Staying on the subject of finding work as a post production runner, this account from an editor on how he got his first break as a runner in post production. Paul Lumsden broke into the business and found his niche as an editor without the benefit of useful contacts or a monied family to cushion those early years of low pay. Paul doesn’t mince his words – but then again this blog is all about saying it how it really is. Having said that I’ve toned down some of the language!!
PAUL LUMSDEN – LIFE AS A POST PRODUCTION RUNNER
So you wanna work in film? Fancy yourself as the next Shane Meadows or Neil Marshall? Maybe a budding Michael Winterbottom is out there trying to work out a script in-between pulling pints and painting walls?? I’m about a million miles from that lot, but I do work as an editor. I’ve noticed a lot of people seem to be keen on picking up cameras and getting edits done. While some budding Kubricks may want to go the production route, I choose the post-production route. So this is a short article on how to get into the industry, become everyone’s favourite tea bitch, and be a runner.
Being a runner is the normal ‘way in’ to television, radio or film. It’s similar to being an office junior, or having a very low paying work placement. Most people start out this way, but not all. Exceptions are often through nepotism (mate of a mate, or Mummy or Daddy). But this happens in every profession, it’s just more common in this one.
Another exception is that you’re a f***ing genius and were born with an Eisenstein eye. In which case why are you reading this? Shouldn’t you be working on that Proust inspired script?
Sadly, the telly and film industry is still very London centric. There are exceptions, but not many. It’s massive in London, with the concentration of facilities you’ve got a better chance in the smoke. Which on a runners wage is tricky, to say the least. More on that later…
FINDING THE WORK
To find vacancies, there are a few websites that advertise, just do a Google for ‘TV Jobs’. The better ones are grapevine, productionbase, mandy and broadcastnow. There are some agencies too, but most are looking for experienced staff, not people trying to start out. If you look at some of the bigger agencies (the crewing company, blueberries) they can give you an idea of the people and the jobs out there.
Using the old fashioned method of getting up off my ‘self employed’ arse, I found my first runner job in the Dole office in Soho. The ad was through an agency and was regular cash rather than the dribs and drabs I was earning as an occasional art gallery assistant/painter decorator/bike messenger. The other appealing side was that it was in an industry doing something I’m interested in – editing/filmmaking. I had no interest in television to begin with…
As a runner your work can be anything. My first job involved bugger all running and more standing up while packing VHS boxes at a dubbing facility in Soho. They even had people apply to become tape labellers. That’s right, they interviewed people to type up the f***ing labels. It’s that competitive. I didn’t bother with that one…
‘PROPER’ RUNNING WORK
I then got placed by the agency to P3 Post (went bust in ‘04) an Avid based post-production facility, also in Soho.
This was proper running work. Initially I did ‘client service’, which meant getting the teas, the sushi, Jack Daniels, pizza, whatever the clients in the editing suites wanted. I’d also have to clean the edit suites before the clients came in the morning, keep fridges stocked etc.
After some deadly networking I mentioned how well I knew London from being a bike messenger to a few managers. Then a runner’s vacancy in the dispatch department came up. Much to my surprise, no other runners wanted it. ‘Too much like hard work’, ‘I don’t wanna be blah blahs runner’, and other work-shy excuses came up from my co-workers. I went for it and was moved from client service and into dispatch. This is where running gets its name. Decades ago a runner would run the dailies from the shoot to the viewing room. Now I was taking tapes to other facilities, logging them in/out of our database, stocktaking etc. Still menial work you could get a monkey to do, but it was better than serving coffee and wiping up coke from editors desks in the morning.
From here I volunteered to stay behind an hour a day after my shift ended to help out in MCR. This was so I could learn all the tech stuff. I was used as a skivvy, basically being a label bitch and answering calls, but I leaned a lot. I probably squeezed three years at Ravensbourne College into three months of unpaid overtime. It was the best decision I ever made, and trained me up to be a junior VT op to finally get out of running and closer to being an editor.
TOP TIP FOR GAINING EXPERIENCE
Another way to learn was to go in at weekends and use a vacant edit suite. I did this a lot, and not just for the Mark & Spencer meals I could raid in the fridge. Of course, I had to get the ok from the boss, but it was never a problem. P3 Post had 12 suites in all and there was often an empty one at the weekend.
I did wonder why more runners didn’t come in at the weekends to learn about video tech. I mean, not only was there a kick arse MCR (Machine Room) with all the kit you’d need to know about (VTR’s, TBC’s, Unity server, ARC’s, matrix routers ect) but they’d almost always be a free suite that if you asked nicely you could use. It’s these opportunities that any runner wanting to crack on with a career in post should jump at.
At P3 I really got to grips with how this industry works. I did wonder how other runners could afford to go out, then I learned some of them were trust fund kids, some had flats bought for them, some lived at home. Not many were in my position, which made it easier for me to steal the left over food and drink. Trust me, if it wasn’t for the fact we were fed at P3 I doubt I could have afforded to work there. I was paying £200 pcm all in to sleep in a grotty flat in a grotty part of London which helped. Plus having a hobby (BMX) kept me sane (ish) as I had summat to do instead of sitting around being poor. On the other hand riding did cost a few quid and I could have been making that breakthrough film instead of spending my free time jumping around on a poxy kid’s bike.
Runners pay is often below minimum wage, I started on 8k a year in 2000 (Ed’s note: typical salary for a runner these days should be around £15,000 per annum though you may be offered less if its your first job). As in any profession/industry, employers will get round the rules however they can to pay you as little as possible. The hours are anti social and long (12 + hours a day aren’t uncommon), and some people in post-production can be proper rude shits that you’d love to slap. However, some can be golden, and will be happy to help you out in the direction you want to go. Most have been a runner and know what it’s like. One thing that gets you places is being easy to get on with, helpful and generally sound. You also need a sense of humour to handle taking a lunch order that costs more than what you earn in a week…
Another positive note is that even if you live the dream and get to your goal (editor/producer/director/whatever) chances you’ll still be doing 12+ hours a day when you’re actually working, and be shitting bricks searching for jobs when you’re not working. You’ll still not earn a huuuuge wedge (unless you work on a very successful film or telly series) but it’s f***ing rad having a career that you enjoy and challenges you.
Thanks to Paul for that frank account of his battle to get his foot in the door of the TV industry!
If you’re interested in the role of a post production runner then check out our Video Guide to the Role of a Post Production Runner.
And if this article has been useful please share it around via the Share buttons below. Thank you!