My first job in the industry was on a low-budget feature film, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was a screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’s last, unfinished novel, to which the director had also supplied an ending!

It was the summer after I’d finished university, I didn’t have anything else lined up, I knew I wanted to work in the industry, so I readily signed up for the 6-weeks I was offered as a Production Assistant on the film.

I learned an awful lot, really quickly, about how the industry works, much of it before the role started.

During my last term at university, I had been researching and writing to film and TV companies with my CV looking for runner roles, trying to find opportunities and secure meetings. It was the early 90s so there was no social media or internet, I was posting letters and then following up by calling from a landline!

First Steps into Film and TV - 24th June 2021 - Online Event 1

One production company I had written to, said that I’d just missed a runner position, they’d recently taken someone on, so it would be 6 months before they needed a new runner. Ever one to seize an opportunity from someone who had engaged with me, I asked if I could pop in for a chat anyway so they at least knew who I was, for any future vacancies. I knew full well I didn’t plan to hang around for 6 months to wait for their vacancy, but I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, I went in, had a nice meeting, and thought nothing of it. There wasn’t an opportunity there but at least she knew who I was and that I was available.

A couple of days later the phone rang at home. It was a Producer on the phone wanting to speak to me. He’d been given my number by his friend, the lady I’d met at the production company. He said she’d been impressed with me, and when he told her he was crewing up for his latest film she’d recommended that he speak to me.

I said I’d be delighted to meet him and discuss the opportunity. I remember going to the production company’s office for the first time. It was in a basement in Manchester Square, Central London. It was a bustling, noisy cramped office, with lots of people talking, making calls, sending faxes and piles of paperwork. I loved the vibe instantly. It seemed like such an exciting place to work. I wanted in!

The interview with the producer went well and I was delighted to be offered the role as a Production Assistant on his film, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Now, I had a role on my first production, I felt my career was off and running.

I quickly understood the power of networks in the film and TV industry.

  • I hadn’t seen an advert for the post.

  • I didn’t know the film was happening.

  • They weren’t advertising formally.

I’d only found out about the role because I’d been proactive and asked to have a meeting at a company, that didn’t have a vacancy. I would never have known or found about that role otherwise.

alison grade

Me in my 20s!

This knowledge and insight served me extremely well, so much so that after The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I was able to unlock a series of opportunities none of which were advertised. The first was a role with the company who had composed the music on the film as an office assistant. Then, through them, I met their office neighbours, an animation company who needed a production co-ordinator.

My first steps in film and TV were well and truly underway. I had found my own way in, through being proactive, working hard and leveraging every small chink of an opportunity I could find.

What’s interesting as I look at the industry today is that this approach is still valid. Many roles are not formally advertised, and that’s why I’m putting on the event, First Steps into Film and TV on 24th June 2021 to shine a light on how you can use this knowledge to switch on your potential and take your First Steps into film and TV.

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