Fierce competition for entry-level positions means work experience is vital so you need to make speculative applications, network and be persistent
A runner is an entry-level position, the most junior role in the production department of a broadcast, film or video company.
As a runner, you'll act as a general assistant, working under the direction of the producer and other production staff, to undertake whatever basic tasks are required to ensure the smooth running of the production process.
This role offers the opportunity to gain vital experience and knowledge of the production process, offering valuable networking opportunities, and is often seen as the first step on the ladder for people aspiring to roles in broadcasting media.
As a runner, you'll need to:
- answer the telephone
- deliver post to local clients
- do photocopying and general administrative work
- drive cars, vans or trucks between locations and around sets
- fetch and carry items, such as equipment, tapes, cable and scripts
- get everything in place for shoots
- hand out post and messages to colleagues within the production team
- help set up a location for a shoot
- hire props
- keep the set clean and tidy
- make and hand out tea, coffee and lunches
- make arrangements for staff on location, such as booking meeting rooms or ordering food
- manage petty cash
- look after guests
- order stock
- pick up cast for make-up calls
- sort out the kit bags, for example checking that the camera bag contains all the necessary items
- take messages
- transcribe production tapes
- transport cast, crew and production staff between offices, studios and shoot locations
- transport scripts and hire equipment
- undertake basic research
- use maps, tapes and clapper boards, and other film and television production equipment
- write down shot lists.
- The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) recommends runner pay rates of £7.50 to £13.38 per hour, depending on the sort of production you are working on. Employers may pay more than this, depending on your skills and experience.
Most runners work on a freelance basis and are employed on full-time, short-term contracts. Short-term contracts and long hours can have lifestyle and financial implications. It is a good idea to line up your next piece of work, while still working on the current project.
There are lots of opportunities for you to gain work experience as a runner, but most of these positions are unpaid. However, your expenses are usually covered. Gaining experience through these positions can allow you to compete for paid positions.
Runners' salaries are generally static and start to rise upon gaining promotion to either head runner or researcher.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours tend to be long and unpredictable, often up to six days a week during production. Broadcasting is a 24-hour operation and the working style reflects this. You may have to work nights, weekends and public holidays.
Film and TV shoots often want to make the most of the daylight for filming, so early mornings and late nights are common.
What to expect
- Work takes place in offices and/or studios, as well as on location.
- Runners are expected to be prompt and efficient. Part of the job is to take the pressure off the person above you by doing things on their behalf and this can make the job quite stressful. However, the work is fast-moving and can be exciting, stimulating and diverse, with plenty of variety.
- The bigger production companies tend to be based in London and other large cities, such as Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Production companies tend to recruit runners who live locally or who can be relied on at short notice, so relocation may be necessary.
- Travel within a working day is common. You are likely to spend a lot of time travelling to and from locations, picking people up from places such as airports and train stations, making local deliveries and doing any shopping that is needed.
- Career breaks are possible, although it is recommended not to take too long a break as it is important to keep up to date with current news and trends in the industry.
Getting a position as a runner is often a combination of luck, timing and networking. The industry looks favourably on you if you have experience and contacts, rather than qualifications.
There are no specific educational requirements for becoming a runner. However, a relevant HND, degree or postgraduate qualification, particularly one with a practical focus, may increase your chances of success, as this can equip you with an understanding of the industry, practical skills, a work experience placement and useful contacts.
Relevant courses include:
- drama and theatre
- media and broadcasting skills
- television/film/media/radio production.
Before pursuing a postgraduate qualification, speak to people in the industry about whether it will improve your chances of success.
Also, when researching qualifications, look for a course that uses industry-standard equipment, is industry-accredited and ideally includes a work placement. Establish where previous graduates have gained employment and what sort of links the education provider has with the industry.
Ask your university careers service for up-to-date employer and industry information, along with details of media fairs and events.
You will need:
- a proactive nature
- an understanding of the industry
- enthusiasm and motivation
- strong communication and interpersonal skills
- excellent time management and organisational skills
- flexibility and the ability to think on your feet
- good research skills
- initiative and problem-solving ability
- physical stamina and resilience
- teamworking skills
- the ability to network with a range of people (actors, directors, other departments, caterers, etc)
- the ability to remain calm under pressure.
You will usually need a full, clean driving licence and your own transport. A current first aid certificate and a qualification in health and safety can give you the edge over other candidates.
If you are taking a degree course that is not directly relevant, you should seize opportunities at university, for example on campus newspapers, radio or TV stations. If you are interested in the technical side, you can get involved with sound or lighting for university stage productions and concerts.
Outside university, you could work on hospital and community radio stations, for local and specialist newspapers, or as an usher on studio recordings of entertainment shows.
It is helpful to develop a portfolio, showreel or soundreel of your work (e.g. film shorts, photographs, radio recordings, newspaper articles) that you can send to companies to illustrate your talent.
Keeping up to date with changes in technology, finding out what is in pre-production and production, and getting hold of in-house newsletters will give you an advantage, as will attending workshops and talks by people in the industry.
Entering competitions and showcasing your material at festivals and other events are also ways to get yourself noticed. For example, creating a profile on The Film Network will allow your work to be viewed by professional filmmakers and organisations. Relevant competitions include:
You may find that you have to do a significant amount of unpaid work experience to get into the industry. Competition for work experience is fierce, so you need to be prepared to work hard to get it.
Networking is essential and you should send your CV to as many production companies and post-production houses as you can. Follow this up with a phone call at a later date (around ten working days later is a good guide) to indicate your enthusiasm for the role.
Potential employers are mostly broadcasting/film/video production and post-production companies, along with a small number of opportunities in animation and interactive media.
The UK's largest broadcaster is the BBC, which is funded by the licence fee and has a remit for public service broadcasting. With its expansion into digital TV and its international audience, this makes the BBC one of the biggest employers of media runners. For opportunities see BBC Work Experience.
The BBC also has national radio stations and local radio stations, as well as the World Service.
Other independent broadcasters who produce either some, or all of their own content include:
- Channel 4
- Channel 5
- ITV - the largest commercial channel in the UK; the company also owns several digital channels
- Sky - the UK's largest pay subscription television provider producing TV content and owning several channels.
Many TV companies outsource the production side of the programme making, for example Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and Virgin Media Television currently outsource the majority of their production operations.
There are hundreds of independent production companies in the UK, and some of the main ones include:
- All3 Media
- Endemol UK
- Flame TV
- Hat Trick Productions
- RDF Television
- Shine TV
- Tiger Aspect.
The trade association for independent producers is the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT). It lists member companies on its website.
A range of small-scale and larger production companies are listed in media directories, such as:
Smaller independent television, film and video companies offer additional opportunities and sometimes advertise on their websites.
Look for job vacancies at:
- BBC Careers
- Broadcast Graduate
- Channel 4 Careers
- Channel 5 Careers
- ITV Jobs
- Production Base
- Work for Sky
Relatively few runner positions are advertised, so you need to be proactive and network to gain access to the majority of vacancies. Most people find work through word of mouth and speculative applications.
Attending media fairs and networking events is a good way of finding out about opportunities. Your careers service is always a good starting point.
Many runner jobs involve working freelance, so find out more about self-employment.
The broadcasting industry runs very few training schemes for new entrants and even fewer targeted exclusively at graduates.
Any training schemes that are advertised tend to receive thousands of applications.
Training scheme providers include:
Given the competition, you will need to demonstrate substantial commitment and many candidates will already be working in the industry.
Once in post, you will receive on-the-job training. Being a runner is generally considered to be a training position for progressing to other roles because you gain vital entry-level experience and a broad insight into, and understanding of, all areas of the industry.
You will find that you pick skills up as you go along and learn through repetition. It is a good idea to take every free opportunity to shadow staff in your area of specific interest whenever possible so that you can watch and network.
As a new entrant to the broadcast production industry, you will gain relevant experience through short periods of unpaid work experience. From this you are likely to move into your first paid job as a runner.
There is no set time for how long you can expect to work as a runner, but you may well be in post for a year or two before getting a real break. Some employers, particularly in film, feel that two to three years is the norm to gain adequate experience.
Having learnt the basics and gained exposure to a range of production areas, you can then decide which area you are interested in and pursue it.
However, it is important not to specialise too soon and to appreciate that you may have to be flexible in the beginning, in order to gain the necessary experience.
The next step up from a runner is to researcher. Many students view research as an entry-level job, but in larger companies this is rarely the case, although smaller independent production companies may sometimes advertise for researchers or junior researchers. These are roles which may combine runner and researcher tasks and for which a recent graduate with some work experience may be suitable.
Further progression may include a move to the role of production assistant, then assistant production coordinator to production coordinator. In the film industry, runners tend to progress to become head runner before moving to third, second and then first assistant roles.
In production, higher-level jobs include assistant producer, director and producer. If you are interested in moving into a management role, it is worth considering a management course, along with training in health and safety and first aid.
Promotion may be more defined in larger companies, but in smaller production companies there is generally no defined career structure, just more responsibility and a rise in salary. Runners have excellent networking opportunities and there is good scope for career development, with people often moving between different areas of broadcasting.
Most people in the industry work as freelancers and run their work as a small business. Being business-minded, entrepreneurial, focused on the direction you want your career to travel in and good at self-promotion will be key factors in your success.