What is a runner in the television industry?
Runners are found at the lowest rung on the TV career ladder. It’s the position most people apply for when they decide to get into the industry. No matter how many student films you’ve made or courses you’ve been on: ‘Runner’ should be at the top of your CV when applying for that first job in TV. If it currently reads ‘Filmmaker’, ‘DOP’ or ‘Producer’, scrub this out as anyone receiving your CV will at best be confused and at worse angry, dropping it straight in the bin. Before you even address your CV - you must think long and hard about a career in TV. It’s an over-crowded industry (especially entry level positions), competitive and incredibly hard work. Don’t expect to be behind the camera and involved in editorial decisions from the offset. You will be expected to do a whole manner of tasks, from making tea to delivering internal mail. You need a “no task too small” attitude!
If that hasn’t put you off, and you’re made of strong stuff, then TV production could be a rewarding way to spend your days (and quite often nights too!).
A runner is at the gateway to a gargantuan number of TV departments (editorial, camera, sound, accounts, etc. etc.) - and it’s quite common for runners to try out a few different departments (and genres) before settling, or moving up the chain. Even if you think you want to make hard hitting documentaries, any experience is good experience. Don’t just look for jobs in the genre you want to end up in – you could change your mind!
Everyone starts out as a runner, even Guy Ritchie, who started out making tea for Director Peter Levelle. If you’ve been a waiter/waitress in the summer holidays - this is actually a good parallel to what you’ll be doing as a runner (making drinks, working long hours, being nice to rude customers, all for a low pay). So if you can cope with that, you can cope with being a runner. If you fancy being a floor runner on feature films, take a look at our sister site: www.myfirstjobinfilm.co.uk for more info.
A runner does exactly what it connotes- you ‘run’ errands (could be driving to a hotel to pick up a member of the cast’s phone charger, could be buying lunches for the crew), make litres and litres of hot drinks, buy stuff, clean all sorts of things, basically be there for whoever needs you, whenever they need you. Runners interact with a volatile mix of crew, cast, executives, suppliers, other runners and the general public - all of whom you need to be super nice to. As the saying goes, “Be nice to those you meet on your way up, because you will meet them on your way down.” TV is a small world, and you will inevitably cross paths with the same people time after time. The most important thing at your disposal is your attitude. A smile will cost nothing, and get you a long way! No one ever remembers or wants to re-employ a grumpy runner.
No matter what you learned at college or uni, your education begins on your first day in the role of runner. There are no short cuts as it takes years to understand the TV environment: the hierarchies, the rules that aren’t ever going to be written in a text book and the amazingly complicated structure of the production and creative processes can only be learnt inside the industry. Being a runner gives you a unique overview, one that you’re unlikely to get further up the ladder when you’re grounded within one department. You can genre-jump too, so have a go at running in documentaries, factual, live entertainment, news and sports, you might find an unexpected niche. It’s much harder to jump from genre to genre when you’re at senior level. You will have to take a step or two down (and pay cut) when moving from say, factual TV to feature films.
How do Runners get into the TV Industry?
It’s tricky, in fact it’s more like trying to solve a complex maths equation sometimes. You have to think big and think bold. Research other avenues where you can gain precious experience and contacts before you start sending your CV out to every production company listed on The Knowledge. Who else make pictures ‘move’? We live in a culture where every platform has some kind of video offering - tons of companies are cashing in on the craze to hook consumers in a visual way. Quite a few marketing agencies have their own production departments now - check their Twitter accounts to see if they link to any of their own video content. Animation companies make mainstream adverts and virals. SFX companies are popping up all over the place - not just in London. Even publishers make branded content which often involves some filming and production scheduling/co-ordinating.
To save heartache and time (if you’ve got no professional production experience your CV will go straight into the bin of any TV production company you approach), send it to every creative agency, video marketing company, publisher, and SFX company that is within a 50 mile radius (or 100 miles if you own a car) of your home. Follow up with a phone call if you don’t get a response after a week. Make sure you direct your CV to the person who actually hires people - eg. a coordinator, HR department, or office manager. You’re likely to be offered very short stints of work, but say yes to everything. Keep a part time job in a bar or restaurant to fall back on between jobs.
Whilst you’re researching the market watch tons of TV! You need to understand the medium before you can make it. Watch a whole range of programmes, on every channel. Decide what you like, what you don’t, and then watch the credits right to the end. Learn the different job titles and what they all mean, and then add the company who made it to your contacts list! When contacting them for the first time – mention a programme they recently made that you liked and why.
It’s important to build contacts when you’re getting your first couple of jobs (even if you’ve only been on-set for one day), and when you’re working on friends’ passion projects for free. Everyone knows everyone in TV, so the sooner you start flexing your contacts, the better. A smartphone with plenty of data storage will really help, as you’ll be recording every name and number from every call sheet that comes into your possession. A lot of jobs come up by word of mouth. HODs will always ask their friends and colleagues for recommendations before they consider advertising a job, so it’s all about who you know and being persistent.
Remember to keep in touch and follow-up with people on social media. Make sure your Twitter and Facebook are professional though. Every potential employer will look you up so do yourself a favour and hide anything that’s derogatory or embarrassing. (Same goes for your email address: it should be professional – firstname.lastname@example.org that you had when you were 15 just won’t cut it. Get a new, professional email with your name included, email@example.com for instance.
You’re likely to come across lots of other runners in your time in TV. If you’re a bit of a charmer, and help your fellow newbies out - the good karma will be returned (hopefully) with advice and job suggestions. Some runners can be quite cut-throat (and usually have an agenda that includes raising through the ranks as quickly as possible because running is beneath them) though, so use your common sense to keep the good ones on your side. It’s important to have a positive, convivial attitude to other runners as you usually work in teams - you’re all in the same boat, can smile through the pain together, and will no doubt see each other in a few years time working in different departments. You might even end up employing each other one day, if you hit it off from the start
Where do Runners work?
Due to the genre-swapping life of the runner, it means they get to work all over the place. You could be based anywhere the length and breadth of the UK, or you could get the chance to travel to Europe and much further abroad - it entirely depends on what location access the production gets. Runners can be found in a TV studio or set, production office, mobile production office, post production house, unit base, car, or boat. Sometimes runners flit between two, three, four or more of the above locations during one production. It’s good to get some office experience first though, but there are no set rules - again it depends on the specific production requirements.
Because of this fluidity, runners need to be prepared to travel. A willingness to go the extra mile (literally) will mean a lot to employers. Be prepared to cancel social plans at the last minute, and be flexible and on your toes – you could get called up at the 11th hour - so being able to say “yes” straight away will impress. Your friends will forgive you.
What genres do Runners work in?
Runners are in need on every single genre, which is very fortunate for new entrants. Another plus point is that runners morph around the TV, drama, corporate and commercials industries quite fluidly. You could be on a docu-drama one day, then on the floor of a studio entertainment show the next. Here is a list of possible genres to work in as a runner:
The biggest difference lies between location runners and office runners. Some of the duties are the same, but you need to be more dynamic, have extra stamina (for helping with kit/supplies/setting up mobile production office) and confident with larger numbers of cast and crew when on the floor/location - you may also need to be prepared for unpredictable weather! It would be wise to invest in a good rucksack and a reliable waterproof jacket – spending the money now will save your bacon later.
What do Runners do?
It depends on which genre they’re working in. But the duties are similar and the most important thing across all types of runner duties is to do everything with a smile and be prepared to go above and beyond in order to get noticed (and move on to the next job).
Provide hospitality for crew and artists (hot drinks - eg. buckets of tea and coffee)
Distribute information and call sheets from the production office when out on location
Transportation of cast and crew as required during the filming day
Assist in cueing artists and locking off filming areas
First point of contact for a range of both internal and external callers and visitors
Carry out requests made by the production team
Keep tea and coffee making areas clean and tidy
Liaise with caterers if there are any stock shortages
Ensure Health and Safety policies are observed
Contribute to safe, smooth and efficient running of the mobile production office, which on smaller productions can be someones car
Provide admin support where required
Provide logistical assistant on location, studio or post production
Pick up artists in the morning for their first call
Empty bins/sort recycling
Helping smaller crews when rigging and de-rigging
If you’re working as an in-house runner (based in an office), you’re likely to be working under an office manager. You will inevitably have more admin duties including photocopying and printing out information, answering phones, ordering stationary and helping file paperwork. If you have receptionist experience, then you’ll feel very comfortable with many of the office runner duties. Once you’ve had a couple of runner jobs (and have proved your ability), your repertoire of jobs may extend to include:
What is the career path of the Runner?
Due to the abundance of departments in the TV industry, there are an almost infinite number of routes you could take. There are no rules. There are popular careers (eg. directing/producing), but the popular careers are also the most sought after and thus harder to break into due to the amount of competition. Here are some common routes and some less common.
Camera Department Runner > Camera Trainee > Clapper Loader/2nd CA> Focus Puller/1st CA > Camera Operator > DOP (drama)
Runner>Camera Assistant > 2nd Camera >Lighting Cameraman/woman
Production Runner > Production Secretary > Production Co-ordinator > Production Manager
Other departments you may want to explore:
Hair and Makeup
Bear in mind that only big TV dramas and feature films have all of the above departments. It’s a very different story in genres such as documentary and factual where the size of crews and departments are much smaller. For example, a single one-off documentary programme would only consist of: runner, researcher/AP, self-shooting producer/director and exec producer. On really tiny budgets - the researcher/AP would also take on runner duties.
What personal attributes do Runners have?
It may sound obvious - but you also have to really love watching TV to go into this industry. You should keep across all the latest trends in formats and genres. Watch the TV awards (craft categories too!), get a subscription to Broadcastmagazine (or read the back catalogue for free in your library), check out the Radio Times (not just the bumper Xmas addition) so you become familiar with scheduling and time slots. A bit like the folk on Gogglebox - you need to have an opinion about TV too. Good or bad, you should want to debate, challenge and defend the programmes you watch. You aren’t expected to know how to do everything, everyone started somewhere - but as long as you have a willingness to learn and a great attitude, you will go far.
What things do Runners take on location?
This is a list of handy items that will make life easier on set/location, you might even save the day (and thus be remembered for a job on another shoot!) by keeping some essentials in your bag:
Call sheet (plus extras for crew who’ve forgotten theirs)
Petty cash float and receipt slips
Personal mobile, production mobile and charger(s)
Lanyard with essential phone numbers
Script/Interview questions (extras in case anyone’s forgotten theirs)
Sat nav and charger
USB Memory sticks
Antibacterial hand gel
Leatherman (or equivalent multi tool)
Bottle of water
Haribo or energy-giving treats to keep you (and crew) going
Decent waterproof jacket
A cigarette lighter (in case someone senior has forgotten theirs)
You should be able to find most of this stuff in the production office, but it’s good to be super organised and have your own stash of essentials, as some companies don’t organise their stock cupboards as well as others. Failing to prepare is to prepare to fail and all that!
Top 5 Runner No-Nos:
Don’t scandalise yourself with anyone on the crew or production team. Gossip spreads like wildfire in production and indecent behaviour will get you noticed for all the wrong reasons.
Don’t turn up late, hungover or on drugs. It’s very important to network, and be involved in social events, but just don’t over do it.
Don’t hassle the talent, or try and make them your best friends. A bit like in the Victorian era when children were ‘seen and not heard’, runners should be discreet with principal cast, celebs and presenters. Only talk if they initiate a conversation.
Don’t lose scripts or call sheets - it will have serious legal implications.
Don’t disobey confidentiality rules - posting pictures of your shoot on Twitter or Facebook is a big no-no.
What hours do runners work?
Hours may be long (8 - 12 hours a day) and the work can be physically exhausting. For most of this time, 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 can be expected to work long hours, make sure to take care of yourself as well as the rest of the department (tea and water on hand whenever you get a chance to step away from other duties). The easiest way to please the crew (and make you stick in their minds for all the right reasons) when you are filming is with tea and coffee – remember everyone’s preference and be one step ahead with the orders. When you are tired it is easy to forget your tasks, so make lists and prioritise them.
What should my CV contain?
Not many words. No really. People in TV are always short on time, because time is money. Cut the waffle - employers know exactly what roles runners perform. If you can keep your CV to one page, all the better. The most important info is your personal details (name, job position, number, email, location, if you have a driving licence and own a car), and then a list of productions you’ve worked on (most recent at the top) including the name of the production, duration you worked on it and the Heads of Department you worked under. This is the ideal CV to send out to companies where you’re applying for an on-set/location position.
If you’re applying for an office-based Runner job, you may want to keep another CV with a bit more detail. Include examples of managing paperwork, petty cash handling and travel booking. Any First Aid training can also make a difference, so pop that on your CV too, if you have a valid certificate. It’s not necessary to include a photo on your CV - or any other jazzy imagery. HODs will just think you’re trying to hide something, or trying to distract from a very average CV!
Who are the industry bodies?
How much do runners get paid?
Some productions will have you on a 5 or 6 day working week, with a 10 hr day cited as ‘social hours’. Other productions will pay you a daily rate. Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) have their recommended Freelance Rate Card for factual TV, which lists a runner working on a factual programme as £397 per week (inc holiday pay). Don’t ever accept less that £350 for a 5 day week, as that will take you below the National Minimum Wage.
Try and keep a log of the actual hours you work - as these will inevitably be longer than originally quoted. Bring it up with your production manager - runners have as many rights as everyone else on the crew. Even though your PM may seem intimidating, exhaustion can really hinder you and accidents are more likely to happen if you’re not getting any sleep. If you don’t feel you can talk to your PM, approach someone on the crew who you feel you can trust and show them your hours - or if you’re a member of BECTU, they’ll give you free advice.
If you ever have any questions or concerns then please ask us via our Facebook Group.
Are all runners freelance?
Although work may be sporadic and the majority of the industry is self-employed, the role of the trainee/runner/assistant is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self-employment. If you’re working for weeks or months, the production will pay you weekly using the PAYE pay structure, meaning they will deduct your tax and national insurance at source, providing you with a P45 and P60 at the end of the engagement. However, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, this presents complications.
Fortunately, HMRC is aware of the infrequency of work in the film and television industry especially in the entry level roles, so they use a seven-day rule. If an engagement is less than seven days, PAYE does not need to be applied, but the production company will still deduct your national insurance. This is to stop you being over taxed or emergency taxed, which could leave you with a very small pay packet indeed. Make sure you are meticulous with your record keeping, filing all documentation such as your P45 and P60’s, you may need them for reference at the end of the tax year.
If you have been in the film industry for 12 months and worked for multiple companies on short term contracts you can be eligible to apply to HMRC for the Lorimer or LP10 Letter. The Lorimer Letter is a Letter of Authority that is valid for three years and can be applied to engagements of 10 days or less. To apply for this, you have to demonstrate that you are in business on your own account, so that individual short-term engagements which would otherwise be treated as employment are seen as part of an overall business set-up. So, even though you are not one the approved ‘grades’ listed by HMRC you will be invoicing the production for the full sum - but you will need to generate your own invoicing, file your own tax return as self-employed and be responsible for paying your Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance.
Please make sure to set up your invoicing structure in a way that will enable you to be consistent with your numbering. For example, if you're John Smith you may decide to structure your invoicing as JS01.
I feel I am being unfairly treated, who can I tell?
Unfortunately, those at the bottom of the career ladder are often exploited, overworked and underpaid. You must be brave and make your voice heard if you feel that you’re being mistreated. The first port of call is always your Head of Department (eg. producer or DOP), but if they are unavailable or are the problem visit the production manager who has an overall duty of care to the crew.
Once again, please contact us or message us via our Facebook Group. We are here to help you, if you unsure of something at work, then do not hesitate to contact us. It will be confidential and we will ensure you receive the advice.
What can I do to speed up my progress?
You can give yourself a head start by becoming multi-skilled - a technological chameleon as it were. Basically, if you can write scripts, shoot (pref. on digital cameras, though iPhones are a good start) edit, and distribute your content (eg. on a YouTube Channel or Vimeo) you will have completed a very scaled down version of the production process, and thus gained an understanding and appreciation of what happens in TV. If you can do all of the above while you’ve still got access to free equipment at college/Uni, all the better. Key skills you can work on are mastering the various edit software, being comfortable with various digital cameras, researching the industry and learning to drive. Being able to drive and better still have your own car, banger or not, will often be the difference between working and not.
Do I need a driving license?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Get your licence as soon as you can, it doesn’t matter if you don’t own a car, as productions usually supply hire cars for crew. Most production coordinators will choose a runner with a clean licence and a car over a non-driver - especially for location work, which usually involve a lot of driving at runner level. Some companies request runners who can drive vans too, so if you can afford the extra training, it will again put you in a better position for getting a job. Be aware that your age could count against you if you’re fresh out of Uni. Being old can work in a runner’s favour because insurance is cheaper for over 25s. If you live in the sticks, you will definitely need a car as the majority of production companies are based in cities such as London, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol. But even if you live in the city and usually get around using public transport - remember that productions cart around very large bits of valuable kit so cars and vans are the only safe option.
Will I need to move for work?
Cities offer more work. If you don’t live in Bristol, London, Manchester or Cardiff - you might want to consider moving close to one of these cities. Or, check to see if any of your friends live there. Runners are usually on short contracts, so mates won’t mind if you crash for a week or so. You can also find very cheap accommodation on Air BnB, SpareRoom, or Crew Rooms if you’re not within commuting distance of home.
What is a call sheet?
As a runner, the call sheet is the TV equivalent of your bible. Call sheets are put together by production (the department!) whenever crew are filming on location, or on-set. This document contains every useful bit of info anyone working on the production needs to know: contacts list, maps, health & safety info, risk assessment, schedule, weather, travel, accommodation, door codes, technical spec., kit list, prop list, talent, catering, car parking allocations and more! As the name implies - it also contains ‘call times’ for everyone involved - the time that they should be at the venue/location. Runners should take particular care over learning the schedule, because it’s so important for productions to run on time (going over schedule has serious cost implications in any genre). Use a highlighter to emphasize the bits you are responsible for or need to pay attention to.
Will I be responsible for petty cash?
It is likely that you’ll handle cash in one form or another. Occasionally SPs/PDs and Execs will give you their bank cards (and pin numbers) to get cash out or to pay for their food if they’re too busy to leave the office. Be very careful not to lose these! It’s a good idea to keep a separate wallet, or zip-up bag to keep float money and cards separate from your own. Always keep receipts, you’ll need these to reconcile your float. Make sure receipts are VAT receipts as the production accountant needs to claim VAT charges back from the government. It’s handy to keep some petty cash vouchers with you at all times, in case a supplier or shop keeper can’t issue you with a receipt - make sure the supplier signs the voucher too!
If you’re given a cash float to buy things on behalf of the production company, you will sign a form or receipt to prove the money was handed over. Your float needs to balance when you reconcile it, (it will be a mix of receipts and loose change by then) - this is usually logged on an expense form. Once you’ve filled it out and checked that the float balances, a coordinator or production manager enters it into the budget as money spent.
Is there a departmental hierarchy?
Yes, so tread carefully until you learn the hierarchy. The Heads of Departments (HODs) and talent are at the top, unless you’re being visited by executives, commissioners or clients. Rule of thumb is: just be nice to everyone. When it comes to catering and refreshments - always prioritize those at the top of the hierarchy first. If you’re on a small factual or documentary shoot, the crew are very important as they lug lots of heavy kit around and do long hours so keep them sweet.
Thank you's ...
My First job in TV would like to thank freelance Assistant Producer Rosa Brough for offering advice to this career guide.