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WHAT ARE THE RUNNER JOBS IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?

July 2021 | Georgie McGahey

... and more importantly, how do I get one?

You would be surprised at the routes people take into one of the most competitive industries in the world. Some are from completely unrelated backgrounds, some have spent their whole lives studying for it and others unwittingly drop into the industry quite by chance. Some have walked straight into roles without starting at the bottom, but for the majority of the industry, their careers start with the role of the film runner. Floor, office, technical department, COVID, rushes, locations, dailies, p[ost production and even green runners on corporates, promos, advertising, docs, entertainment, features and shorts. Everyone has taken at least one runner job in their film career. Some started via other areas of the industry and moved over to film, while others started with daily roles taking any runner position they could find. We have spoken to a lot of industry members about their breakthroughs and here are the five most likely routes into the film industry as a film runner. 

The generalist

The TV runner is a generalist and can work in the production office and be sent out on shoots. As the office junior, you can be called up to do everything and if you have a passion for cameras or editing you may find yourself looking after the production kits or helping the editors if they are based in house. If you want to work in the film industry - rather than TV - you should know they are two very separate beasts. However, you can build up some low-level runner work in TV to get your CV some well-needed experience and a reference. If you are going to make the jump to film don't leave it too late. A TV CV filled with experience won't guarantee you the cross over from production coordinator in TV to its equal in film, you will have to demote yourself for a few years. 

If you start in TV there is a cross over to corporate, branded content and documentaries. There are crew who navigate the path between features and TV drama but if you want to work in the non-production side of the film industry you will need to specialise early on. If you want to build your CV this way, then you need to start watching programmes and using your cover letter to say why you want to work for them specifically. Get detailed. 

The runner at a film production company does much the same - but their role is much more contained to the company office and Set PA’s are bought in for production. At working title, for instance, a small team of runners assist with the day-to-day running of the office. Once you’re in house, runners are trained from the ground up so they know the company, the way they work and those they work with. Usually, their career path is to work up the executive ladder or to producers assistants with a view of the producer role for themselves. 

The herald

Set pa or the floor runner (the UK job title) is the most popular choice for anyone looking to break into the film but doesn't have a clue what they actually want to do. Those who want to work in production and are drawn to a life on set usually gravitate to the AD department.

Floor runners and people movers and information distributors, so if you aren't an organised go-getter you won't last long as lazy floor runners are dispatched quickly. Floor runners have their ear to the walkie, know exactly where they are in the shooting schedule and their top priority is to tell everyone about it. This position is a great opportunity to get a glimpse of a professional film set and all the roles that keep production ticking along. Again, the same as working in TV, don't leave it too long if working your way up the career ladder in the AD department isn't part of your plan. All jobs require a degree of apprenticeship and people will be unwilling to invest in you if they know you are going in a different direction.

As you start out you’ll want to be working on some short films, getting to know people, then moving to low budget features. Be warned these can be a slog and poorly paid. The good news is a majority of productions are shot around the country, so wherever you are you will be able to pick up work. Keep an eye on the local film offices and make sure your CV is registered outlining your great local knowledge! 

There are many part-time jobs that will actually make you the ideal candidate for the job other than a degree. That might sting to knowing you could have saved yourself 50 grand, but ADs are looking for people with great social skills who are used to being on their feet all day being proactive and used to getting things done. So use those part-time jobs such as waiting tables and retail to your advantage on your CV, it also demonstrates you know how to handle yourself in the professional workplace. 

The distributor 

Production runners are bound for a career in production management. The production office selects their PA’s from a huge talent pool as they are looking for a detail orientated, organised paperwork type who loves systems and processes. If you have office experience with invoices and purchase orders then you are halfway there. Being able to follow the established protocol - especially when it comes to the distribution of paperwork - electronically and hardcopy - is key to being a successful runner. You'll be photocopying and emailing script revisions, call sheets, movement orders, the sides, agreements, purchase orders, you name it. Again, working alongside production managers and coordinators on short films and low budget production will offer an enriching experience and you get to understand the logistics of moving a film production around.

Nothing happens during production that the office does not know about. It's also true that you will know in the first few weeks if production management is the career for you. The job can be quite demanding especially when you get five tasks designated to you at the same time. You should also know there are different departments inside the production office - accounting is one of them. If you are out of uni with a degree in accounting/business and a passion for film, this might be a good bet for you.  

Runner jobs in the production office can offer a unique view into film production and you will certainly walk away with a better overview of the process. However, the production office can get frantic with deals being done and paperwork processed at an alarming rate so it's not for the faint-hearted. Any admin roles you have taken in the past should be at the top of the CV. If you have completed a degree with a strong academic component that will also go in your favour. What matters most to coordinators and production managers is the cover letter. Don't use your cover letter to rehash your CV, use it to demonstrate all the key criteria they are looking for. It needs to be error-free (attention to detail), eloquent (good communication skills) and demonstrate your knowledge of the role you are applying for (experience; be that in the production office or transferable skills). 

The removals expert

So named as you will be doing a fair amount of kit removals to and from the van/truck/location, etc. The PA in the technical departs can vary in their remit on different productions. The smaller the budget the more likely you will be called upon to do a bit of everything. As you work your way up the ladder, the positions become more formalised with a designated remit. 

Gaining experience in the technical departments can be a hard one and those wishing to pursue a career in art, costume, camera etc can develop their skills from a variety of sources. Again the same is true about the TV/Film crossover, so if you want to work in drama you need to start making drama connections. Most crews are versatile and drama crew will find their way onto TV dramas, high-end corporate and commercials. Another route is via kit hire or props/costume rental. All of these are viable options as you start your career and try to wedge your way in. 

Runner jobs in the technical departments are largely reserved for the big productions which is why some short films and professional experience in other areas such as commercials, corporate, etc, can be highly useful on the CV. Remember, if you are currently studying, use your holiday time to gain this experience, so after you graduate your CV is looking set ready. 

The marshal

Locations is a great way to get your foot in the door and you don't need to go to London to do it! Location PA’s are hired locally and their knowledge of the area is what usually seals the deal. If you are a little on the shy side, working as a location PA will soon bring you out of your shell as you have to marshal the crew and the public. It's a lesser-known route into the film industry but if you have a passion for travel and an eye for detail it's a rewarding career choice. 

There are a few ways into the locations department. Many location managers use agencies with multiple properties on their books. If you want some security and would like to start to make connections with location managers this can be a good first step. The other is that of the PA position, usually bought in on an ad-hoc basis when trying to chaperone crew and trucks into all sorts of locations. They are the first onset - including the production office - and the last ones to leave, picking up the rubbish and making good on the day's work. 

Shorts and advertising are another great way to meet location managers who usually handpick their team. Register your CV with the local film office and make sure you read the Location PA guide to fully get to grips with the role and the difference between this job and the Set PA.

The barista

Post-production runners fall under the banner of Client Services. Why? Because they are there to serve those stuck in edit suites for hours on end staring at a screen. They are there to serve the clients first and foremost and you'll be making coffee - lots of it. If you want to work in editing, post sound, colouring or VFX, companies hire their runners intending to promote from within and good companies will provide you with all the resources to do it. In return, you will need to work your socks off with a smile on your face and a fork in your back pocket. 

However, you need to make sure that life in post-production is the right path for you. Don’t send in your CV’s with all your production credits saying you want to be a producer. If you want to go down that road have you considered being a post-production or VFX producer? Make sure you understand who and what is involved and the pathway the runner position gets you. Post really does have it all and is arguably one of the most creative avenues of the film business as editors rewrite the film for the third time. 

Runner jobs are most often found in London, the heart of film post-production in the UK, Soho specifically. However, it does have the possibility for the most stability as you can be contracted, full-time PAYE or in a pool of other runners for ad hoc work. That financial stability with a full-time job - although not megabucks - does give you the chance to plan your finances more effectively. 

The same as the floor runner, any customer services, waiting tables or coffee shop jobs work to your advantage on the CV. Make it clear you want to work in post specifically and that's a winning combination for an interview and a contract. How you go on to use your time is then up to you. Working on shorts and using the company facilities - with permission of course - can be a great head start in the industry. 

In conclusion, if you are a proactive and personable soul, working as a runner in any area of the film business will hold no mystery for you. It’s all about listening and anticipating the needs of others. Experiment by all means with areas of the industry - but don't leave it too long to make a plan and start your professional training. It can take quite a while to work your way up in the film industry, in contrast to TV which can be relatively speedy, so find out what you love and get going. When you are the one making all the decisions in a few years you will look fondly back on your days as a runner, so enjoy every minute of it.

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