How to get a job in TV & film production
By Julian Dismore
As well as making factual TV programmes and setting up YouTube channels, Julian runs online and in person training courses.
Julian uses his skills acquired in thirty years of network TV to lead the Direct Productions team of web video producers and training experts. Julian has travelled the world directing hit programmes for BBC1, Netflix, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Discovery US, National Geographic and Animal Planet amongst others, and specialises in wildlife, documentary and current affairs programmes.
Credits include Crash Scene Investigators (ITV), Missing Mums (Sky One) Stunt School & Benefits By The Sea: Jaywick (Five & Discovery) Caught Red Handed, Real Lives Reunited and First Time On The Front Line (BBC1), O’Shea’s Dangerous Reptiles (Channel 4 & Animal Planet) Jimmy’s (ITV) Game Rangers: South Africa (National Geographic) Skin Deep (Discovery & ITV) and Click for Murder (Netflix)
Julian has been training TV production and web video presenting skills for many years. He has a strong track record helping people get their first break in TV – and then excelling in their careers once they are in. He’s also experienced in helping academics, lawyers and business professionals improve their web video and webinar skills.
What did you study at university?
So I went to university originally for natural sciences actually, and it was at Cambridge. They had Saturday morning lectures. I had no interest in doing lectures on a Saturday morning, so I transferred to economics. And then halfway through my second year, I realised that I didn’t want to go into banking or the city or accountancy. I wanted a creative job.
So I did a university television training, sort of evening school type thing for six nights, I remember, six Wednesday nights, which I really enjoyed. Studio directing. I did university radio broadcasting to precisely zero people. I know that because I was offering £100 prizes for questions like, “What’s the name of the capital of England?” sort of thing. I did student journalism. And I really enjoyed it. So I thought, “Yeah. This is what I want to do for my career.”
When I graduated, my focus was trying to get into television.
How did you get your first job in the TV industry?
Once I graduated, I went to America for three months, and I worked as a market researcher. I did an internship also for WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts. I got more of a taste for television then. Then I came back and I sort of naively thought, “Oh, I’ll go straight into a job in television.”
I sent letters out because those were days of sending letters. In fact, It was that long ago, I used a quill and ink and parchment. No emails in those days. I sent letters out. Got nowhere.
Then I was in the Cambridge University careers office, and they just happened to mention that Yorkshire Television that morning had called looking for applicants for a research position in the science department area at Yorkshire Television.
I’m from Yorkshire. I’m from Bridlington, which is on the East Yorkshire Coast. So I applied for the job, and I was really at the last stages really. I was about to give up on television and go into market research, even though I really wanted to get into television. I applied for a job. I got the interview, but I wrote down the wrong address for the interview, so I was late, so I thought blown it!
So I went in there, and I just told a few jokes and a few anecdotes about America and traveling around the States the previous summer. It was that that separated me from the 85 Oxbridge graduates applying for that one job. I really bonded with the interviewer and that’s what got me in, and the rest is history.
What would your advice be for students who are trying to get work placements in the film and TV industries in 2020?
It’s very hard to get into the creative industries, particularly television, radio, journalism, online media because so many students want to get in, and there are so many excellent media studies courses around Britain producing highly talented students, and there’s only a limited number of jobs.
The key thing is to have a great CV and to spend your time at University boosting your CV as my son did. He went to Loughborough, and he spent a lot of time making web videos of the basketball team, and the badminton team, and the rugby team. So he made loads of videos, and boosted his CV, and made lots of contacts.
That’s what you need to be doing whilst at university, using it really productively to give yourself the best chance when you’re graduating with a really good CV and a really good introductory email.
Send lots and lots of emails out in the hope that just one email happens to land in the right inbox at the right time, and that you get the interview. Then you go in, you have a good job interview technique, which comes with practice because these are essential skills these days to avoid going down career cul-de-sacs and spending a lot of time trying to get jobs and just not quite getting there all the time.
You need to be resilient, not take no for an answer, and work very hard to make your own luck, which is a great CV, a great introductory email, and a good job interview technique.
What is the best way to network in the creative industries?
I’m a great fan of platforms like LinkedIn. I mean, Facebook’s great. Insta is great, all those. I’ve got a presence on those, and my handle is @DirectProductionsUK.
I work hard on my social media, talking about media tips, blogs, job opportunities, and work experience opportunities. But LinkedIn is my favorite because you can focus it down to your particular career.
I’ve sent loads of contact requests out to production managers and executive producers to make contacts in the television industry. I’ve also sent loads of contact requests out to academics in media studies and media studies students to boost contacts in that side of things.
I do training courses for academics and media studies students and LinkedIn is great for that. The other thing is that LinkedIn has this special package where you can send loads of ‘InMails’ to people.
Now I wouldn’t recommend anybody spends £50 a month, but what you can do is get a free month before the 50 pound kicks in. My suggestion is to go for the £50 package, but the free month.
That’s the way to push your contacts. A few of those may accept your contact request, and then you’ve got a few contacts to start sending emails to, CVs to, and that just might help you get a foothold in the industry.
What are the main differences between a university environment and a work environment?
When I first started in television back in 1988, there were a lot of things in black and white basically, even day-to-day life. I’m joking about that, but it was a long time ago. It was very interesting because I came straight pretty much from university to television.
My first boss was really collegiate. He invited opinions. He invited criticism almost. He fast-tracked me into producing programs in a year of joining Yorkshire Television, which was pretty much unheard of. So he was very much open to me being opinionated and ambitious. Then I moved to another department, the documentaries department of Yorkshire Television, which is a really prestigious department, and I carried on that mentality. That ruffled a few feathers, because they’re a bit more, “Earn your spurs. You shouldn’t be so opinionated. You need to earn the right for an opinion.”
One of the suggestions I would give to students is try and gauge the atmosphere, try and gauge the office. Get a sense of whether they want you to come up with lots of ideas or not, or really they want you to bide your time, earn the credit if you like, and work your way up into that position. It really is ‘be a chameleon’ and adapting to the environment and the vibe of the office, if you like.
The other advice I’d give to youngsters coming into any industry is to be sociable. Ultimately, it’s the likable people that do best. It’s what you know, it’s who you know, and it’s being likable. If you go to the pub after work, if you go for cigarette breaks… I wouldn’t suggest you smoke if you don’t smoke, because it’s very, very bad for you.
If you do, go for cigarette breaks, and chat with people, get to know people, make lots of cups of tea. If you’re really shy and you are a shrinking violet, it will be harder for you to progress, because you won’t get to know where the opportunities are. You won’t have as many contacts to give you a heads up on where the next jobs are coming up, so you do need to make an effort in that regard.
Is there anything you wish you'd known about the industry while you were at University?
When I was at University, there were very few media studies courses, to be honest. A few journalism courses, one at Cardiff, one in London, communication courses, but I did economics at university.
Most of the people I met through television around that time studied history or English. They didn’t do a media related course. I talked a few years back to Brighton students, and I said, “The fact of the matter is, you won’t all gets into television.” And this poor lad’s face dropped on the front row. He was like, “What? Even if we pass all our exams?” “Correct. Even if you pass your exams, it doesn’t automatically entitle you to a job in television.” That’s a real shock for a lot of students, especially spending nine grand a year on a media studies course.
The big shock really is that up until university, your lives are neatly mapped out. I mean, everyone has their challenges and their troubles, but fundamentally it goes primary school, secondary school, six form, university. You’re on train tracks, you know where you’re going. It goes kiddie exams. It goes GCSE’s. It goes A levels. It goes degree. Again, you’re on train tracks, you know where you’re going.
But then you graduate and suddenly you have to seize your own destiny. You have to achieve your own dream. It’s all down to you. You may get help from careers officers, you may get help from various contacts, but it’s down to you. And that’s a hell of a shock. It’s also extremely exciting in that if you do find a job you love, then you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.
But it is down to you and your resilience. You make your own luck by how much you’ve organized your life before that point to have a great CV and have the skills you need to get those crucial few jobs that are available.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your current role?
I mean, students graduating now must get their heads around the fact that they probably won’t go straight to a full-time time television career.
They might have to spend some time doing a web video design, website design, or online videos, or even jobs in bar work, or waiting, or waitressing. The best training I ever had for being a researcher in television was working behind a bar for two summers because you learn to talk to people.
So don’t think that if you are working in retail or, or in those sorts of jobs, it’s necessarily bad because you do learn these people skills.
It’s hard to get in. I’ve got a portfolio career in that I’ve spent the last 15 years or so making tele programs, for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, 5, Discovery Channel, et cetera. But also doing training courses. I’ve been training courses on how to get into television in directing skills, research skills, editing skills, et cetera.
Then early this year, when the global apocalypse happened, I realized that I had to change my training regime, adapt, and survive.
I started doing training courses via Zoom. I work from home three or four days a week, training students in how to get into the media industries, job interview techniques, CV finessing, running skills, research skills. I also do academics on how to do online lectures, web videos, and interviews for broadcast and businessmen and women, in those crucial skills now. Because we’re increasingly living our lives in boxes, through Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Effectively, we’re all TV presenters now. If we don’t come across well in these little boxes, it reflects badly on our brand, be it personal brand, our business, our faculty, our industry. It’s really, really important people have got good presentation skills when dealing with other colleagues or doing presentations for their work or lecturing or trying to pitch ideas.
That’s what I’m focusing on at the moment. I’m really enjoying it.
What characteristics and skills do you need to have in order to make it in the film industry?
The main attribute anyone, in my opinion, needs to make it in any industry is passion and a genuine interest in that industry.
Passion is infectious and engaging, and that’s particularly apparent in doing interviews via Zoom or Microsoft Teams or other online platforms.
Why are television presenters always passionate, and upbeat, and positive? Because it reflects well down a bit of glass, down a bit of plastic, that is the lens.
Equally, if you want to get a job these days, or indeed any day I’d say, you need to be positive about it and passionate about it and really care about it.
Anybody who wants get into television, that doesn’t watch a lot of television, that hasn’t done YouTube videos, that hasn’t done student television, that hasn’t done all these things, which indicates they’ve got a genuine passion for it and really care about it and wants to tell stories, then that’s worrying.
And it’s also self-defeating because ultimately other people going for those jobs do have those things in that CVS, do have that passion, and do get those jobs.
Would you recommend doing your own side projects alongside your university studies in order to broaden out your portfolio?
It’s really important that people have their own YouTube channels and make an effort to learn how to shoot, learn how to edit, and indeed broadcast what you do on YouTube or Instagram or these other video platforms these days. There are a number of reasons for doing that
One is you learn those skills under pressure, which is the best way to learn skills. The second is it looks great on your CV that you’ve done these things. No one’s going to watch them because we’re not hiring you in all likelihood to make, direct, and shoot stuff at that stage. But it shows a genuine interest, and it’s good to mention in job interviews. Most importantly is it gives you a taste for what it’s like to create something and broadcast something, and whether it really is your kettle of fish.
The best-case scenario is you’re able to monetize it. Somebody came on my course a few weeks ago, and they’re into ballet. She’s a great ballet dancer. I said, “Well, why not do ballet tutorials for youngsters, for kids?” It’s ideal for lockdown or school holidays, sort of posh parents shove Tarquin in front of a screen and leave her for 10 minutes to learn some ballet. So the best-case scenario is you can make money out of it. But the worst-case scenario is you get something to mention for your CV and job interviews, and it looks great for you.
Another person came on my course and was into an author in Kenya. She was studying at an English university and she’s a mad fan of this author in Kenya. I said, “Well, why not try and track the author down, film the process, try and find this author, so you can interview them on Zoom for university website or your YouTube channel? So you’ll film yourself calling the publisher, calling the agent of the author, creating a sense of jeopardy there.”
Again, that’s a great experience because you’re telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is you’re desperate to find this author and why. The middle is a process, the journey of you trying to track her down. Hopefully, the end is you finding this author, doing an interview with her, telling her that you love her work, and you’ve got a nice resolution there. If it works, you get some viewers on YouTube, then do another author. It becomes a little sort of theme, a little strand, a little channel for you.
So you need to be proactive. You need to be doing things like that because employers, potential employers, really love that kind of thing.
What advice would you give to companies who are looking to work with creative interns and juniors for the first time?
I think one of the best pieces of advice I was given, when recruiting people, is don’t try and recruit a clone of yourself. Variety in an office is really good in terms of approaches, talents, sex, sexuality. The more variety you have, the more creative synergy is often created.
I think early doors when I was first interviewing people and recruiting people, I would generally try and find people who were a bit like me, very Stakhnovite, hardworking, focused, Libra!
Fitting all my kind of stereotypes if you like. But in fact, I’ve often worked best with people who were kind of different from me and bring different dynamics to the group.
That’s my advice I can give to recruiters – try to find a blend of talents when building your team, rather than having a monothetic approach.
What is the best thing that students can be doing with their time right now for when things get back to normal?
My heart goes out to students at the moment. They’ve had a nightmare year with COVID, the A levels fiasco, then going back to university and potentially being under room arrest, Love Island being canceled. I mean, what a nightmare year youngsters have had.
The thing to remember is that, through adversity comes strength. You do need to adapt and survive, and there are things you can be doing now to boost your chances of success when it comes to job hunting next summer. You’ve got some time, so build up your contact base, get on LinkedIn, send lots of contact requests out. Watch the credits of programs and look out for production managers, producers, all these folks and hope you get work. Track them down via their email addresses. BBC email addresses are (first name).(second name)@bbc.co.uk.
The last credit of a program is the production company that makes that program. So you see that production company, you go to their website, you track folks down, you send emails and CVS. These are all the things you could be doing right now to boost your chances of achieving your dreams next summer. Work on your CV now. Do student television. Think about the other people in your year that are going to make it in television and make sure you’re sociable with them. Make sure you keep them sweet because they might be good contacts in years to come.
Set up your own YouTube channel. Be doing stuff outside university. There’s loads of things to be doing now to boost your CV, and that you need to be doing now, to be honest, because you’re in a precious breathing space now. And if you are under room arrest, then make a video about it. There’s all kinds of things you could be doing now to kind of have that fun, even though you’re in very difficult circumstances, to again prove to employers your resilience next summer.
So that next summer, when it comes to job interviews, if you go into an interview and you say, “Well, admittedly, I was stuck in my bedsit for three months, but I did this, that, and the other,” they’re going to like it. If you go in and say, “Well, I was like everybody else. I couldn’t do anything. I was hit by the COVID pandemic, and I just sat around watching daytime telly all the time,” then that’s not as good. It’s really important that you try and use this time as effectively as possible. And then next summer you’ll be in a good position to potentially get great work.
How can people sign up to your employability courses?
I do training courses in how to get into television and the creative industries. I talk about CV finessing, because media CVs are very different to ordinary world CVs, how you format them, what you put into them. For example, education’s right at the bottom and work experience is right at the top. Real jobs are even higher up than that. So I do that. I do email introductions, how to write the email properly. I do how to generate contacts, job interview technique and running skills and research skills.
If people want to know more about that, the simplest thing is to go to my website, which is www.directproductions.co.uk. Follow me on social media, which is @DirectProductionsUK. I’m on LinkedIn, and Insta, and Reddit, and Tumblr, and Facebook. I’m not on Grindr anymore because that’s not dating for grandparents. I got that badly wrong. I also do training for academics and business people and lawyers, on how to come across well on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. They’re essential life skills these days. I do training and lectures as well as online presentations.
You can contact me via:
Social Media: @directproductionsUK