The glitz, the glamour, the lights… It’s easy to see why so many people are drawn to the idea of working in TV and film, but being a producer is a challenging career as they are responsible for managing the whole process of producing a TV programme or film.
Despite the UK having a thriving TV/film industry, it’s a very competitive sector to enter. In this article we’ll look at the sort of work you might do, the skills you need and how you can put yourself in the best position possible to break into the industry.
What does TV/film production involve?
A producer’s work starts long before filming and continues post-production. As a producer you may be involved in:
- Coming up with ideas for programmes or films, or deciding what to produce from scripts you’ve been sent
- Negotiating with writers and/or securing the rights for existing formats or scripts
- Working out what resources are needed, producing a budget and managing cashflow
- Sourcing or raising funds for the project
- Commissioning a production team, including a director who is responsible for the creative aspects of the project
- Managing the production team
- Approving locations for filming
- Hiring presenters or actors, although this is often the job of a casting director
- Planning filming schedules
- Working with distributors and marketing specialists
- Making sure that the project is completed on time and within budget
Roles may differ depending on whether you work in TV or film, and the size and nature of the production team will vary depending on the scale and complexity of the project. As a producer you may be supported by an associate producer and/or production manager/coordinator. In the film industry, a line producer usually takes control of costs.
Many producers start out as runners or production assistants helping with all sorts of practical tasks. Some have experience working as researchers, whose responsibilities can range from finding experts to be interviewed on live TV to checking the accuracy of facts presented in film storylines.
Where could I work as a TV/film producer?
Producers work for independent TV and film production companies, the main TV broadcasters, cable and satellite broadcasters, streaming services and community TV companies. Initially, you may have more luck finding opportunities with small production companies.
Top Tip: Search for suitable employers online, such as through The Knowledge or Pact. Opportunities are rarely advertised, so be prepared to make well-targeted speculative applications. As many producers work on a freelance basis, get advice on finding contracts – you may find the ScreenSkills Freelance Toolkit useful.
Would I suit a career as a TV/film producer?
Working as a TV/film producer calls for a wide range of skills and aptitudes. Along with plenty of enthusiasm, initiative and self-motivation, you need to be persistent, persuasive and resilient enough to cope with setbacks and pressure. The hours may be long and you could find yourself working away from home for long periods of time.
Producers need excellent management, communication, leadership and teamworking skills. They are methodical, flexible, organised and able to juggle lots of tasks at the same time. They need commercial awareness and a broad knowledge of the TV/film industry including production processes, the technical aspects of the work, codes of practice and legislation.
How do I get into TV/film production?
There is no set entry route, but it’s essential to gain relevant experience, undertake training and establish contacts within the industry. Many entrants are graduates who have built up experience often starting on small-scale projects or (as mentioned above) as a junior member of the production team.
Apprenticeships, trainee schemes, placements or internships can give you valuable experience, but there’s usually a lot of competition for the limited number of opportunities available.
Apprenticeships combine training in the workplace with off-the-job learning. Examples of relevant apprenticeships include those in England at level 3 for production assistants, at level 4 for media production co-ordinators and at level 7 (master’s degree level) for creative industries production managers. Because short-term contracts are common, flexi-job apprenticeships have been introduced whereby you can gain experience on different projects with different employers. Find out more about apprenticeships through ScreenSkills.
The main TV broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, offer various apprenticeship, work experience, mentoring and/or trainee schemes. Examples include the BBC’s Production Advanced Trainee Scheme and Channel 4’s Production Training Scheme aimed at those who face particular barriers.
ScreenSkills Trainee Finder can match you to a placement if you have less than 12 months’ relevant experience. Trainee Finder also provides other support, such as training in freelancing, networking, and health and safety. And if you’re from an under-represented group you may be able to find a paid internship through Creative Access.
Courses and qualifications
There’s no guarantee that a qualification will help you find work, but taking a relevant course can provide a useful background, give you experience and perhaps an opportunity to network.
In some schools and colleges you can take a broad-based media/film course, such as one leading to an A level/Higher, BTEC or OCR Cambridge qualification. The new T level in media, broadcast and production will be available in certain schools and colleges in England from September 2024.
At higher education level you can take a degree, HNC/D or foundation degree course in TV and film production or a broader-based programme, such as in media or broadcasting. Some higher education courses can be taken part time and others are available as sandwich programmes so would provide valuable work experience. Search for suitable courses through UCAS and check the entry requirements carefully. Admissions tutors will want to make sure that you have found out about the TV/film industry and you are usually asked to present a portfolio or showreel with examples of your work.
Top Tip: Courses vary widely so it’s vital that you do your research. What aspects of production do they cover? What facilities are available? What links do the institutions have with potential employers? Are there opportunities to gain work experience? How successful have previous students been in finding work? Does the course have any special endorsement, such as through ScreenSkills Select?
If you have a degree (or sometimes equivalent professional experience), you could take a production-related postgraduate course. These may be suitable if you have a degree in a non-related subject or if you want to specialise in a particular aspect of production.
Production courses at different levels are available through mainstream colleges and universities, and also at specialist providers, such as the National Film and Television School (NFTS).
Once you are working you can go on short courses in specific aspects of the work. Training is available through various colleges and organisations such as the NFTS and the Production Guild.
Top Tip: Training can be expensive so look out for sources of funding. Some course providers (including the NFTS) offer scholarships. A ScreenSkills Bursary can help people access training to start or develop their career. The Royal Television Society (RTS) also offers bursaries to help those from low-income backgrounds pursue a career in TV. Funds are often restricted to people who fulfil certain criteria, so check carefully. In addition to funding your training, extra support (such as mentoring), may be offered. Take advantage of anything available to you.
Other ways to find out about TV/film
Take every opportunity you can to learn about TV/film and develop your skills so that you can demonstrate to future employers that you have what it takes. The Discover! Creative Careers website allows you to search for events, workshops etc.
You could join a filmmaking club – there may be one in your community or at your school, college or university. Some National Saturday Clubs give young people the chance to learn about film and media. Into Film provides training, film clubs, competitions and various events, and the BFI Film Academy runs courses, mentoring and other opportunities for young people. And if TV appeals to you, The Network scheme offers selected individuals four days of masterclasses and workshops followed by a year of mentoring and other support.
Top Tip: Don’t forget to document your work through showreels, vlogs or a portfolio so that you can show these to course providers and possible employers.
What opportunities are there to progress in TV/film production?
As mentioned earlier, it’s usual to work your way up to a producer role. Before having full responsibility for a project, you might work as a line producer, co-producer or assistant producer, for example. With experience as a producer you could consider becoming an executive producer or even set up your own production company.
How can I find out more about careers in TV/film production?
As the skills body for the screen-based industries, ScreenSkills is a great starting point to find out more about careers in the sector; the ScreenSkills website has job profiles, details on training and all sorts of advice on getting into TV/film and developing your career. You’ll also find advice on sites such as Bectu, MyFirstJobInFilm and ProductionBase.
With so many people chasing careers in this area of work, try to be open minded. As you learn more about the world of TV/film you may find that you are more suited to a different career within the industry – perhaps in the technical or craft department. And if you struggle to find regular production work, the skills you will have developed on your career journey will certainly be useful in other sectors and careers.
Debbie Steel, May 2023
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.