborne News’ projects had camera equipment, my colleagues from the MA all pitched it to help, Oz lent some lights and between the rest of us we found make-up artists, actors and the necessary locations.
After Persona, Gumtree sent me an advert for a feature film which was shooting in Craven Arms (the middle of no-where, but the Olympics were founded there). I managed to get a week’s worth of work on the film as a runner/driver, experience which would help me immensely in the future (but more of that later). This taught me of the ridiculous hours you put in as a runner, and the massive variety of tasks you undertake, but it was great fun, and I met the little girl vampire from ‘Let the Right One In’. (She wasn’t a vampire, it turned out – but she spoke English rather than Swedish).
I got some further work on a extremely low budget feature film, shooting in and around Moseley, after being recommended by the producers at Endboard Productions (where I did my MA work experience), once again highlighting the importance of contacts in this crazy industry. The film turned out to be a total disaster, as no doubt Catalina Bingham and Lizzie Clark will attest to. But I managed to learn a little along the way about lighting, and the importance of actually having a shooting schedule.
Now to do an almost Tarantino-esque chronological shift back to before all this runner experience. In the February after graduating I had emailed the BBC show ‘Doctors’ applying for work as a Floor Runner. I had interviewed and been offered the job (Hooray!) but unfortunately they rang back an hour later to inform me that since I was 22, I was a year too young to qualify for their car insurance. So, when I duly turned 23 in August 2012, I emailed, inquiring whether there were any positions available. After another interview, I was offered a job, and so in September, almost a year after graduating I found myself with paid work in a job I actually wanted to do (no more pushing trolleys!)
Being a Floor Runner involves long hours, hard work and immense willpower, but is quite rewarding - crew members like anyone who gives them cups of tea and snacks. I worked with ‘Doctors’ through to December, after which my co-runner and I were offered a running job in London. One of the 1st Assistant Directors was going to work on a Channel 4 project called ‘Coming Up’, and asked us to join us for the seven week shoot. (See, it’s all about the contacts and referral).
Driving actors through the busy streets of the capital was something of a nightmare, but working on a different production with different people was great experience, good for the C.V. and I got to meet Una Stubbs (landlady from ‘Sherlock’). Again, I made a whole load of new contacts and even got an extra day working on a promo for a new TV show. After my brief stint in London I returned to the relative calm of Birmingham and ‘Doctors’ and after a couple of months working as a runner, I was promoted to a 3rd Assistant Director, which involves a little more stress and a little more responsibility.
This blog may be slightly longer than Jemma (the lovely MA coordinator) wanted when she asked me to write this, but I do tend to waffle. I left out the London actress who broke my heart, the filming of a Shakespeare play, and the short film with the crazy girl in the bath, but then there’s never enough time for everything.
If I had to sum up my advice I would say three things:
Work Hard. Persevere. Don’t get discouraged by comparing yourself with others. Oh and make lots of contacts, as they may refer work to you later on. So Four things. And also, be nice to people because they may give you work, but that kind of comes under number four. So we’ll leave it there.