WHAT IS A TV STUDIO?
TV studios accomplish a number of objectives under one roof and are very important to the production process. The TV studio provides space for a multi camera environment - where a whole programme (or series) can be created in one place, which can save a production company time and money. TV studios vary in size, availability and accessibility of technical equipment. Some host massive studio audiences as well as sets (eg. Strictly Come Dancing or Britain’s Got Talent), while others are more compact and designed for sports or news bulletins.
Studios are sound-proofed, with flat floors and high ceilings to allow for lighting rigs. In the early TV days, virtually all programmes originated in the TV studio. Nowadays, studios are one cog in a multi-faceted machine (where studio content is combined with outside broadcasts, green screen items and satellite links) though the TV studio is still a popular choice for indoor broadcasting. The sort of programmes that are made successfully and reasonably cheaply in a multi camera studio include panel shows such as QI, chat shows like The One Show, and glossy light entertainment such as the X Factor.
As well as the vast studio floor (where the filmed action takes place), a TV studio holds a vision control gallery (for mixing all the visual inputs), sound mixing desk (for mixing sound), storage for scenery/sets and props, green room (for contributors/presenters/talent to sit in before they’re called on set) and prep rooms for wardrobe, hair and makeup.
Who works on the Studio Floor?
Floor Manager (FM) Responsible for everything that happens on the studio floor.
Assistant Floor Manager (AFM) Second in command, ensures props are in the right place and liaison between talent, guests, audience and director
Studio (Floor) Assistant/Runner Helps AFM and FM. Meet and greet guests/contributors in reception, takes them to the green room. Larger productions will employ a whole team of runners.
Camera Supervisor Experienced camera operator in charge of camera crew.
Camera Operator Part of camera crew, often operates camera on a pedestal, handheld, or a crane.
Boom Operator Operates the sound boom, records atmospheric sound on set
Autocue/portaprompt Operator Operates the equipment that displays scripts on a screen in front of the camera.
Set Designer Creates plans for the set (Floor Plan), and supervises the set build.
Hair & Makeup Artist Attends to the hair and makeup of everyone who appears on screen.
Costume Selects wardrobe for onscreen talent, and supervises the style and design of all costumes.
Stage Hands Move scenery around and make final adjustments to the set
What is a Studio Runner?
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’, ‘Director’ 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. 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 numerous TV departments (production, editorial, camera, art, costume, 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. 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.
A runner does exactly what it says on the tin - you ‘run’ errands, make litres and litres of tea, 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.
No matter what you learned at college or uni, your education begins on your first day as a 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. It’s much harder to jump from genre to genre when you’re at senior level so if you get the opportunity to work in another area of programming, take it. You might even have to take a step or two down (and pay cut) when moving from say, factual TV to a form of scripted drama.
How do you become a Studio Runner?
It is not a piece of cake, in fact it’s more like trying to eat soup with chopsticks sometimes. Be prepared to research other non-TV 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 makes 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 creative 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. 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 production 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 co-ordinator, HR department, or production manager. You’re likely to be offered very short stints of work initially, but say yes to everything. Keep a part time job in a bar or restaurant to fall back on between jobs and to keep the bailiffs away.
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. Remember to keep in touch with people on social media. 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 (without being stalker-ish!).
Even the other runners you work with can help with advice and suggest jobs that may not be on your radar. Some runners can be quite cut-throat (mean and manipulative 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 if you hit it off from the start
Where do Studio Runners work?
Due to the genre-swapping life of the runner, it means that they get to work all over the place too. Could be based anywhere the length and breadth of the UK - it entirely depends on what studio access the production gets. Most of the time, you’ll be indoors, on the floor (on set), but studio runners also liaise with the production office, and gallery crew too.
What genres do Studio Runners work in?
Studio runners are in need on every type of production that requires a studio set-up, which is very fortunate for new entrants. You could be on a live debate show one day, then on an entertainment show the next. Here is a list of possible genres to work in as a studio runner.
What do Studio Runners do?
It depends on which genre they’re working in. But the main 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). Main tasks on a studio shoot will include:
Distribute packages, scripts and re-writes from production office to cast and crew on the floor
Provide hospitality for crew and artists (hot drinks - eg. buckets of tea and coffee)
Assist with cueing talent/guests/presenters and locking off filming areas
First point of contact for a range of both internal and external callers and visitors
Keep tea and coffee making areas clean and tidy
Ensure Health and Safety policies are observed by crew, audience members etc
Source props/materials and set up on set if necessary
Help set up games/tasks
Provide admin support where required
Provide logistical assistant
Empty bins/sort recycling
Once you’ve had a couple of runner jobs (and have proved your ability and leadership skills), 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.
Common TV Career Routes:
Starting as a studio runner brings your into contact with the floor management team, technicians and the gallery. If you want to work in the editorial aspect of a studio production, then you'll need to spend some time in the gallery with the VT team and director. From there you could progress to junior researcher, researcher, AP all the way up to director.
Working as a studio runner holds many similarities to that of the floor runner on a drama. If you decide to change discipline, the AD career path opens up to you, where you work your way up to key PA (on larger productions), 3rd AD, 2nd AD and eventually 1st AD. If you want to work in drama, however, it's best to cross over quickly as the cross over between genres becomes wider the further up the career ladder you progress.
If you stay on the floor within broadcast, live TV, entertainment, etc, then you should move up to head runner, assistant floor manager and then floor 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 totally 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.
Top 5 Runner No-Nos:
Don’t sleep 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, drunk or having taken anything stronger than a few paracetamol.
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.
PHRASES EVERY ENTRANT TO THE TV STUDIO SHOULD KNOW
Cue. Signal to an actor, contributor or presenter to start talking, or begin an action.
Foldback. Sound played through a speaker or headphones on the studio floor that can be heard by performers but doesn’t feedback into the final sound mix.
Gallery. Control room in the TV studio where the director, vision mixer, sound and video supervisors observe the production.
Magazine Programme. TV show made up of a number of different items and stories in genres such as sports and travel.
Pedestal. Steady camera mount on wheels used for easy operation of heavy studio cameras.
PTC. Piece To Camera. When a presenter delivers lines while looking straight down the camera lens.
- Running Order. List of duration, source and description of the items in a TV programme written in the order it will appear in the final programme.
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 and your team (tea and water on hand whenever you get a chance to step away from other duties). 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 jobs as well, you may want to keep another CV with a bit more detail in it. 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.
What are the Industry bodies for the Production Department?
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 floor manager or production manager - runners have as many rights as everyone else on the crew. Even though your FM/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 FM/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. /p>
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 (FM), but if they are unavailable or are the problem visit the production manager who has an overall duty of care to the crew.
What can I do to get into the TV industry quicker?
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.
Do I need a car?
To stay ahead of the competition, it helps. You won’t do much (if any) driving as a studio 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, and there are more studios too. 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’s a call sheet?
As a runner, the call sheet is the TV equivalent of your bible. Call sheets are put together by production 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.