Establish a friendly, assertive rapport with the production team. Show your resourcefulness, and you will be given more responsibilities.
The editorial team are responsible for story development and execution. Researchers take on a lion's share of the editorial work, seeking out stories and characters that will connect with audiences.
Work on short or student documentary films, write for a local newspaper or gain work experience in an independent production company that specialises in factual or documentary content.
Use your fuller CV to find a trainee programme or apply for runner/junior research positions on TV production.
After two or so years, apply for positions as a researcher. As this position can be found in multiple areas of the industry, you have increased your chances of gaining employment.
The editorial team are responsible for story development and execution: they are story finders, peoplefinders and most importantly: they know if a story has legs (makes good TV). The editorial team are usually the first to be employed once a programme has been commissioned. There’s a small editorial team in development, but the development team have a very different skillset (writing up pitch documents to present to commissioners, shooting sizzle reels, amassing ideas for programmes, unearthing the next big TV trends).
The production editorial department can be quite a big team, depending on how extensive the casting, access or location requirements are. Editorial come on board in preproduction. They hit the ground running, finding contributors, experts and stories that fit with the programme’s treatment. The series producer (or producer on single programmes or smaller productions) controls the editorial team, and picks the team - though sometimes it’s the production manager who makes first calls to check the availability of researchers, assistant producers, producers and directors.
The editorial team need to be dynamic and astute: the key goals during preproduction are to find the best possible stories, contributors and location access and then present them (in writing and verbally) to the series producer (SP) in a succinct, clear way. It is advantageous to have a background in journalism because journalists know how to condense down hefty chunks of information, and present findings quickly, instinctively knowing what makes a compelling story.
Depending on the production budget, recces are either conducted at contributors’ homes (led by researchers, assistant producers, and sometimes producer/directors), or using video apps such as Skype. A recce helps the team determine if the contributors have the right type of story for the programme, and if they’re good on camera. Recces can also help build trust before any filming for the programme takes place.
Once stories have been signed off by the SP, exec producer and the channel, the editorial team plan shooting schedules with contributors, write scripts/interview questions and go out to film (either self-shooting or with crews depending on the production budget) the stories that they’ve set up. After production has finished, the editorial team is reduced down to one or two people, who are there to help collate/retrieve/return any missing paperwork, and source or return archive materials supplied by those who’ve contributed.
On factual or archive-heavy programmes, a researcher is often in the office until the end of post production, fact-checking, script reading, sourcing archive photos/video clips, and generally being there to call contributors/experts if anything is missing or if the editors and/or edit producers (EPs) require any last bits of information to complete a story.
When rushes go into the edit suites - sometimes the production’s producer/directors get to cut their own stories. If the budget or schedule doesn’t allow for producers or directors involved in the shooting of the stories to go into the edit suites, production will hire EPs (who usually come from PD backgrounds) to cut one or a few stories simultaneously. Editors and EPs start during production, and have an important editorial role as they craft the rushes fed into the edits and write edit scripts. They also identify what archive material is missing, and liaise directly with researchers, who will source materials for them. It’s very important that you have a good relationship with the editors and EPs cutting your stories - otherwise good clips/scenes might not get pulled out from the rushes. It really helps to give them a heads-up (and date/time code) if a really amazing scene that will fit well with XX story is about to come into their edit.
The entry level positions for the editorial department in TV are runners, production assistants and junior researchers. Sometimes you can transition from a runner to a runner/junior researcher within the duration of a series production, or over the course of a few months if you’re working in-house at a production company. This only happens when you can prove that you have the added reliability, tactfulness and diplomacy needed when handling contributors/talent/HODs. If you get a job/work experience/trainee position in Children’s TV, factual, entertainment, news or documentary genres - these are all potential genres where you’ll be able to join an editorial team
Researchers are generally employed on every production that includes factual content, or productions that need casting assistance (finding ‘real’ people, or ‘talent’). However, researchers are employed on TV dramas too, say if the script is history-heavy and needs checking for factual accuracy. In that instance, a researcher would liaise with experts in the field of history, and rely on history books as resources to back up facts, or identify factual errors in the script.
If there is room in the budget the role of the researcher can be found on the following productions:
High End Corporate Videos
Structured Reality TV
Radio and Broadcast News
Archive researchers are sometimes employed by video production companies to source music, video clips and photos (and clear the rights) for use in corporate videos and commercials
The editorial department in TV production usually consists of the following roles:
Executive Producer (oversee projects, stepping in if any problems with the channel/production team)
When you start out as a runner/production assistant/junior researcher, you will begin to understand what floats your boat in editorial terms - it could be: casting, live news, facts and figures, science. Are you a visual thinker? Or are you more interested in budgets and logistics? At an early stage, it’s good to decide if you are more interested in the aesthetics or the practicalities of production. If you’re a visual thinker, you may want to go from researcher, to assistant producer to director - as in this role, you’ll have more control over how the programme looks, and what type of performance you want from your contributors/talent.
If you’re keen on numbers, logistics and leadership - you’d probably take the researcher, assistant producer, producer and then series producer route.
Due to TV budgets being significantly cut in recent years - lots of roles are becoming multi-skilled - it’s more likely (especially on documentary productions), that you’ll go from AP to producer/director (PD), which is a role with a combination of creative control and budget spending powers. PDs tend to be better with budgets as they’re always thinking of the budget while casting their contributors/choosing locations. Directors will generally have more motivation to keep production values high and thus spend money in order to get a better ‘look’.
After a few years of being a producer, director, or PD, the next career step is series producer/director. This is where you prove that you’re able to manage an extensive creative brief, with all the extra demands that bigger crews, more script writing and leadership responsibilities that a series brings. Some SPs then go on to be executive producers, which is the top career level, (though exec producers are less hands-on with editorial content). Exec producers are concerned with maintaining a good relationship between the production company and the channel execs/commissioners. They also step in to help with any problems within production teams or contributor-related legal issues. They often have a few productions to look after simultaneously.
In rare circumstances, you might be able to bypass the runner job level and gain a role as a junior researcher because you have specialist qualifications or knowledge about a particular specialist factual subject - eg. natural history, medicine or music
As a researcher in the editorial team, you are there to help senior team members (SP, APs, PDs, EPs) turn the programme treatment into a reality by finding the people, stories and locations to form the actual content of the programme. Core responsibilities include:
Helping to develop programme ideas, and find stories when a programme has been commissioned.
Present findings to decision makers (usually SP or producer)
In preproduction - identify materials that may be required (eg. props, archive photos, music)
Negotiate fees for copyright clearances (and be aware of legal issues relating to all materials used on shoots)
Fact checking to ensure information presented on screen is as accurate as possible
Sourcing archive materials (eg. old photos, video clips)
Writing briefs (one sheets), and sometimes writing scripts for VTs/ inserts
Ensure that legal, compliance and copyright requirements are met (these vary from broadcaster to broadcaster). You’ll get a good idea by looking here.
Conduct preliminary telephone, Skype or face-to-face interviews to assess contributors' suitability and availability for inclusion (depending on the genre and format)
First point-of-contact with contributors on location/set. Including briefing them before filming commences and making sure they get home once shooting has finished
Ensure contributors are ‘released’ (sign a release form saying they consent to appearing in the programme)
The role of the researcher can be more complex (depending on the budget of the production), so you may also need to keep across the following duties:
Arrange transport and expenses for contributors
Find locations, and assess them for suitability and cost. You may also need to secure filming permits with local authorities/private location owners
Fact check final scripts for accuracy in postproduction
Self-shoot interviews, cutaways or GVs on location
Take promotional photos for the production company/channel to use in marketing
Assisting PDs with: interviewing contributors, changing lenses, charging batteries, setting up lighting equipment, writing interview questions
Prepare production materials for external use (could be print and digital formats)
Live location logging (writing down time codes and sync notes during filming). PDs may want to retrieve good sync later in the office/in the edit.
In order to progress your career, and step-up to assistant producer (AP), it is best to ask lots of questions - being inquisitive is one of the best attributes of a researcher/AP. Take up every opportunity to go on location, and share your programme ideas - you never know, your idea could end up in development!
Yes. They do vary, so you need to be very careful deciding if you’re qualified and have the correct skillset to apply for certain jobs. A casting researcher’s primary role is to find people to take part in programmes. This could mean ‘real’ people, or it could mean a mix of real people, experts (eg. a scientist or specialist medical consultant), or talent (eg. presenters, celebrities). If you’re applying for a researcher job at a production company that just makes programmes about lions - make sure natural history is your specialist subject, or you at least have a Zoology degree.
It also helps if you know lots of people in a certain sector. For example, if you applied for a job on a programme about extreme pet grooming and you had excellent contacts at some pet parlours - a producer may pick you over other researchers, as you could potentially gain access using your contacts. A self-shooting researcher will be expected to have good shooting skills, as their rushes may be included for broadcast. You could be filming interviews, GVs, VTs or second camera on a bigger crew shoot, so unless you can competently use industry-standard cameras, sound equipment and have some lighting experience: don’t apply for self-shooting roles.
Archive researchers will be expected to have copyright and legal knowledge - knowing what’s legal to broadcast on TV, and how to obtain permission to use stills, video clips and music. The production manager has to submit a massive amount of ‘deliverables’ once a programme has been delivered to a broadcaster, and deliverables include all the paperwork that comes with sourcing archive rights. If something hasn’t been signed - it’ll be your responsibility to chase up. It also helps if you know the going rates for the price of sourcing different types of archive, otherwise your PM might get annoyed if you’re constantly asking if such and such is ‘in the budget’. A word of warning: don’t use YouTube to source clips unless you actually gain permission from the original owner of the work. It could land you (and the production company) in a lot of legal trouble. Be prepared to do lots of leg work to dig out good archive from less obvious sources.
There are so many types of researcher role, in so many subject areas and genres that you are spoilt for choice. However, you need to be realistic and think about your knowledge base and long term goals when deciding which job to apply for. If you’re really passionate about character-led, human-interest stories - documentary/factual is probably the right genre for you. If you love dance and the glitz and glamour of entertainment programmes, then look out for researcher roles on big studio shows such as Strictly - where you’re more likely to be coming up with VT ideas, or casting the celebrity contestants.
Keeping your contributors happy and relaxed. Contributors can be extremely nervous before the camera starts rolling - your natural ability to put them at ease can turn the situation around, and lead to moments of TV gold. You also need to be able to nurture and maintain relationships right through till post production.
Building strong working relationships with your SP, producers, directors or PDs - if they remember you (for the right reasons), they may take you with them on their next production(s).
Make sure you know how to find sources, stories and contributors quickly. Keep and regularly maintain a database of free casting sites/apps (eg. Star Now), legal-check research engines (eg. LexisNexis) and archive houses (eg. Universities, museums), so you can prove that you’re really switched on and have a possible line of research for every scenario.
Aftercare is as important. Contributors pour their souls out to you, and put up with a lot of disruption to their lives during filming - the least you can do after filming is follow up with a heartfelt thank you email, send them a DVD of the programme or photos from filming that they requested and the TX date/time of their programme
The editorial department is fast-paced and exciting. Pre-production is less chaotic, but very rewarding when your stories/contributors start getting signed off. Production can be very demanding, especially if you have a short but packed shooting schedule, using locations all over the country (and possibly abroad too). It is a creative environment, where you are rewarded for using your initiative and given the unique opportunity to witness real human emotion, and/or spectacular events as they unfold in front of the camera.
If you’re office-based, and don’t get the opportunity to go on location - there are still many ways to prove that you’re able to find, develop and follow stories through to post production. You need to be tentatious and prepared to spend a lot of time on the phone to find the right content for the programme. Perseverance is key. Some contributors take a lot of persuasion before they agree to be filmed. You will get a lot of satisfaction from building a strong rapport with your contributors but be prepared to encounter blips every now and again.
It can be frustrating if your SP doesn’t like a contributor or story that you are really gunning for, but in time, you will become more in-tune with your SPs (and other key decision makers’) requirements and build a strong intuition for what each of the channels like in terms of ‘character’ types, and story trends. Research is very rewarding because you get to learn loads of general knowledge in diverse subject areas - it can take you all over the world (metaphorically and physically). You have to be a people-person, and editorial-driven. You want to make TV gold, and you know the best angle for the story.
You won’t need a specific qualification to become a TV researcher. However, a degree in a media-related, drama or specialist subject may give you a good grounding. If you are keen to get a better understanding of the Editorial Department and journalism as creative mediums - considering taking a TV production course, the following short and long courses may help you prepare you for a TV career:
You will need to have wide experience in and knowledge of the preproduction and production processes, so any work experience or training on any TV production will give you a helpful taster of how the processes work.
Establish a friendly, assertive rapport with the production team. Show your resourcefulness, and you will be given more responsibilities.
Keep a database of the fact finding resources you use during a production. Some channels require 2 or 3 sources to backup each fact in their deliverables, so log where (eg. book, website) and who (expert) gave you fact verification. Keep the database tidy, (similar to referencing an essay).
Sounds simple, but if you want to work in TV, you need to know the schedules, what works in which slots, and have a good understanding of why certain characters fit within certain programmes.
Become knowledgeable about legal and ethical considerations surrounding the release of information to the press and public.
Make sure you’re adept at handling money and keeping receipts (you’ll be expected to look after floats and petty cash, e.g. for taxis/snacks during production)
Pitch story ideas to your friends and family, and practice writing ideas down quickly, keeping them condensed to one page.
Be exceptionally careful with paper copies of scripts, call sheets and editorial notes. If you lose any paperwork it can have serious legal implications.
If you’re a runner and you get asked to assist a PD on location, always say yes. This is the prime opportunity to impress, take your skills to the next level and also discuss story ideas in a more informal environment (eg. in the car driving to location)]
Don’t disclose any confidential information you over-hear in the editorial department to your friends and family or post anything of a contentious nature on social media. Editorial trust is built on confidentiality.
Have an opinion about TV content, whether it’s good or bad. Editorial teams are passionate about topical content so you should be up-to-date too.
“One sheet”. A one page briefing document (usually outlining key contributor/story information).
“Re-con”. Short for reconstruction - a scene that is recreated artistically (eg. in a drama-doc, to illustrate an event that happened to a contributor in the past.)
“Contrib”. Short for contributor.
“Recce”. Stems from the word ‘reconnoitre’, which refers to a visit to a location before the production schedule begins.
“GVs”. Refers to ‘general views’, to cover the thin bits in a programme, or used as a visual aid for some narration.
“I/V”. An interview or piece-to-camera.
“Good Sync”. Chunks of I/V dialogue that are likely to make a cut of the programme.
“TX”. The date of broadcast transmission.
“Treatment”. Short written outline of a programme, for the commissioner to read.
“Access”. Official permission to film on private property or with a particular organisation or individual.
“Backstory”. SPs, producers and directors need backstory for every contributor in order to gain an insight into their history, so they know what questions to ask and how a current situation could potentially play out during filming.
If you’re on location/set with a crew your day can range for 10 to 12 hours plus, depending on the shoot. If you’re office-based, 9.30 to 6.00pm is fairly average (in pre-production), though in production, there will be fairly frequent late nights. On set/location, you will be on your feet, and as the junior member of the team you will be called upon to do most of the running. As you’re working long hours: make sure to take care of yourself as well as the rest of the department. When you are tired it is easy to forget what has been asked of you, so make lists and prioritise your tasks. Drink plenty of water too.
Most productions adhere to Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) rates, and BECTU have their recommended Freelance Rate Card for Factual TV, which lists Researchers working on a 48-hour week (inc holiday pay) as £729.
This really depends on your tenacity and talent in absorbing information and the way you conduct yourself around HODs and contributors. It could take three years to transition from Researcher to AP, or it could take one year. Most HODs would agree that it’s beneficial to remain as a Researcher until you feel absolutely comfortable with every duty involved in day-to-day production. The ideal scenario would be that you start a new production as a researcher/senior researcher, then the production company recognise your competence and promote you mid-way through production. This may seem a bit daunting at first, but it’s better to be nurtured through the transition and be forgiven for making a few mistakes. If a new employer can see that you’ve got sufficient researcher credits but don’t think you’re ready to step up to AP, they may offer a senior researcher title, and give you a few AP duties.
Working on factual/documentary short films and friend’s projects are definitely good ways to bolster your competence within the editorial department. It’s worth remembering that you meet many people on short films, and creating a good working relationship on a freebie can lead to paid work. Any type of journalism experience can help too - radio production, print features, college newspapers. It’s great to get used to interviewing people at an early stage. Even if it’s interviewing your granddad about his gardening hobby filmed on your iPhone - it’ll get you used to asking questions, being inquisitive and working on your directorial approach.
The first port of call is always your production manager, but if they are unavailable or are the source of the problem, visit the executive producer or series producer - as they have an overall duty of care to the production.
Absolutely, but remember that the etiquette on film is very different to factual. Often in TV, you are working with smaller crew/production team with smaller budgets. You may have to start at a lower job level to start with if you cross over, but you will see and learn how it works without feeling out of your depth. See our sister site www.myfirstjobinfilm.co.uk for more info about how the film industry works. /p>
My First Job in TV would like to thank Series Producer, Martha Welles for her advice in creating this career guide.
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