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A Beginner’s Guide To Freelancing in TV

Words by Avalon Lyndon

Struggling to land those first few jobs in TV? You’re not alone. With purse-strings tightening and competition for jobs rising year on year, kicking off a career in TV freelancing is no picnic.

We’ve compiled some top tips from the Career Strategy and Tactics session from our recent all-day event for career starters in TV, Generation Next. On the panel that day were: Daniell Morrisey (Head of Talent, BBC Comedy), Elsa Sharp (Talent Manager, BBC Factual), David Granger (MD, Monkey Kingdom, producers of Made in Chelsea) and Sara Putt of talent agency Sara Putt Associates.

Here’s what they had to say…

THINK STRATEGICALLY

Look in the right places

Keep an eye on The Unit List, Production Base and Shooting People for job opportunities, especially at short notice. There’s a Facebook group called 'People who work in TV who know people who work in TV' where jobs are posted up – although you’ll need an invite in. For BBC work experience placements, head over to www.bbc.co.uk/workexperience.

Make your own work experience

If you haven’t managed to bag yourself one of those coveted work experience placements, don’t despair. Do it yourself, and demonstrate how dedicated, creative and industrious you are. Start writing a blog, launch a website, make your own YouTube channel… The resources you’ll need are readily available and often completely free.

Be flexible

Daniell Morrisey stressed that multi-platform production is the future. "Radio, TV, online – get experience in at least two of these." You need to be ready to take on anything; do your research and get involved as many different kinds of projects as you can.

Make sure that you’re picking up new skills in each workplace and never let yourself get too comfortable. Staying in one job for too long can actually harm your chances of getting work later on. "It’s important to jump around and work with different execs," Elsa Sharp adds.

Take the road less travelled

"Think tangentially," says Sara Putt. If you’re not having any luck with production companies, for example, take a look at facilities companies, post-production houses or talent agencies. There are as many routes into the industry as there are freelancers, so don’t be scared to take a risk.

Treat freelancing as running a business

When you’re freelancing, it’s down to you to figure out when, where and how hard you’re going to work. You’re your own boss, so you won’t get anywhere fast if you aren’t hard-wired with curiosity, resourcefulness and self-discipline.

"You’re running your own small company, which is you," explains Sara Putt. You’ve got to do it all – marketing, financing and keeping yourself trained up on new technology. The most successful freelancers Sara knows see networking as paramount and are always building on their extensive database of contacts.

PERFECTING YOUR CV

Get the basics right

Don’t let your love of white space lure you into the tiny font trap; the minimum font size you should be using is 11pt. Logos and images can look good, but make sure they can be opened on any device. Make the most of your key skills – don’t tuck your driver’s license or second language away in the middle of a paragraph. Think about whether or not to include your address; it can be off-putting if you’re too far away. Lastly, unless you’re an actor, don’t send a photo.

Check how it looks on a small screen

Your CV might look beautiful at home on your MacBook, but will it pass the smartphone test?

Picture the scene: a hassled producer is passed your CV on a rain-speckled Blackberry screen on location at an outdoor shoot. Make it easy for them to find out who you are, what you do and how to get in contact straight away. Get all the important information – including your last three credits – in the top half of your first page.

Make the most of your references

As you build your CV, include the names of the executive producers you’ve worked with on each show – provided you got on with them, of course. People in the industry know each other and a name they trust can serve as an immediate endorsement.

LEARN HOW TO SELL YOURSELF

Know who you’re talking to

Don’t waste your time firing off identical applications into the ether – a tailored letter is infinitely more likely to receive a response.

David Granger emphasised the importance of knowing the company you are writing to when sending a speculative CV. "People who work at production companies feel that their company makes a certain type of programme. Play to the spirit of that company."

Search out the right people and approach them directly

Have you got a show you never miss? If you want to get involved, take a look through the credits and find the names of the decision-makers. Thanks to LinkedIn, you now have the means of contacting them literally at your fingertips – so there’s no excuse!

View every correspondence as a chance to make a new contact. Sara Putt called up the woman who sent her a rejection letter to ask for career advice, and ended up landing her very first job.

Give them a hook

Make sure you’ve done your research; you need to be up-to-date on exactly what the company is up to. Use resources like Broadcast magazine and industry-based blogs to find out what they’re commissioning or producing at the moment, then write in to explain why you’d be perfect for it.

Daniell Morrisey said, "When you write to them, have an appropriate hook. Find a reason to contact them, rather than just saying, 'Here’s my CV.'"

Think outside the screen

The internet is a great thing, but the endless pings of your email inbox can become infuriating. Stand out from the crowd by playing it old school.

The BBC’s Elsa Sharp and David Granger both agreed that being handed an actual, physical letter – a funny, sharp and well-written one, of course – is a great but rare occurrence. They always take the time to look through letters they’ve been posted.

Demonstrate your creativity

Don’t be too precious about your ideas. Got a concept for a show that would be perfect for a certain channel or production company? Write in and pitch it straight to them.

David Granger got his first job by sending in a documentary idea to a company who happened to be looking for researchers in the same area. "There aren’t many original thinkers in television," David explains. "Creativity is a golden ticket."

Find out more top TV advice on our Generation Next Podcast

 

 Read our 5 ways to help get your first deal in TV  

 

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