Much like a regular secretary, the production secretary working in the television industry provides administrative assistance. They report to the production coordinator and production manager and depending on the project their role might not always be office based.
Work on short or student documentary films, take work experience in an independent production company to build low-level experience. Event organising would be another way to build your portfolio.
Use your fuller CV to find a trainee programme or apply for production runner positions with broadcasters or independent production companies.
Retitle your CV and apply for positions as a production secretary. As this position can be found in multiple areas of the industry, so increased chances of gaining employment.
The production team deal with the organisational and logistical aspects of the production to ensure it runs smoothly, on time and on budget. The department’s aim is to meet the needs of crew members and fulfil practical and everyday production essentials such as transport, accommodation and keeping on top of the mountains of paperwork amassed in pre-production, production and post-production. Production organise equipment, supplies and crew and ensure all necessary information is distributed properly within departments. They also ensure that everything on the 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.
In factual and documentary genres, production work very closely with the editorial team (who are responsible for story development and execution). The editorial team are usually the first to be employed by production once a programme has been commissioned. The production manager (Head of Department) usually sits close to the series producer (or producer on single programmes or smaller productions) in the production office - together, they work with the executive producer, who usually brings in the commission and helps the PM and SP get the project off the ground once its been green lit by the broadcaster.
Much like a regular secretary, the production secretary working in the television industry provides administrative assistance. They report to the production co-ordinator and production manager. In TV this role can often involve more than a traditional secretarial role - and the production secretary isn’t always office based. The role of the production secretary could involve less duties and responsibilities - but it entirely depends on the size of production and the company you are working for. You may be in a junior role if the production company has employed a hands-on production assistant - or you could be the right hand person to the PM/Producer and/or director.
The entry level positions for the production department in TV are runners and production secretaries. You should expect to start as a runner in any department within TV as this is the lowest career entry point, and work your way up from there. A runner is at the gateway to any number of interesting TV departments (editorial, camera, art, costume, accounts, etc.) - and it’s quite common for runners to try out a few different departments (and genres) before settling. A good way for a runner to move up to production secretary would be to show great organisation skills, to be self-motivated and think ahead, prepare things in advance. If you’re an office runner and you use your initiative to create a more effective recycling system, or create a log for checking kit in and out - then you’re showing the right attributes for a career in the production department.
Make friends with the producers and production manager(s) in the office, be really helpful to them, show off your sparky, intuitive demeanour and soon enough one of them will take you on as a production secretary, though you will probably still have runner duties, and expect to be treated as the junior member of the team. To survive as a production secretary (PS), and carry on up the career ladder - you need to possess excellent communication skills, be good with numbers, a fast typer, and have a good grasp of the Microsoft Office suite as you’ll be creating and updating a lot of spreadsheets!
Not every production hires a production secretary - sometimes a runner or production assistant will have many of the same responsibilities - it’s entirely a budget thing. Sometimes you’ll find two coordinators and a production manager. Or a production manager and a production assistant.
If there is room in the budget, the role of the PS can be found on the following productions:
The production department in TV production can consist of the following roles:
Line Producer (on high end drama and feature films only)
Production Manager’s Assistant (specific to BBC in-house productions)
Head of Production
As with most areas of TV, there is no set career path, but there are a few well-trodden ones. In the non-scripted TV genres (news, sports, factual and documentary), the traditional route to take is PS> production assistant/coordinator> production manager. The production manager is the Head of Department, and top of the chain. Most PMs are happy to stay in production as the hours are fairly regular and can be better suited for people juggling family life. Other PMs decide to cross over to post-production, which is equally challenging, but with a different kind of workflow management involved.
If you make a really good impression as an in-house office runner and secretary, and the company wants to invest in you and grow your skills as part of their core in-house team, then you may be promoted to executive producer’s assistant or personal assistant to the executive team. Duties may include: organising diaries, correspondence and travel for the management and development teams as well as coordinating company literature and building the company’s web presence. In this route, there would be the potential career move to Head of Production, and production executive further down the line, if you were lucky enough to prove yourself within the company as an employee.
If you’re applying for production department jobs at the BBC - be warned that they have a different department structure and some job titles specific to the BBC, where the PM is supported by a production manager’s assistant (PMA), and the PMA is a combined role, where you’re generally doing a mix of coordinating and production secretary duties. Or you split the duties equally with a PC on a bigger production.
To become a production manager in TV drama, you will usually need to be an experienced member of a production team. You could start out as a location or floor runner, then 3rd assistant director, then progress to to 2nd assistant director, and then 1st assistant director. Or you could move from being an assistant floor manager to a floor manager to a location manager. Or you could progress from having been a script supervisor, a production assistant or a production accountant. You could also transfer to this role having previously been a non-media accountant with suitable training.
In TV drama PMs are sometimes called line producers (though they do the same duties). Drama teams are generally bigger with more departments: adage of actors, costume, makeup, designers, electricians etc.
The role of the production secretary can vary; he/she may be office based, work on location or be part of a mobile unit - it depends on the production and budget. On bigger-budget productions the position entails a greater level of responsibility, since there is a bigger cast and crew to keep across. PS’s are not usually seen on-set during filming though, as they’re not involved in the creative aspects of the production process.
As a PS in the production team, you are there to help senior team members. Core responsibilities may include:
research (check prices and availability) and book travel
reconcile petty cash
support PM on all aspects of production
post production paperwork and music clearance
typing up scripts, photocopying and distributing
paying expenses to team or artists
you could be required on location to help running
you may have to log rushes coming in from a shoot
book meeting rooms
provide transport and hotel accommodation for guests/presenters
get quotes for catering
order food for team/crews
open post, and distribute/action accordingly
maintain filing systems
monitor supplies of stationery and office supplies
order supplies as required (keeping across all productions in the office if in-house)
Maintain, update, file and distribute contacts list (names/address/contact telephone numbers) of all cast and crew.
source equipment such as projectors, screens, DVD players etc
organise, create and issue call sheets
log and file contributor release forms
organise couriers and shipments
process invoices and liaise with the accounts department
process CRB applications
Maintain list of office suppliers: water/gas/electric/IT/internet provider/stationery/building manager or landlord (If there isn’t an office manager, you’ll be surprised how many people turn to you when house things go wrong)
This list is not exhaustive. Duties will increase or decrease depending on experience, the TV genre and size of the production. In order to progress your career, and step-up to production coordinator, it is best to ask lots of questions at PS level - being inquisitive is a great attribute and will keep you up to speed with how the department is run.
Excellent time management
Sense of humour
Numeracy and literacy skills
Paper copies. We are increasingly becoming a paperless society, but just in case you encounter a technological meltdown at work - it’s best to keep a paper trail of everything in production. Ensure that you have sticky notes by your desk at all times (or a notepad) - your memory is likely to be stretched to the limit, so writing quotes, contacts, contract details down on paper will help jog your memory at a later date.
Production Files. A filing system can make or break a production, so it’s imperative to get a great system in place early on so everyone who joins the production later can easily find and contribute to your files. Obviously electronic filing is what most productions are used to now, but they still have the propensity to become messy. Most PMs will want to keep paper files too: a batch of labelled lever-arch production files (with coloured dividers) is a popular choice. Files will include content such as: contracts, archive, insurance, finance.
Logs. Could range from couriers and cabs booked, purchase orders, rushes, materials coming in from contributors to contracts issued, signed and returned - in short anything that you might lose track of during a long running/big project. Logs are usually created by the PS or PC in Microsoft Excel.
Templates. Save time by having a template folder full of documents used and distributed regularly. Your most commonly used ones are likely to be call sheets, risk assessments and production check lists.
Updated Production Bible. Productions are constantly fluctuating in number of programmes and people working on them; therefore you have a constant flow of new people joining the team. And no matter what their role, a PS/PC is the go to person. It’s really useful to have a general production handbook as to how your office works. For example, contacts in office and general post houses/commissioners/insurers/H&S people you use. Log in details for systems, basics for setting up shoots, Kit/travel suppliers etc. The guidebooks themselves obviously differ for each role so it’s good to have a handbook for each job title as well as a general one.
Preproduction is less chaotic, but can be stressful if the crew members your producer/director/series producer really wants for the production are unavailable or are expecting unrealistic rates (PMs and coordinators 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 possibly abroad too). It is 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 preproduction through till post production.
The production department have great camaraderie - they’re usually a witty bunch, who help keep crew and editorial teams’ morale up and provide reassurance in times of difficulty (eg. during KBS kick - bollock - scrambles). The office based roles tend to include fairly regular hours, though in production when there’s multiple shoots coming in and out, the hours can be punishing as you have to provide call sheets, kits and book travel/accommodation before you can call it a night. 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 changing plans and rearranging schedules: for example, if an outdoor shoot gets rained off, you will need to cancel bookings as quickly as possible to avoid incurring cancellation fees.
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 deadlines, you still need to keep a few steps ahead of the whole filming process. 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.
You won’t need a specific qualification to become a PS. However, a degree in media or production accountancy or an administrative job background may give you a good grounding. If you are keen to get a better understanding of the production department - consider taking a TV short 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, production and post production processes, so any work experience or training on any TV production will give you a helpful taster of how the processes work.
Watch TV. Sounds obvious, but if you want to work in TV, you need to know the schedules, what works in which slots, which companies produce the programmes you love best.
Become knowledgeable about legal and ethical considerations surrounding the release of production information to the press and public.
Be prepared for anything. You’re going to be given tasks beyond your job title at times, so you’ll need to remain calm, think outside the box and prove that you have what it takes to be a problem solver.
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)
Don’t disclose any confidential information you over-hear in the department to your friends and family or post anything of a contentious nature on social media. Trust is built on confidentiality.
Be exceptionally careful with paper copies of scripts, call sheets and editorial notes. If you lose any paperwork it can have serious legal implications. The paper shredder will become one of your best friends.
Double, no triple check that crews take everything you’ve laid out for them for a shoot before they leave the office. They’re so busy/preoccupied with stories and on hectic shooting schedules that they nearly always forget something, unless you can intercept before they head out the door. Imagine you’re looking after a kid on their first day at school. Remind them to pack waterproofs, pants, socks… phone charger.
Never presume. Presumptions lead to failure. Other people are not as organised (or efficient) as you, so always double check arrangements/bookings that you’ve made. Mistakes are expensive and really slow the schedule down.
Channel your cheeky side. Use your power of persuasion to call in favours or talk angry people around.
Read some books about failed productions to remind yourself how bad it could get when productions go off the rails and learn how to avoid the same mistakes happening to your productions. Recommended reads: The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salamon and Final Cut: The Film that Sank United Artists by Stephen Bach.
Be calm and always smile (even if you are dying inside!) in frantic situations. When things go wrong, people will look at you for help and will often panic. Just by keeping a calm demeanour, you will reassure someone having a wobble.
Be friendly and ask LOTS of questions – If you are nice people will want to share all their knowledge with you.
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 when s**t hits the fan, major panic, or when something becomes a free for all.
My First Job in TV would like to thank Hannah Glover and Katie Beacham for their advice and input into the guide.
For Career Advice, Job Feedback, and CV Support. We are here to help you, so join us on our Facebook group and talk to us!