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Television Production
A veteran TV director warns to ignore the glamour and face the apprenticeship.


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Question
I worked in sales for 15 years 6 days a week and it was a piece of cake compared with the energy I expend in teaching. I love the kids; its the harrassment and the lack of respect I miss.

People wonder why teachers burn out. Well, mainly it's because we rarely get respect from the public who hate to pay our salaries, and who don't truly understand how hard we work (7:30-4:30, then the take-home grading and planning).

Now that I got that off of my chest, I too am looking for a career change. I have a MS in curriculum development and instructional technology. I also have two internships: one at a public television station, and the other at the Center for Government and Technology. I fell in love with the cameras and the atmosphere in production but I have limited experience. I like diversity and travel and am looking for a challanging postion. I know I can be a great asset to any production team and am willing to work my way up, but I not sure how to start. Any suggestions?

Insider Advice from
Bob Golombik
Associate Director
Network TV News

In response to your request for suggestions on how to make the jump from teaching to television production:

I have been in TV production for over 20 years, much of it at the network level. I would suggest that before you leap into such a dramatic career change, you should consider a number of points.

1) Why do you want to get into television? Be honest with yourself. You say you like the "atmosphere in production," and want "diversity and travel". I meet many people, particularly college students, who think TV is exciting, glamorous, etc., but have no idea of the hard work and long hours (and often mediocre pay) that can go into the job. In your post you complained of working 7:30-4:30, then taking home papers to grade. How much more enjoyable will you find being locked in an edit room for 12 hours cutting a series of 30-second commercials for a local car dealer? Are you willing to work nights, weekends and/or early morning hours in a television newsroom? If you feel you have a creative side that is not being fulfilled in teaching, that's one thing. But if your limited exposure to production makes you think this is just a real cool way to make a living, you may be very disappointed.

2) Television is an apprenticeship industry. Most people, save for the very gifted and/or the very lucky, learn the ropes in entry level jobs and work their way up. You've been out in the work force for 20 years. Perhaps you have a family. Can you afford to take a significant pay cut for a number of years as you attempt to climb a new corporate ladder? Furthermore, to get an entry-level position you may need to move to a smaller market. Can you do this?

3) What skills do you have that will make you an asset to an employer? Everybody puts the same standard gibberish in their cover letters about "challenging position," "valuable asset," "ability to organize and communicate." How will you be able to answer the employer's question, "What have you done in the business?" How can the skills you acquired in sales, and later in teaching, be a benefit to your potential employer? Do you have any serious interests, like photography or multimedia production, that might translate into skills needed in production?

Even at the entry level you will be competing with applicants who have more experience, or more relevant training. Most of the people I work with who are about your age (I'm guessing you're about 40) have at least 10 years of experience, and many have 15-20 years. Additionally, many of these competing applicants will be half your age. The sad truth is that a 40-year-old with little experience is probably not going to be looked on as favorably as a 21-year-old with little experience... unless, of course, you have some other tangible asset(s) to bring to the table.

You indicate that you have 15 years of sales experience. Why not use that as your foot in the door? Do some in-depth research on sales of commercial time at TV stations, then try to find a job in sales with a local station. Once you’re on staff, get involved in the production of the commercials, thereby getting some valuable on-the-job training. Even if you discover that you don’t want a production job, remember that sales can be a stepping-stone to a management position at these stations.

The above is the truncated version of my "Are You Sure You Want To Work In TV?" speech. If you can honestly say this is something you still want to pursue, then read on…

4) Don't just start sending out resumes. Take a little time to do some research on the industry. Read some of the trade publications, like the weekly Broadcasting & Cable. Talk to people working in the business. Try to figure out what you would like to do, and what you are good at doing. That will allow you to focus in on a particular job within the industry. Remember, there's a lot more to television production than just the local stations and the networks.

5) Get some more experience. Take a couple of courses in production at your community college. Locate places that do production that might be willing to use volunteers (cable access channels, public TV stations, etc.). Volunteer early and often. Do as much hands-on work as you can. Develop original project ideas that you would like to work on, and pitch them to the appropriate people at these facilities. (Even consider buying or renting a DV camera and editing set-up and start producing your own projects.) Not only will you learn production techniques, but in about a year you may have a much better idea of whether or not this is the right career move for you.

One final point. Everything you do in this job search -- every letter you send, phone call you make, e-mail you write -- reflects back on you. You made three posts to the Ask the Headhunter message board, and every one of them contained spelling and/or grammatical errors. [Note from The Headhunter: these errors have been corrected for publication in Industry Insider.] Had I been a hiring manager looking for someone for an entry-level job, that would have been enough to hurt your chances for the job. Sadly, there are plenty of college grads out there who can't spell. Make sure you stand out from that crowd.


NOTE: The advice provided above is an opinion, not a professional service. Ask The Headhunter and the author of the advice are not responsible for its accuracy, use or mis-use.

 

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