Case study

Assistant producer — Sharul Khan

Sharul studied Media and Communications at Birmingham City University, specialising in television. He now works as an assistant producer

Why did you decide on this career?

From an early age I knew I didn't want a job where I was anchored to a desk everyday. I'm a practical and creative person who needs regular new challenges to stimulate my energy and thinking. Going into the media, and particularly TV, felt like a career that would align well with my character traits and I wanted experiences that were eye opening as well as thought provoking.

How did you get your job?

I started by asking all the media leads that I came across during university for work experience. I did voluntary/expenses only gigs during university and also for a year after, on and off.

I signed up to organisations that help you get a foot in the door, like Creative Access (CA). CA then helped me prepare for job applications and interviews before I was lucky enough to get an internship with Swan Films. From then on I worked relentlessly and took every opportunity to prove myself.

The creative industries are incredibly competitive how did you stand out to employers?

From the beginning I was keen to demonstrate my willingness to learn and exceed expectations. When I was asked to do things that may have been above my responsibility, I made sure to take the opportunity by confidently carrying out the task. I also displayed initiative and enthusiasm by making short documentaries outside of work, by being resourceful and borrowing equipment from Swan Films and others, as I didn't have the funds or equipment myself.

What's a typical day like as an assistant producer?

Firstly, there are two types of producing - development and production. In development a typical day consists of generating programme ideas, casting, attaching talent to projects, securing access, writing and pitching.

With production it can be anything from filming to on-location producing. This means working up and down the country with an array of people, professions and industries.

What qualities are important for a producer?

A producer must be someone who can plan and execute the road map from an idea on paper to a fit-for-purpose film. They must work efficiently and effectively as things move fast in the world of media. I would say producers also need to be proactive rather than reactive, in order to avoid any hiccups.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy the unpredictability of each day. I feel as if this is something that keeps me mentally sharp. This includes the array of life experience and adventure I get as a result of going from one type of programme to the other.

As an under-represented individual what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome these?

It's been hard to break into a prominently white-middle class industry, coming from a British-Asian working class background. I've had to go the extra mile to be in the right places at the right time to maximise my chances of getting the opportunities I needed for my career to excel. I've also been pigeon holed for the same type of documentaries regarding race and religion, I therefore made the conscious choice to deny that kind of work in order to widen my horizons and show that I am more than just my race and religion.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree allowed me to learn the theoretical side of TV. It taught me the ropes when it comes to filming and producing. I also had the opportunity to dabble in different forms of TV - drama, TV studio and documentary - before I decided what was right for me.

What more needs to be done to ensure that Britain's creative industries accurately represent our society?

We need less people conforming to traditions and more people challenging the people in senior positions to make a change and make all positions proportionately representative.

Why did you get involved with Creative Access?

I got involved with Creative Access because I found it hard to find a way into the industry. They helped and nurtured me long after I got my first job and provided invaluable resources and advice that helped me move forward.

What are your career ambitions?

I would like to direct fascinating documentaries with a distinct style and flair. I love doing things differently and I hope that spills into my film making, be it a single film or a landmark series.

What advice can you give to other aspiring producers?

Believe in yourself before you ask anybody else to. Self-doubt is the first enemy of any creative. Always persevere as the industry can be incredibly competitive but the rewards you reap can be equally satisfying.

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