Four runners on how they landed their first roles in the film world
There are many ways to enter the world of film, but one of the most common – and effective – approaches is to become a runner. We talk to four emerging creatives in different areas of the industry about what this multitasking job entails, how they landed some of their first roles and what their advice would be for anyone looking to do the same.
What exactly does a runner do?
A runner is a general assistant for film and TV productions and the companies behind them. Many leading names in the film industry started out as runners – working their way up from general assistants to more specialist and senior roles.
Either working in a specific department or across the studio or company as a whole, no day is ever the same! This means that runners carry out a wide variety of tasks, often requiring:
Hands-on, practical support (from fetching coffees, to meeting and greeting talent)
Strong administrative skills (from sending files between different departments to scheduling screenings)
The ability to interact with lots of different types of people
The ability to act quickly, responding to whatever needs and pressures arise on set or in the office
The role enables emerging filmmakers a chance to learn on the job, gain experience and knowledge of the entire production process, as well as offering valuable opportunities for networking and personal development.
Plus, with a new report from ScreenSkills revealing that film and high-end TV production in the UK could be worth £7.7 billion a year by 2025, and require nearly 21,000 more crew – there’s never been a better time to get started.
Nadina Narain, currently an art department assistant for a HETV production
Nadina is a spatial designer based in London. She graduated from her BA in Architecture at Manchester School of Art in 2016 and her MA in Interior and Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Art in 2019. A freelance runner, Nadina landed her first job in 2021 on a six-part TV series production that will be aired on Disney+ next year, the streaming home of all things Marvel and LucasFilm. In the future she’d like to be an art director.
Tell us about a typical day as an art department assistant?
My role really varies day-to-day. A main task is issuing drawings (drawn by art directors or draughtspersons) to other departments like construction, set decoration and electrical. Whilst this task can get a little mundane when printing a bulk load of drawings, folding and distributing them, my day is mixed with more interesting tasks such as helping out the art directors with drawing details and 3D modelling, using my skills from previous jobs and uni. Recently I’ve also had the opportunity to help art directors with finishing touches on their sets; helping to paint last minute bits and applying graphics.
How did you land your job?
In 2020 I was accepted onto the ScreenSkills Trainee Finder scheme which helps people with less than a year’s experience (or no experience) get their foot in the door, through placements funded by ScreenSkills. It also provided training sessions on creating your portfolio, managing your finances and who to contact to try and land your first job.
“The connections you make in your first jobs are so important as they lead to your next!”
I managed to land my first job on a Disney production through a great website called FilmBase which was recommended to me by [creative union] Bectu. FilmBase email you job callouts for art department roles in film and TV and are quite encouraging to newcomers to the industry. I got an email about a supervising art director crewing up for a HETV (high-end TV) production and sent my CV and portfolio over straight away. After not getting a reply I kept emailing every five days or so to check in to see if they had any feedback or needed any more information. I finally got a reply just over a couple weeks later asking if I was available for a Zoom in the evening. I got the job and started the following week!
Is there anything you’ve found surprising about the film industry?
The same piece of advice was given to me consistently before I got my foot in the door: once you’re in, it’s all about who you know and the connections you make. I understood that but didn’t fully grasp it until I entered the industry. The connections you make on your jobs are so important as they lead you to your next job!
Melissa Cofie, production assistant at VCCP / Girl & Bear
A 2020 graduate, Melissa is a production assistant in the film and TV content department at advertising agency VCCP / Girl & Bear. She has so far contributed to projects for Nationwide, Cadbury and Walkers. Melissa also takes on freelance projects, and aspires to work full-time as a self-shooting director and producer.
What are your responsibilities as a production assistant?
A lot of my responsibilities lie in admin and pre-production. Good organisation is key – from booking taxis, processing invoices, setting up crew members and creating treatments and director’s reels.
How did you land your job?
I hit a wall during lockdown in early 2021, so I reached out to a Facebook group called Runners in Film and TV. I sent a copy of my CV; a lot of people were critical in saying I’m too experienced for runner work but not experienced enough to work in production full-time as a director. I had a few producers reach out including Melanie Bones, line producer of The Only Way is Essex. From there I was a freelance production runner for a few weeks until VCCP’s hiring manager contacted me through Linkedin. I immediately sent in my pitch deck, CV and showreel.
How do you think your role has prepared you to develop in your career?
I try to use any pockets of down time at work to hold production meetings for my personal projects as a freelance director. Sometimes it does feel like I’m living a double life; I’m in the office writing treatments for my own projects while writing up a call sheet for an agency shoot. I’m privileged to have two lives within the same industry and to be able to casually network while on the job; the connections I make at the agency filter into my freelance work.
“Read up on an array of production roles in the camera department to find the ones closest to your goals.”
Are there any resources that you would recommend for emerging filmmakers?
The university of Youtube has carried me through this journey. Read up on an array of production roles in the camera department to find the ones closest to your goals. That way, once you begin reaching out to filmmakers and directors you’ll have an idea of how they can help propel you towards jobs. The Guestlist forum run by Shannie Mears is a great place to sell yourself, The Dots, Livity UK’s Instagram as well as I Like Networking are great places to look for opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get their first professional experience in the film industry?
Nine out of ten of my jobs are passed onto me through creative friends who recommend me to clients. Working on my 30-second elevator pitch and learning how to best represent myself was my first step to networking on a professional level. You’d be surprised how many established creatives are open to shadowing and mentoring – reach out!
Tyron Francis D’mello, office and production runner at Love Productions
Based in Bristol, Tyron works at Love Productions as an office runner in the production and post-production department, and mostly recently as a transcriber for series 13 of The Great British Bake Off. In their career, they aspire to tell nuanced and unique stories about the South Asian and LGBTQ+ community.
Tell us about a typical day; what kinds of skills do you use?
I answer the phones and take messages, deal with deliveries and couriers, refill the snacks area and generally ensure that the office is in a pleasant working condition. Being organised and having good communication skills is important; whether that’s filing receipts to be sent to the finance team, or writing emails that are clear, informative and precise.
When there aren’t a lot of duties in the office, I also help with post-production logging. It’s basically watching raw footage, before transcribing and logging funny moments; which makes it easier for the editors to find clips. I’ve also been an on-set runner; helping the food team to find and arrange specific utensils; the art department with set decoration and packing up the decor; and smaller crews to rig and de-rig.
Is there anything you’ve found surprising about the film industry so far?
I thought that everyone would be cut-throat and terrifying if I made a mistake, but I was wrong! Most people are actually nice and willing to help, especially if you’re just starting out – but you need to approach people and show them you’re interested in what they do. Also the different job roles! I’ve met everyone from story producers and food researchers to ‘care bears’ (aka baker assistant producers).
“Do your research and send production companies your CV – who knows, they might need a runner or team assistant!”
How did you land your job? Any advice for anyone looking to do the same?
I joined Gritty Talent, who connect underrepresented off- and on-screen talent to amazing opportunities in the industry. They sent my CV to Love Productions, who were searching for a temporary office runner. I was then emailed by the production company for an interview.
Find organisations and trainee schemes in your area. They can help you understand how the industry works and what roles you might be interested in. And do your research! Find out what production companies are out there and send them your CV – who knows, they might need a runner or team assistant!
How do you think your role has prepared you to develop in your career?
I never thought that I’d have a job within the industry, especially being a queer, non-binary South Asian person. I was scared to take up space but I now feel more confident to do so. I’ve been encouraged to come up with pitches, and was even able to speak to the head of development about my ideas and personal development. Now I can go into any room and pitch my ideas. And going forward, I know that I can find jobs where myself, my talent and hard work are respected.
Rita Aboderin, runner at Electric Theatre Collective
Having originally studied psychology at university, Rita joined post-production house, Electric Theatre Collective as a runner this year, and is currently training with the colour department. The team are known for their work on short films, adverts and music videos for the likes of Nike, Virgin Media, Joy Crookes and Adele.
How did you land your job?
The film industry is new to me; I’ve always been fascinated by it but it’s often felt like a mystery. I did some research online, applied for Creative Mentor Network (CMN) and was paired with a mentor who worked in the marketing department at Paramount. He gave me a lot of invaluable advice and assistance which helped me land a job as a marketing assistant. Unfortunately, I was made redundant from that job a few months later.
However, before that I was paired with another mentor from CMN who needed a mentee to complete the programme with. I put myself up for that because I was enticed by her role in VFX production – thank God for that! After my redundancy, she thought the time was perfect to get into the production industry and that I would thrive. She helped with my applications, introduced me to post houses and guided me the entire way. ETC is my first real introduction to the industry, and while I have so much to learn, it’s exciting getting to peak behind the curtain.
“It’s never too late to start. I’m in my late 20s and have joined an industry I knew very little about.”
Tell us about a typical day as a runner in the colour department?
Runners typically have shifts: early, mid and late. In the early shift, you come in before everyone else and set up the office, make sure the lights are on and that suites are client-ready. During the late shift you help shut down the office after closing. And in between, you provide refreshments for staff and clients, and make sure the office is tidy and well stocked. As a runner, you are most likely the first face a client sees when they come in so setting a positive and happy tone is very important – think 5-star concierge service.
How do you think your role is preparing you to develop in your career?
I’m essentially in the epicentre at ETC; I’m learning so much about grading, VFX, 2D, CG, animation and so much more. I get to see the colourists grading and learn about different roles, which is fantastic. It’s a great way to figure out my next moves.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get their first professional experience in industry?
It’s never too late to start. I’m in my late 20s and have joined an industry I knew very little about. I’ve started a whole new career with no strict path or even a real plan, but I’ve started and that’s the hardest thing. You have to just go for it; it’s scary and uncertain but the rewards and the feeling you get because you’re doing what makes you fulfilled career-wise, is worth it.
Finding your first job in film – where to look
While many people land their first roles through personal connections, applying for placements or traineeships can also be a great way into running roles, and often don’t require a degree. And if you have studied – whether that be filmmaking, set design, or a completely unrelated subject – there’s room for both specialists and generalists.
Below is a short list of platforms, sites and schemes to check out for anyone on the lookout for their first role.
- Production Base lists new runner jobs daily, focusing on pre-production, production and post-production across film, TV, radio and more
- Screenskills’ jobs board lists entry-level roles in film, TV, animation and VFX
- My First Job in Film lists a range of entry-level opportunities in the film industry including work experience, film apprenticeships and internships, to short-term film production jobs and permanent roles
This article is part of a series produced in collaboration with Fully Focused and Today at Apple, designed to help inspire and support emerging filmmakers navigate the industry.