AN OVERVIEW OF THE IN-HOUSE PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT
The in-house production team support all productions based at the company premises (depending on the size of the company - there could be 5 -10 productions going on simultaneously under one roof). The department’s aim is to meet the needs of the freelance production staff and crew members and fulfil practical and everyday office maintenance, admin and facilities. Production organise in-house equipment (computers, printers etc.) and supplies (stationery, refreshments etc.), ensure all necessary information is distributed properly and HR will often appoint freelance HODs after the production manager has negotiated the rate. They also ensure that every production adheres to a particular broadcaster’s list of deliverables (paperwork essential for delivery, eg. music licences, signed archive copyright documents, contributor release forms) are handed over with the master tapes (master copy of the finished programme/series/film) after post production.
Similar to production secretaries, office runners provide administrative assistance, but rather than reporting to a freelance production manager, they report to the in-house office manager who looks after in-house admin for the production company as a whole. The production company or broadcaster will have a board of company directors and executives, as well as a head of production, finance manager, head of development, HR manager, IT manager, legal and business affairs executive and one (or more) personal assistants/or a personal assistant appointed to the exec team. Most of the senior in-house staff will be on an annual salary, which may include pension plans and employee benefits. The in-house staff is kept deliberately small, to keep costs to a minimum. The rest of the workforce will be freelance - employed on a production only basis. Appointment of freelancers depends entirely on which productions on the development slate are commissioned and when.
What are the In-house entry level positions?
Office runner positions are the first step into the in-house Production Department, and duties are largely administrative, though can encompass some editorial and technical duties depending on the production company and their resources/budget. 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.
The office runner is at the gateway to a significant number of TV departments (editorial, accounts, business etc.) - and it’s quite common for runners to try out a few different departments (across different genres) before settling, or moving up the chain. Even if you think you want to become a company executive, any experience is good experience. Keep your options open while in the junior roles. If you fancy trying out being a runner on feature films or commercials, take a look at our sister site My First Job in Film for more info.
Office runners interact with a mix of crew, cast, company 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 as an office 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 an office runner gives you a unique overview, one that you’re unlikely to get further up the ladder when you’re grounded within one department.
There are two other ways you can work your way into production via the in-house route. These are:
Receptionist - Sometimes office runners are also receptionists, or job share with a receptionist, where you both do a mix of running errands and keeping front-of-house in order. You’re the first point-of-contact when visitors or suppliers arrive, you answer the phone, take messages and assist HR and the facilities/office manager.
Personal Assistant - Very similar to receptionist - a secretarial role, but usually just reporting to one executive, or a small team of executives. Main duties include diary management, booking travel and accommodation, organising and attending meetings. Some experience in this role would put you in good stead to become a production secretary or production assistant.
Where do office runners find work?
Every production company (and broadcaster) will employ at least one in-house office runner. Big independent companies in London, such as RDF, Studio Lambert, and Princess Productions employ teams of runners. Applying for in-house office runner jobs is a good idea as you’ll get a bit more job security, and a longer contract - but due to that fact, these positions are much sort-after and will receive hundreds of applications.
How do you get into the TV Industry?
Sending your CV out to every production company listed on The Knowledge is a good start - but make sure you direct it to the right person: Head of Production, or office manager. Who else makes TV content? We live in a culture where every platform has some kind of video offering - so don’t forget to look up animation companies and SFX companies - they all need receptionists, office runners and PAs too. Follow up with a phone call if you don’t get a response after a week.
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. Remember to keep in touch and follow-up with TV people you meet on social media. Make sure your email address, Twitter and Facebook are professional though.
What other areas of the industry can this position be found?
Office runners are in need on every single genre, which is very fortunate for new entrants. Another plus point is that office runners morph around the TV, Film and Commercials industries quite fluidly. Here is a list of possible genres to work in as an office runner:
Some of the larger production companies will encompass a range of content spanning a range of genres. For example - Endemol Shine Group produce game shows, drama, factual, sitcoms, cookery and documentary. Smaller companies are more likely to specialise in a certain genre - but really corner that particular market, eg. Icon Filmswho produce a predominant slate of natural history and wildlife. When working as an in-house office runner, the content produced by the company is of little relevance to your general office duties, unless you’re asked to help out on a specific production that is struggling to find a freelance runner.
What do Office Runners do?
It depends on the size and scope of the company premises you’re working for. 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 up the career ladder). Main tasks in-house will include:
Organise VHS and DVD dubbing (often to tight deadlines)
Record programmes from TV
Answer main phone line and cover reception
Collect, sort, distribute and frank mail
Make daily local runs using a company vehicle (eg. delivering rushes to a post production house, or collecting float money from the bank)
Order stationery and keep stock tidy
Keep kitchens clean and tidy, loading and unloading dishwashers
Check and replenish stock of kitchen consumables
Check and replenish water stocks
Set up and clear meeting rooms
Photocopy and basic filing
Assist in set up of office areas, including furniture builds & moves
Liaise with regular suppliers - order stock and resolve basic queries
Assist in set up of social events
Collect and/or deliver recycling
Maintain paper stocks for photocopiers
Help with archives
Flag up any issues in the building (eg. blocked toilet or light bulb malfunction)
Occasionally assist librarian and camera kit co-ordinator
Once you’ve been with the company for 6-12 months (and have proved your ability), your repertoire of jobs may extend to include:
What personal attributes do Office Runners have?
What is the career path of the Office 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. production manager/floor manager), 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.
Common TV Career Routes:
If you abilities take you along the production management route, where you're fully involved with the process of getting everyone to set and negotiating the line between the office and crew, then your next step is that of production assistant. From there your looking to fill to role of production coordinator and then production manager, who heads up that particular strand of hierarchy.
There are other opportunities too. Starting as an office runner also means you are involved with the business of running a business. You could move into a PA position for the exec and once your skills have grown become the office manager. This strand would take you along the general manager/managing director route, where you are overseeing all the staff in the company.
If editorial is your calling, and during your time as a runner you have been assigned research duties, junior researcher is a viable career path, following the editorial structure you would progress to a researcher, AP, PD and further down the line series producer to executive producer.
A great natural progression would be to step up from office runner to production assistant (PA) - where you’ll diversify your skill set and become a bit of a production chameleon, who is present from preproduction to post production and a multi-tasking hero. The role is technical, creative and administrative. PAs supervise set up and operation of production equipment, help plan programme format and research scripts, maintain production records, and hire equipment. PAs are more generalist than specialist.
Working closely with the producer, director and production team, you’re likely to be:
Liaising with writers, artists' agents, members of the public, and publicity personnel
Co-ordinating and communicating production resources and facility arrangements in conjunction with the production manager
Attending and timing rehearsals if a drama element to the production
Attending and co-ordinating meetings
Checking copyright and permission issues
Ensuring royalties are paid for archive images, music or footage used
Dealing with artists' payments and expenses
Producing budgets, monitoring costs and controlling expenses
Cueing pre-recorded material
Overseeing the timing during a shoot or show
Ensuring continuity (on location and in the studio)
Dealing with production enquiries (and complaints) from members of the public
Keeping accurate shot lists (especially for drama productions)
Typing up camera scripts and shot cards
Producing timing schedules, shot lists and logs for post-production
Liaising with the camera and sound crew during studio recordings
Booking artists and performers through their agents
Organising the production and distribution of scripts and call sheets
Booking catering, accommodation, equipment and flights for performers and crew
Managing contracts with external organisations (eg. location owners)
Conducting general research
- Completing all necessary paperwork in relation to the above tasks, for final delivery of the production to the broadcaster
WHAT IS THE PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT DEPARTMENT LIKE TO WORK IN?
Pre-production is less chaotic, but can be stressful if cast and crew members your producer/director really wants are unavailable or are expecting unrealistic rates (PMs and PAs/co-ordinators are experts at haggling though, so bringing crew down to a rate that is in budget will become second nature when you’ve gained a bit of bravado). Production can be very demanding, especially if you have a short but packed shooting schedule, using locations all over the country (and abroad too). It's a creative environment, where you are rewarded for using your initiative and given the unique opportunity to work with a raft of high profile behind the scenes crew and on-screen talent. Another plus point is that production staff tend to have longer contracts because they’re employed from pre-production through till post-production.
The Production Department have great camaraderie - they’re usually a witty bunch, who help keep freelancers’ morale up and provide reassurance in times of difficulty (eg. long working hours or a quick turnaround). It really helps if you are a natural problem solver as this is a big part of any day in the production department - a lot of your time will be spent attending to small or major technical panics, cancelling bookings, or chasing freelancers for HR paperwork.
Everything happens very quickly and things are constantly changing right up until the night before a shoot day, so you have to be even more prepared and organised than you can imagine. Even when you’re managing your workload and on track with internal deadlines, you still need to keep a few steps ahead. It’s a fast paced environment, where you’re constantly challenged at every step, which means you learn a lot and develop new skills quickly. If you thrive in high pressured job roles, you’ll love the unpredictable yet highly rewarding career on offer in production.
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 office 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.
If you’re applying for an office 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!
PHRASES EVERYONE IN THE PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT SHOULD KNOW
Carnet. A passport for the film and sound kit which is stamped in and out of every country by Customs and Excise (basically any country outside the EU).
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.)
Pencil. What you do when booking but not confirming dates with crew or post production houses. When a pencil becomes a booking - you are viable for part or full payment if you cancel.
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.
TX. The date of broadcast transmission.
Treatment. Short written outline of a programme, for the commissioner to read.
Tech Recce. Recce where various crew members go to a location to check power sources etc.
Tech Spec. Technical specifications that apply to the programme you’re making, issued by the broadcaster.
Kick, bollock, scramble. KBS is crisis time, major panic, or when something becomes a free for all.
DFI. When the creative forces on the production have a different f*****g idea
What hours do Office Runners work?
Hours may be long (8 - 10 hours a day), and a lot of the time you may be the first to open the office in the morning (and last to leave). For a lot 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 in-house staff. When you are tired it is easy to forget your tasks, so make to-do lists every day and prioritise items in order of importance.
Who are the industry bodies?
How much do office 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 £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.
Are office runners self employed?
The role of the office runner is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self employment, so in most cases the production company will pay you weekly or monthly using the employee PAYE pay structure. In-house office runners are likely to be on the office payroll, on a fixed-term contract or rolling contract, which gives a bit more security. This means that your tax will be taken at source, and your holiday pay will be automatically included.
I feel I am being unfairly treated who can I go to?
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.office manager), but if they are unavailable or are the problem visit the Head of Production who has an overall duty of care to the in-house staff.
How can I widen my network?
Networking is imperative for getting into and continuing to get work in TV. The television industry is surprisingly such a small world so meeting people and letting them get to know you is so important to get that first foot in the door. Keep in contact with all the people you meet along the way, on your phone and/or buy an address book or ‘little black book’ specifically for industry contacts. Every time you update your CV, email it to them stating your availability and your experience. Sending a Christmas card to companies you’ve previously worked for is a subtle and easy way to remind them of you and to keep your name fresh in their heads.
Can I start a career in broadcast TV and cross over into film?
Absolutely, but remember that the etiquette on film is very different to broadcast. Often on feature films, you are working with a larger crew which is much more hierarchical. There’s a whole new bunch of unwritten rules and jargon to get used to too. Visit our sister site My First Job in Film for more information about how to get into the film industry.
Do I need a driving licence?
To stay ahead of the competition, it helps. You won’t do much driving as an office runner, but if you decide to supplement your career with production runner positions, it will be beneficial - and the further up the career ladder you go, the more likely you’ll need a licence. It doesn’t matter if you don’t own a car, as productions usually supply hire cars for crew. 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 post-production companies are based in cities such as London, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol.
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. You can also find very cheap accommodation on Air BnB, SpareRoom, or Crew Rooms if you’re not within commuting distance of home.
Will I be handling company cash?
It is likely that you’ll handle cash in one form or another. Occasionally producers/directors and company executives 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, the accountants enters it into the budget as money spent.
Is there a department hierarchy?
Yes, so tread carefully until you learn the hierarchy. The Heads of Departments (HODs) and company executives are at the top, unless you’re being visited by clients, commissioners or on-screen talent/voice over artists. 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.
Thank you's ...
My First Job in Film would like to thank Rosa Brough, freelance assistant producer, for her input into this guide.