In this guest blog Factual TV Series Producer, Media Skills Trainer and contributor to LSE’s Careers in Creative Industries Week, Julian Dismore, provides advice to students and graduates interested in building a career in media during a time of challenge and uncertainty.
Graduating into a COVID-19 economic recession is hard. And wanting to forge a career in an industry which has largely ground to a halt and is tough to get into at the best of times is a particularly tall order. If it’s any consolation, it’s also challenging for experienced media folk like me in these unprecedented times. Though we are at very different stages in our careers, there are lessons you can learn from my response to the COVID era.
Be flexible and adapt to survive!
Making documentaries currently isn’t an option. I edited my last series for Channel 5 from home in early lockdown, but now I can’t conduct interviews and direct content if I’m not allowed within two metres of contributors, even if TV production companies were hiring, which they aren’t. My face-to-face university training courses are also off the agenda. It looked like I was destined for many months of involuntary downtime, until the clever people at Lancaster University (where I’ve been running media skills courses for the last decade) suggested I run two online training workshops using Microsoft Teams. My courses involve lots of role play and interaction and to my surprise they went really well (says student feedback!).The best advice I can give you right now is be flexible and adapt to survive!
Gain relevant skills
Charles Darwin was right – you need to constantly evolve. While you’re cooped up, acquire lots of useful media skills online. I’m working out twitter ads, my web video producer son is learning about different edit packages online, how to colour up shots, do better audio mixes etc.
If you have a camera (think smartphone), shoot some stuff in the garden or around your home. Plan, shoot and edit and then upload it and try to get feedback. How can you expect someone to employ you when the world gets back to normal if you’ve spent lockdown doing nothing productive at all? They’ll be looking for creative, ideas types so use this time to create and have ideas.
A portfolio career is the future
When the world does normalise you will almost certainly have to embrace the concept of a portfolio career, like I have. I’m a TV series producer, a web video producer, a corporate film director, a camera operator, an editor and a trainer in media skills. When you start out, you might need to combine being a TV researcher (or more likely a runner or junior production coordinator) with say website design, working in a bar, helping produce online videos, taking wedding photos etc. You will have to be really flexible about what you are willing to work on. Corporate videos, friend’s films as a favour, vlogs, blogs, content for websites – try not to turn anything down which might help you make more contacts and acquire potentially marketable skills.
It helps your CV if your other roles are media related, but that might not be an option as you wait for chances to come along. Don’t expect your dream full time job to land on your lap as soon as you start out. That wasn’t the real world before COVID-19 – and it certainly isn’t the real world now.
Use this time in your life well
Take this time to think about how you will pitch your ideas successfully when broadcasters are commissioning again, how you will source funding, find contributors and locations etc.
And finally use this period to generate contacts and start a database. Look at the credits of programmes you like (made in the UK) and note down the credits at the end (they are the most important people on the production in terms of hiring teams going forward). Straightforward detective work should lead you to their email address. Then drop them a line and introduce yourself – you never know they might be helpful in the future. The more seeds you sow, the more chance you have of making it.
The show must go on!
I’m pretty much under house arrest at the moment because I have a disabled son whom we are shielding, but thanks to my portfolio career I am still running courses from home via Zoom, which is what I’m planning on doing until TV gets back going again, hopefully this autumn.