Alex Macaulay. Blackbull Lighting for Film, Television and Video.

Another company and individual for freelancers to take a wide berth around – Alex Macaulay and his company Blackbull Lighting for Film, Television and Video, formerly based at 3 Mills Studios.

Mr Macaulay, sometime gaffer/lighting technician seems happy enough to employ freelancers but not quite so keen when it comes to actually putting his hand in his pocket to pay for the services he has had. He now has a CCJ lodged against his name but that might well not stop him from doing more of the same in the future.

Freelancers beware.

Peter Wilson. Nouveau Media

A firm warning for anyone who is considering working for an individual called Peter Wilson (also known as “Vladimir Wilson“). Nouveau Media is a company he set up to make a pilot show (“Students”) which is now in the process of liquidation, having failed to pay numerous freelancers who worked on the production.

It seems that Mr Wilson is now going to walk away from his commitments on this one but caution should be exercised by all freelancers if he decides to set up under a new name and have another go in the future, which apparently is his plan.

With his record, it is probably best all round if he detached himself from any media ventures in the future.

Spoke TV/Northern Dragon Media. Andy Lewis

This company (in production of a YouTube series, Shaun & Bez: Call The Cops) is currently unwilling or unable to pay the freelancers who work on its shows.

Caution should be taken if embarking on any financial relationship with this company or individual – if you work for this set up, you may well end up unpaid!

Blink Productions – found guilty of not paying the minimum wage.

An update on a company which recently featured on the Watercooler, Blink Productions, run by Paul Weston and based in Wardour Street (not to be confused with the very reputable Blink Films).

After hearing complaints from a number of people who had been used for unpaid work experience at the company, it was suggested that a good way forward might be for people to make a complaint to HMRC about failure to pay the National Minimum Wage where it was due.

And it seems that that is exactly what did happen as it has now been confirmed that the company was paid a visit by the inspectors – who then found cause to investigate further.

After some rigorous digging through the books the results of that investigation are now in: that Blink was indeed not paying people what they were legally required to do and have now been made to cough up the arrears to those workers.

So a deserved smack on the wrists for that company – and a timely reminder that companies who do this kind of thing can be pursued and can be made to do what every other decent company does: pay at least the minimum to those who sit at the bottom rung of the work ladder .

Well done to those who brought the complaint – and if anyone hears of this company doing it again, do get in touch…

How To Get a Job in Television: Updated

Review, by Beth Bacon.

Elsa Sharp wrote the bestselling How to Get a Job in Television in 2008. Since then, Sharp has worked her way up at the BBC and is now Talent Executive for BBC Current Affairs. Necessarily, Sharp has now published an updated version of that original book and it is also available as a shortened eBook edition.

How to Get a Job in Television: Updated begins by explaining Sharp’s background. Starting this way illustrates a similar technique that can be used on LinkedIn and IMDB: tracking back through the career of someone you admire can demonstrate how they got to where they are today. Sharp allows the book to speak for itself: i.e., follow this advice and you too might carve out a similar route to success.

Sharp’s subtitles work as a sort of tree diagram: if you tick these boxes, then you can move onto the next step. This makes the book easy to navigate and satisfying for those of us that often doubt ourselves.

The guide helps to demystify the television industry and works to remove the long-held belief that getting a job in telly is about ‘who you know’ and ‘luck’ (that’s not to say networking and luck are unimportant). Sharp describes the best approach to getting a job in such a cutthroat line of work; it’s all about the three p’s: ‘patience, planning and persistence’. This, in turn, will hopefully help to make the industry more accessible and diverse. As Sharp mentions, ‘The BBC has a rider stipulating that TV production companies who make shows for them must ensure that 20% of their production teams are diverse.’ This is great, but we can always do better.  

Although Sharp’s eBook is informative and straightforward, it falls a little flat where workers’ rights are concerned. I understand that Sharp is trying to breed determined and proactive Runners when she describes how someone, who is now a Producer Director, ‘When he got his first job as a runner he slept in his car.’ I think this mindset is very dated and dangerous. There are many ways to get jobs in telly without having to sleep in your car. Runners should not be taken advantage of. Sharp also states that ‘In order to get paid work on a programme it’s essential to have some experience of working in TV by doing a placement at a TV company’. Working for free breeds elitism, as only those that can afford to do unpaid work experience will put themselves forward for it. Although I know Sharp is a hugely experienced and well-regarded member of the BBC, I think she could have used this platform to highlight the injustices that are still prevalent within our industry.

How To Get a Job In Television: Updated is not just for those who haven’t been on a set before. There are many aspects of the book that discuss areas of working in TV that many seasoned freelancers might not yet have reflected upon. This certainly is the case for me. Sharp recommends to ‘understand their [Production companies’] brands’, which makes complete sense. After all, if you’re applying for a long contract with a company, you want to make sure they align with your own values and interests. Sharp also reveals how ‘Many freelancers will work between three or four companies who make shows in a certain genre, moving around almost seasonally. They build long standing and enduring work friendships which serve as a network for future job opportunities.’ I hadn’t thought about applying to companies I had worked for in the past and building on those foundations that are already formed. This just goes to show, there is always so much more to learn. Every day is a school day in telly. In this way, How to Get a Job in Television provokes self-reflection and new perspectives.  

Sharp’s book is to inform. I love the way Sharp is brutally honest about the realities of the world of television. She describes how ‘It can seem off putting at first, insecure and unstable, but it is possible to develop the skills and experience to progress and having the right attitude and accepting these difficulties is key.’ TV is not for the faint-hearted and this should be understood from the get-go. Sharp describes how ‘It can destroy and make monsters of some. Bullying is rife and can bring out the worst behaviour to meet deadlines and deliver.’ It is good that this is mentioned, so to prepare newbies for the worst. Bullying is often swept under the carpet and not spoken about. Drawing attention to this issue illustrates that those at the top are aware of it and happy to discuss its danger. But, then again, by far and away most encounters I’ve experienced in TV, so far, have been positive and welcoming, and I’d advise those looking for a career in television not to be dissuaded by these words.

Using this can-do attitude, Sharp demonstrates the importance of sticking up for yourself through the example of wages: The ‘unofficial rate card’ where there are ‘pay ranges’. If you’re in an interview for an entry-level position and you’re uncertain what to say when they ask, ‘what’s your rate?’, you should consult this table. If you have been working as a Runner or Researcher for a while and your pay has gone up over time, it is fair to quote them your wage from your previous contract. For example, when I started out as a Runner, I was on a flat rate of £90 per day. After about a year of work I was getting paid £120 per day, plus expenses. So, whenever asked my rate in interviews I’d always make sure to quote them the rate given my experience at that time. The message to take back from this is: don’t undersell yourself.

I would recommend buying Sharp’s new book, provided you can manage your expectations. The range of jobs that can be pursued within the business are thoroughly explained from someone who has been in this line of work for many years.  There is also an incredibly useful ‘TV Industry Organisations’ section at the end, which lists all the places to apply for jobs. However, if you believe in workers’ rights and making the future brighter for those starting at the bottom, then I would recognise that Sharp’s anecdotes are past their sell-by date. Nonetheless, How to Get a Job in Television: Updated does what it says on the cover: it offers sound advice for getting a foot in the door of the TV world by a well-seasoned and highly regarded professional.

How To Get A Job in Television Updated by Elsa Sharp costs £5 and is available to buy here

Crew Network: Avoid.

There must have been a moment in time where some exec in some office somewhere took a long draw of his cigar, put his feet on his desk and threw out a crazy thought in an ideas meeting: “hey, why don’t we set up a thing where we gather up some TV jobs and then charge people to apply for them”?

No doubt that bright idea was met with some some concerns from someone about whether that was an entirely fair thing to do and how the law kind of forbids companies from doing that kind of thing, save to a narrow range of job grades. And no doubt that was met with a roar from said exec and the lobbing of a heavy ashtray at his or her head and the instruction to “do it anyway!”

Must be the reason why, every month or so, another company has the bright idea of doing the same thing and looks to make a bob or two out of eager – and sometimes desperate – work hungry freelancers despite those jobs all being available to anyone with access to Facebook or a helpful list of free-to-use job sites.

And now here’s another – Crew Network, run by Rhian Howells. It’s pretty much the same as all the others, except the price, looking to charge an eye watering £14.99 a month for access to jobs at various grades (including those forbidden by the regulations). It boasts of beings a “creative crew network community created ‘by the people, for the people'”, which is an interesting way of describing its desire to relieve you of your hard-earned cash.

The best thing to do if you come across that site is – like with all the others – to put your money back in your pocket and move on. Sites like that are quite simply bottom feeders in an industry where everything runs quite nicely thank you without someone trying to make a fast buck out of everyone else.

If you are looking for work in the industry and you don’t know where to start, try Facebook, which is where almost every employer now goes to find workers. Start by typing “People in TV” into the search field, but there are plenty of others alongside those.

And never pay to apply for work. You simply don’t need to.

Companies offering Work Experience Schemes

Lizzie Evans has compiled a list of companies who offer specific work experience schemes:

She says: “This list is far from complete so I’m sure there are many many more out there that might be worth looking into. I should also note that most of these companies are based in London so I’m not sure how much use this will be for regional runners, but I hope it will help some people get the break they need.”
Tiger Aspect:
Company Pictures:
Fremantle Media:
Hat Trick Productions:
Love Productions:
The Garden
RDF intern scheme
Nine Lives Media (Manchester)
Blakeway North (Manchester)
And here are some links to contact details for other companies who don’t mention work experience schemes on their websites, but who might be open to having someone in for a week or two:
Icon Films, Bristol
October Films:
Wall to Wall:
Windfall Films:
There may be further leads in Useful Links For Runners

Film Forums. Richard Williams.

At a time when work is hard to come by for many people in the industry, it is probably not the wisest thing in the world to wander onto a professional workers’ Facebook page to scout around for unpaid workers to help you build your business.

Wisdom however was not a quality in heavy supply at the weekend, when this appeared on the Film & TV Production Crew UK group page:

Only three slots – don’t miss out! Well an “internship opportunity” this clearly is not, not if an internship is meant to involve some form of useful training. In fact the words of the advert strongly suggest that a more accurate way of describing this position is that of “unpaid worker” or “labourer for free”. 

Unsurprisingly the arrival of the advert prompted a strong reaction from the assembled professionals on that page, with many wondering why it was not paid, given what was being asked. The poster of the advert did not have much of an answer to that and neither did Richard Williams, the owner of the site. When asked whether, if he wanted people to do this work for free, he might consider allowing those who did it to have a stake in his new venture there was a somewaht hollow drafty noise in response.

Everyone is of course very excited at the prospect of his site “snowball(ing) into a fairly big platform, quickly”. Snow however does not put food on the table, much as it might make Mr Williams feel good, or potentially enrich him in the future.  

As a wise person once said, you have to “speculate to accumulate”. Not something that he seems to have taken on board.

No wonder he got such short shrift.

But I have no experience!

I know.

You want to break into the sparkly world of TV but you feel like you have nothing of value to put on your Runner CV. No relevant production experience and nothing to show off except your 25 yard swimming certificate and the Cycling Proficiency badge you got in Year 8.

Worry not though – you are not alone! It’s something that many would-be runners worry about, judging by the many times this pops up on the Facebook page.

And actually, you may be in for a bit of a surprise, as chances are that you do actually have something of real value to put down (and by the way, well done on the cycling thing).

Because here’s what an employer in the industry has to say about what she looks for in a CV when she is hiring runners…

As an employer, I don’t always look for runner experience, especially if it’s just a couple of days here and there. Instead I look for experience that means you could be a good runner; that you’re reliable, trustworthy, and essentially, employable.

So, whether I’m looking for an office or location runner, I look for valuable transferable skills. Here are some examples:

1) Bar work
Transferable skills: antisocial hours, dealing with difficult people, managing a busy/messy environment, cash handling

2) Security work
Transferable skills: comfortable outside, good with difficult people, calm in the face of conflict, anti-social hours

3) Admin/office work
Transferable skills: good administration skills, well organised, used to demonstrating a professional workplace manner.

4) Reception work
Transferable skills: good telephone manner, professional conduct, presentable, welcoming, good at making tea (a runner essential!).

5) Retail work
Transferable skills: long hours, used to standing on your feet, cash handling, dealing with the public, working in a team.

6) Cleaning work
Transferable skills: willing to get your hands dirty, able to manage a messy environment, detail orientated, can-do attitude to less glamorous tasks.

7) Driving work
Transferable skills: driving licence (vital!), responsible, good time management, good navigational skills, reliable.

8) Warehouse work
Transferable skills: good at working in a team, used to less comfortable environments, health and safety conscious, trained in heavy lifting (eg useful for dealing with kit!)

So there you go – you don’t have to have done 6 months on Bake Off to have something enticing to put on your CV. All experience is good experience, especially proper get-stuck-in-and-get-your-hands-dirty-stuff.

So have a rewrite and make the most of what you do have – it may have more value than you think. And if you did work on Bake Off…that Paul Hollywood, what’s he really like?