Why choose a career in TV production?

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
July, 2015

Many people dream of being on television, but the experience of working behind the camera is often equally as thrilling

We asked two industry experts - Charlie Smith, production manager at Twofour, and Gillian Gordon, course director of MA Producing Film and TV at Royal Holloway, University of London - for their five favourite things about working in TV production. Here's what they said…

The people

Television's famously lively and sociable working environment is home to many passionate, energetic extroverts. This, claims Charlie, is especially important given the job often involves long, exhausting hours.

'I genuinely look forward to coming into work each day,' she adds. 'My colleagues are supporting when times are tough, and hardworking, dedicated and reliable when deadlines are near.

'But, best of all, they're consistently funny and articulate - which means that, even when things are stressful, I can work with a smile among the security of friends.'

Indeed, producing good television relies on strong collaboration - and teams can be very large. Once commissioned by a broadcaster, producers must work with writers to turn their ideas into scripts, before actors, composers, directors, cinematographers, costume designers and production designers can use their craft to bring everything to life.

Gillian has produced numerous award-winning programmes in the UK and USA, and says that - in her 30 years of experience within the media industry - amassing a strong team remains one of the most satisfying aspects of her job.

'You're only as good as your weakest link,' she admits. 'Hiring a tight-knit team that you can trust isn't always easy, but it feels fantastic when you find people who really know how to do their jobs.'

The workload

TV production is extremely exciting, largely because each day presents new tasks and challenges. Charlie, for example, has recently organised a red carpet event for overweight pets (Fat Pets: Slimmer of the Year, ITV) and performed as the English voice of a transgender Thai kickboxer (Kung Foolery, Sky).

'There's never an opportunity to get bored,' she says. 'Television production is really reactive. The nature of the business means that things can change at the very last minute, or that you suddenly need to reorganise everything about a programme in what seems like nowhere near enough time.'

While tasks such as budgeting and scheduling may seem mundane in some industries, Gillian believes that the detailed strategic thinking involved in production is actually a real perk of the job - especially when things don't go to plan.

'Sometimes you have to rewrite because a location has fallen through or an actor is ill,' she says. 'Only the producer can really know what it takes to tell the story as originally conceived. You must think on your toes and rewrite, reschedule and rejig the budget.'

The travel

Many shows require an on-location production presence, meaning that you'll potentially get to explore some incredible places.

Charlie has sent teams to countless overseas locations - including China, India, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland and the USA - to shoot programmes on topics as bizarre and wide-ranging as plastic roads, shrimp farming and electric buses. Some have even met Bill Gates, and visited the Shanghai Tower and Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

'The travel is definitely a real highlight,' she says. 'I've been lucky enough to go on some amazing shoots in locations like Italy, Australia and Los Angeles, where I worked at some of the most beautiful venues and locations that I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.'

The finished product

Developing your project - or 'creating a universe from scratch', as Gillian describes it - is tremendously rewarding. However, her favourite aspect of programme-making is post-production.

'It's miraculous to see a talented editor piece together your film and re-invent it,' she adds. 'It's magical to see what post-graphics can do, and it's delightful to sit in the dubbing studio when your mixer is laying the music on for the first time.'

Charlie agrees. 'The sense of achievement that you feel when watching something that you helped to make is amazing,' she admits. 'I still get a kick out of seeing my name on screen during the credits, 14 years on.'

The public buzz

TV is one of the UK's biggest talking points and Charlie - who has worked on hit programmes like The X-Factor and The Hotel Inspector - says that she often overhears people discussing her shows on public transport.

'It's a privilege to work in an industry that people deem so interesting and exciting,' she adds. 'We always have stories to tell at dinner parties, and people always want to know about the projects that we're working on.

'Whether they're an established series or new, yet-to-be-broadcast programmes, our content is a constant source of discussion.'