The Nice Guy's guide to getting a job in media
*Full disclosure, I’m not always ‘nice’. But try to imagine.
Having worked in TV for several years now, I thought it might be nice to give some advice to those starting out. I’ve started at the bottom - and now I'm somewhere in the middle - so I hope I can help out some of the up and comers out there.
Here are some pointers, in the order I’ve typed them:
1 - BE YOURSELF, BE YOUR BEST SELF
This might sound like your Mum's bad dating advice, but hear me out.
The media industry thrives on personality.
It's an industry where so many people are judged as often for their social skills as their ‘talent’. (I’ll get to that later).
Newcomers often complain about that it's who you know, not what you know. But when you're starting out, this makes perfect sense!
If you’re spending 12-14 hours on set with someone every day, for weeks, possibly months on end, you better be damn sure you’re able to crack a joke or share a beer at the end of the day.
This means you have to have social skills, be easy to work with, and the best version of yourself. The erudite, charming, and flexible guy who’s fun to be around, but always get the job done with a smile on his face. (But don’t smile all the time, that’s just creepy.)
Find the difference between being a kiss-ass and being friendly. If you’re just sucking up to the execs and those above, while ignoring the runners and being a diva to the catering staff, people will notice. No-one likes a phoney. Being nice can’t be an act, you have to actually enjoy the work, and the people. But that’s why you’re here, right?
On the job this is a given, but it also applies for interviews, job applications, or more commonly, ‘coffee and a chat’.
I’ve had job offers from people I’ve met briefly and chatted over lunch, based solely on my ability to pretend I'm a functioning human being who has an inkling he knows what he's doing.
2 - YOU ARE NOT A BEAUTIFUL AND UNIQUE SNOWFLAKE
Starting out, the chances are you’re not as talented as you think you are.
Not yet, anyway. But that’s OK.
In this industry, true talent is such a nebulous, indefinable trait. Possessed by few, but claimed by many. If you’re fresh out of university, and you’re emailing producers with examples of your talent - the student movie that shook the world - stop.
Be humble. You have made something, and that’s what’s important. Keep making more of it, and get better every time. The craft of film-making is so often overlooked in favour of the glamour of 'the artist'. The truth is: You fall in love with an idea, bust your ass to make it, wind up hating it, swear you could do better next time, and then start all over again. It's a creative process where future success can only come from past failures.
I look back on my early productions and shudder at all of the mistakes I made. How I could have shot it better, how the sound would have been better on radio mics, how I should have colour graded it – and so on. But the point is, by making those mistakes I learned not to repeat them. Everything I make is (I hope) a step up from the last, and my work is constantly striving to improve. You mustn't let the idea of perfection scare you off, making the best thing you right now. If you start out thinking you’re a genius, how can you improve on that?
3 – TREAT EVERY JOB LIKE IT’S IMPORTANT
You never know where your next job will come from. Sometimes, a day on set running – holding camera equipment or the director’s coffee - can be all it takes to get you started. Several years ago, I ran for a Dublin-based production company. It was a great team, and the director was very generous and friendly. We kept in touch, and when I moved to London, I got a recommendation from him to some of his former colleagues. One of them turned out to work for Disney, and I was able to get a lunch meeting.
Over the course of a year, that lunch turned into on-set running for Disney, which turned into production co-ordinating, and then producing. I had to work hard, but that lucky break was the unexpected start that I needed. All from one sunny afternoon in Dublin holding the tripod for a toy commercial.
You know never know how one job could lead on to the next, or which crew member is friends with your next connection.
Treat each job like it matters. Be enthusiastic, work your ass off, and enjoy it.
That ‘friend of a friend’ might just turn out to be your way into the industry. Just remember - you’re buying the coffee.
4 – LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON THE JOB
In my early days running on Disney shoots, I worked on everything from the camera department, to props, and lighting.
As I already had skills on camera and lighting from working in Ireland, I was able to fit in pretty easily. The art department was a different story. I’ve never been particularly good with my hands, so I must have glued most of the set to myself before the Art Director got me to move furniture. I fared better helping out the lighting department, and I made it my mission to pick up as much as I could.
I thought - I want to shoot, so I should learn how to light, even if I don’t need to. It’s in my interest to know what those hirsute giants with shock proof gloves and an endless supply of bawdy jokes are up to. The more you can understand the bigger picture - even if you don’t end up making it your niche - the better you communicate, and the quicker you can solve problems.
As a runner, you’re in no better position to observe. You’re at the bottom of a ladder looking up, and you’ve got infinite time to observe and to learn as much as you can. Don’t limit yourself to your own department. Understand how everyone else works, and you’ll know how to stay out of everyone’s way, and keep everyone feeling happy and respected later on if you get to call the shots.
5 – PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE - THE RIGHT WAY
So far I’ve talked about attitude, so I’ll finish with a little note of practicality. How to actually find work and connect with people. I won’t go too much into this, as there’s more jobs boards and facebook groups than you can swing a cat video at. Any specific recommendations I make will probably be out of date in a week.
I will say this: ‘I’m available’ ads are a complete waste of time. I’ve seen a couple of Facebook groups where people post their availability in generic impersonal ads. Putting yourself out there like this is pointless, even arrogant. No-one is going to come and find you, you need to reach out to the right people, and find a way to stand out from the crowd.
When you approach people, they want to feel like you’ve done your research, that you are trying to make a personal connection with them. Don’t throw random messages in bottles into the sea - take a targeted approach.
Find people you admire, reach out to them and tell them why. Always add value before you ask for it.
Get yourself out there, and find a way to make yourself valuable to the right people.
I hope that's given you some good ideas to make your start in the industry. For any questions, feel free to drop me a line.