A PICTORIAL GUIDE TO WORKING IN TV

WEAR A HEADSET

on set

A lot of TV work involves wearing a headset, holding a clipboard, and pretending you know what’s going on. If someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, one trick is to put your hand to your headset, as though you’re getting a very important communication, then say “Sorry, I have to go, the shiminy’s* stuck in the cameraboodle!*”

Incidentally, all radio talkback has a little button you can press to talk to the Really Important People in the Gallery (the Producer and Director). Never accidentally press this button while you are: – on the loo – complaining about how annoying the Producer is – singing a theme tune to yourself otherwise everyone on production will hear you. It will be bad.

*Made up, technical sounding words

BE PREPARED FOR WHATEVER THE DAY THROWS AT YOU

 

If someone asks, “Hey, you, can you put on this snowman outfit, so we can see how hot and uncomfortable it gets under the studio lights?” – agree with gusto. See it as your own miniature sauna challenge, or perhaps a nice day at the beach (but with less sea breeze… and a lot more unpleasantness).   When you are finally released from the snowman torture chamber of hell and your make-up has melted down your face and your clothes are dripping with sweat – worry not; I’m sure all the people you meet that day will deduce you were recruited to be a human snowman thermometer, rather than eye you suspiciously and try to avoid talking to such a strange sweaty person.

This advice goes for all strange requests from your superiors, such as “Hey, you, can you stand against this target so we can see if these bullets made out of sandwiches hurt when they hit you?” or “Hey you, can you just come here and see how long you can keep singing for if we hold this venomous snake right next to your face?”

THERE WILL BE GOOD DAYS AND BAD DAYS

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For every time someone asks you to don a ridiculously hot snowman costume, there will be less laborious tasks you might be asked to perform. For example, “Hey, you, can you stand-in on this rehearsal and be proposed to by Robbie Williams?” Um okay!

Incidentally, with any shows involving celebrities, it is never acceptable to act as though you are excited to meet them. You must not ask for an autograph or tell them that story about how you named your favourite goldfish after them when you were eleven. This will make them uncomfortable.

The best approach for appearing professionally is to treat someone like Victoria Beckham as though you barely know who she is. Paradoxically you will in fact know everything there is to know about her, as will have researched every aspect of her life in case your producer asks you a question about her. For example, ‘Hey, you, does VB eat dairy on Tuesdays?” or ‘What was her third number one again?’ All this information you must have at your fingertips or you will be fired.

IF IN DOUBT, THUMBS UP

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The best TV ideas happen long before you ever reach a studio. They’ll happen in the office, brainstorming with your colleagues, working through all the potential ideas thoroughly and methodically.

Unfortunately, sometimes you will come up with ideas that aren’t great, but you won’t realize this until it’s too late. In these situations, it’s important not to convey to your team that you have suddenly realized your idea isn’t funny and the show is probably going to be a disaster. The best way to convey this is with a classic thumbs-up. For example “Oh yes, look this balloon modeler is really talented. I’m so glad I decided to book him for a twenty minute segment on the show today.” or “Yes, Badger heads definitely make everything funny. I mean we don’t even need jokes in the script as long as we have this badger’s head,”

(I stand by that last one actually…)  

DON’T OVERSELL YOUR TECHNICAL EXPERTISE

EDITED BB

Sometimes you will find yourself presented with a desk or workstation covered in buttons, knobs and twiddly things – none of which you know how to use. You will be given a cursory five-minute explanation as to what everything does by someone who doesn’t have a clue either.

This is fine, as long as you didn’t get the job by claiming you knew how all the twiddly bits worked, and had done ‘loads’ of said knob twiddling before. Best to watch what someone else is doing and try your best to copy them. If the worst comes to the worst, blame a ‘glitch’ in the machinery (maybe even a ghost) for why you failed to record any sound on twelve hours of overnight footage…

IT IS TOTALLY FINE TO SIT DOWN OCCASIONALLY 

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In ‘that’ chair… as long as no one else is around… and you’re not supposed to be doing something else… and no one sees you… and you’re not working on a completely different show, but just happened to be passing the empty studio…. Then it’s totally fine.

CELEBRATE THE SUCCESSES

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When you finally become a bit more senior, you might get to see your name in lights on the side of a gallery. This is an exciting moment, and you will definitely want to take a photo. However, remember that with great* power comes great* responsibility and your name in lights means every one knows who to blame if something goes wrong. If calamity does strike, it might be a good idea to hang a coat over said name board, just to make it less obvious to everyone that this is all your fault.

*a bit of…

YOU’RE NEVER TOO SENIOR TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY

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When you finally get to produce a show, and you’re rehearsing a sketch and decide, “Hey, someone needs to sit in these giant baby seats to see how funny they look,” obviously it would be sensible for you to get the runner/researcher/general-dogs-body to do the job (refer back to number two where you were said dogs-body). However, now you are in a position of authority, it is totally reasonable for you and the other senior producer on the team to take ten minutes out of your very busy schedule bossing people around, to do this kind of thing yourself.*

*only if it looks like fun

WHATEVER YOU ASK THE TALENT TO DO, YOU MUST BE WILLING TO DO YOURSELF

 downton abbey copy

There’s no point saying to the presenter/ comedian/ actor “oh no, I’m sure the crocodile won’t bite your ear off if you cuddle it to your face, it will look great on camera!” or “Oh yes, definitely dress up as Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, it will look hilarious! if you aren’t prepared to do the same yourself.

Sometimes the actress booked to play the role will have an aggressive attack of the hiccups, or the presenter will claim to be allergic to crocodiles, and people will look to you to step in.   (Incidentally you are more likely to find yourself in this pickle if everyone on production votes you ‘the only person who looks like they might actually be in Downton Abbey’).

THERE IS ALWAYS TIME TO STOP FOR FOOD

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At some point in your illustrious career, you might find yourself in the back of a cab, navigating three comedians around London, already fifteen minutes late for a studio slot, with a cab driver who blatantly doesn’t know where Waterloo is. At this point, one, or all of the comedians will say they want to stop for doughnuts/ burgers/ a full-on-fry-up (or all of the above). You will be tempted to say, “No, we don’t have time! We’re already late!” Do not yield to this instinct. Well-fed comedians with half the studio time will always be funnier than hungry / grumpy comedians with all the time in the world.    

UTILISE THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT

IMG_4018 SHEEP

Good shows have GREAT wardrobe departments. If you find yourself filming a sketch, where say, the star of the show dresses up as a sheep – then later that week you have a Halloween party and nothing to wear – don’t be afraid to ‘borrow’ said costume from work. With a little adaptation you’ll soon have an inventive ‘Silence of the Lambs’ outfit which everyone will think you spent months making and hail your unparalleled commitment to fancy dress.

One tip – when returning purloined items such as this, it’s best to make sure it goes back exactly as you found it. I.e. not covered in red wine, singed fur and a hoof-that-smells-like-it’s-been-used-as-a-beer-receptacle.

EMBRACE LOW BROW HUMOUR

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Working in comedy, especially on programmes for BBC3, you will find that a lot of the humour revolves around farting, falling over, and male genitalia. The sooner you learn to embrace this, the better. There is no point waxing lyrical about how you’d like the show to include witty word play that’s amusing in two languages or satirical jokes that only work if you know Winston Churchill was a Sagittarius who enjoyed bricklaying in his spare time. Know your audience and learn to embrace the amount of cock-shaped hedges that will appear on all your productions.

(DISCLAIMER: Some of the above might not be true. It just vaguely related to pictures I had on my phone…) 

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