University is a place for opportunities. It is not just a way of gaining academic skills and earning that degree that employers seem so desperate for; it also provides you with the time and contacts to get out there and try different things. In the theatre and dance worlds, connections are vital and it really is more about who you know; if you can leave uni with a book of names and numbers, you’re putting yourself in good stead for the future.
One such opportunity presented itself to me last month. Our department received an email from BBC Bristol, asking for stewards for the filming of Flog It! at Guildford Cathedral. I’d just finished a similar opportunity as a steward for RHS Garden Wisley, and as the BBC boasted it being a full paid day, I thought I might as well give it a shot. Not only would it look good on my CV but it would provide incredible insight into the workings of the BBC as a film company, and the way in which such film crews work on a day-to-day basis. So, I applied, peppering my cover letter with subtle compliments and skilfully (if I say so myself) steering all my experience to benefit their criteria. A week later, I had a phone interview, which I’d not anticipated, but all seemed to go well and everyone appeared friendly. Shortly after, I got confirmation that several of my course mates and I had been successful in gaining a place as a steward for the day. It would be a 8:30am till 7pm day, on your feet, but it was paid, at the BBC and during the last week of January when we had nothing else to do.
It was an early start, and we nervously awaited people whose names we knew but faces we didn’t. There was no reason to be so apprehensive. Adam and Charlotte, the runners in charge of us, were incredibly friendly, immediately reassuring us and making us feel comfortable. Rather swiftly we had a tour of the venue, put on our branded polo shirts and met the crew (at least 20-odd people of varying importance). Then it was out into the cold to chat to the already growing crowd of eager public. Here’s the important thing to realise – working for television is not glamorous. My first job was meant to be indoors but I was asked to help handle the queue; luckily, just as my hands were turning blue, a cameraman offered me his coat as he was heading inside. The majority of the day was spent on my feet, making sure the public sat in the right places, chatting to them, finding out where they’d come from and what they’d brought and generally maintaining a cheery and helpful disposition. Following lunch, my next job was on the director’s table. That was the really interesting part. I got to see them filming the various items, viewed the shots from the monitors and I got a real sense of the detail and technicality behind the 30-minute shows. In this role I was a runner, carrying the antiques to and from the wrapping room and being on hand to help out the crew whenever they needed. Surprisingly, I only made one cup of tea the entire day! Which I deem a grand success.
The biggest challenge of the day was maintaining energy levels; there was a lot to do and a lot to think about, but it consisted of many hours standing, answering the same questions and having the same smile. But as I said before, the crew were fantastic and supportive; you never felt like you were searching for something to do, and initiative was praised. It was an insightful day of just how complex such orchestrations are – in our 9 hours of filming time we saw over 800 people with their antiques and recorded enough footage for 5 episodes. The BBC is a huge organisation and I was working for just one show in just one branch of the corporation. But whenever I was asked about my plans for the future, I explained my degree, my interest in journalism and my hopes of broadcast experience – for people interested in stage work, learning about the screen is just as important as it is an ever-growing medium that has much worth.
My biggest piece of advice to those of you interested in a vocational career – whether it be in the media or the arts – is to take up every single opportunity that you possibly can. Every day you spend working for someone new is another name you have for the future, another line to your CV and another chance for you to impress someone. It’s about the experience, so when you do finally get that job, you won’t be walking into it blind. Instead, you’ll have an understanding of industry, professionalism, and above all… how to make that perfect cuppa.