A career in television is fascinating, exciting and entirely fickle! The freelance TV job market goes from feast to famine; if you take time out for any reason you’re forgotten or left behind technically; get older and you’ll find the phone calls drying up! Oh – and let’s not forget the exceedingly long hours and the impossibility of juggling family life and work. So if you work in television and feel it may not be the lifelong career you had in mind what is the alternative?
Many a pressured TV producer has been heard to say “I’ve had enough – I’d rather move to Cornwall and open a tea shop!”. Most of us don’t actually follow through with that threat (not enough time and energy to even explore the option!!) so what happens when a successful television person jumps ship and goes to find a life beyond television production?
My first full time job after school was in Independent Local Radio as a sound technician. After moving to London and working at LBC radio, I thought I would try working in Television for a year to see what it was like. Turned out to be a little longer than 1 year and lasted for a total 23 years!
I began at Sky Television as a Studio Sound Operator working across news, sport and recorded programming. After 3 years at Sky, I moved into Transmission as a TC (Transmission Controller) working across all the Sky channels of the time. My next position was at Pearson Television to work on the Channel 5 transmission contract. I was there when Channel 5 launched and stayed in this job for a further 16 years.
All my life I have wanted to run a business and be my own boss. I always thought I needed a unique idea and until that idea hit me I was happy working in television. I began making chocolates many years ago, and after a lot of people said I should sell them, I began listening to the feedback and thought it was time to try something different.
Since I began in Transmission the job has changed considerably. I used to have a small amount of creative input into the channels I worked on, but in recent years all the creativity had been taken away due to automation. The only move I could make would be into management, which was just not for me, and I wanted to find an outlet for my creativity. So I took the plunge.
I am now a chocolatier, building up a chocolate business selling fine chocolates with some traditional and some more unusual flavours. Now I have to be a “jack of all trades” being a chocolatier, book-keeper, salesman, product developer, marketeer etc.
When starting a business you need to be very creative and after working around many creative people in TV, I quickly saw the potential in taking some of the skills other people used to help me get my business set up and running. For example – to sell chocolates you need succinct, sexy and mouth-watering descriptions to help sell them. A continuity announcer is the perfect person to write something concise and interesting as a product description and I found one to do just that! So in a way I have not taken my own skills from television to use in my new business, but the skills of others. I am sure I will use the skills of even more TV people as my business grows – like voiceovers and editors, producers and film makers, when I start making short promotional films for my chocolates and business.
I can now choose how and when I work. However, when I was in TV all my time outside of work was my own. Now, all my time is spent thinking about my new business and new products, so it has taken over my life too. I used to be able to plan holidays and book time off work. Now my shop never closes so things like holidays can’t be considered until I can arrange for someone else to take over, or I shut up shop for a short while. The success of the business will be down to the amount of work I put in. My income is low right now as the business is still in the start-up phase, but this was considered before I gave up my TV career. Going from a regular income to next to nothing is a hard decision to make and one not to be made lightly. Without the support of others this would have been impossible.
TV is a constantly changing industry, and the pace of change is getting faster and faster, from technicians, editors, journalists and management. I saw many changes in my career and it always worried me that due to automation one day my job would not exist. Either I would eventually have to change to another job and learn a new skill within TV or probably face redundancy, the latter seems to be the way it works in TV these days. So having a backup plan is probably just as important as learning a new skill within the TV industry. In TV you just have no idea when it may happen. I have seen it happen to so many people already.
The people I worked with are what makes TV great. Working alongside people with such creativity and passion for their jobs was such a great experience when everything worked well I got such a buzz from making it happen. I do miss the shift work, and the way my long shifts worked which meant I got more days off. Also I miss the fact that when I left work I could forget about it all and just relax at home.
I miss the night shift work least, and the travelling to work. It is tough doing night shifts and does take it out on your body. They are not easy to adjust to and you never really recover from doing night shifts until you stop doing them completely.
In a way I am after a similar experience to that of working in TV. As a Transmission Controller it made me feel good that people would be sitting at home enjoying the programming I was transmitting. It makes me feel great when I get feedback, saying how good my chocolates are. Ultimately I just want to be recognised for making great chocolates. If a journalist, or someone with some recognition like a fellow chocolatier, says my chocolates are great, I will have achieved what I want to achieve. However, I still need to make a living! I am aiming at the luxury end of the chocolate market, so to see my products on the shelves of an upmarket store would give me great satisfaction. My business is still in its infancy, and to predict where it may be in a few years’ time is very difficult. It would be great to have a small production facility and employ a few people, and give me time to develop new products and chocolate ideas.
Thanks to Russell for sharing his story. Anyone else out there found a way over the wall? We would love to hear about your attempts to venture outside of the television business or indeed how you juggle other work with TV freelancing.