So what does the role of Production Secretary in TV entail? It can be a useful point of entry into the media for an organised person. It is a common route into Production Coordinator and then upwards to Production Management but even if that is not the career route you are aiming for it’s an invaluable insight in to how a production is put together and the paperwork that goes with it.
Suzanne Fairman is a production secretary and agreed to answer our questions about how she did it and to explain what sort of duties the job involves:
What do you do?
I am a Production Secretary with experience in factual programming including documentaries, entertainment and reality TV.
How did you get your first job in TV? What was your route to Production Secretary?
I got my first TV job after spending a lot of my spare time developing my skills and building my contacts by working on low budget short films that were being shot in my local area. I also spent a lot of my time attending networking events within the Northwest region and even London.
When I finished my MA degree in Television Production I took on a 5 week placement at Pidgin Productions based at Toxteth TV in Liverpool. Here I was working in the production office helping out with many different projects. I ended up staying there for over a year working 1-2 days a week as Production/Research Assistant.
My first actual TV job came via Twitter. The Unit List advertised that RDF Television was looking for Runners for their ITV1 show Dickinson’s Real Deal. I applied and was asked to work on location in Derby for the day which ended up leading to working at a couple more locations over the summer of 2011.
That job was a great experience and was the catalyst that led to other Runner jobs such as Don’t Tell the Bride and Britain’s Got Talent.
In September 2011 I saw a job advert on The TV Collective for Production Secretary at 12 Yard Productions. I applied for this knowing that with my administrative background from many office jobs over the years alongside my production experience I had the appropriate skills for the role. I was lucky enough to be asked to attend an interview and eventually was successful in securing the job. This was for Channel 4’s Christmas Special of Coach Trip.
I have since been taken on as Production Secretary in ITV’s factual department ‘Shiver’ in Leeds where I am working across three documentaries in production this spring.
What are your main duties as a production secretary in TV?
As a Production Secretary my main duty is to provide administrative assistance to my Production Co-ordinator and Production Manager although it is more than just a secretarial role. I also provide support to our Producer/Directors and their teams across all the productions in the department.
My work involves researching and booking travel, transport and accommodation for contributors and crew. I help to organise whatever is required for shoots including researching locations and sourcing equipment such as projectors, screens, DVD players etc. I assist my Production Coordinator by organising, creating and issuing call sheets. I help in the organisation and running of the production office by maintaining filing systems, monitoring supplies of stationery and office supplies and ordering items as required. I am responsible for production paperwork such as typing and filing contracts, release forms and other documents as required. I maintain a contacts list of relevant personnel by creating initial lists of names/address/contact telephone numbers of all cast and crew and ensuring that contact information lists are updated, filed and distributed to all relevant personnel.
I also contribute to research by reading newspapers and magazines daily and looking out for information that is relevant to our productions whilst doing this I also keep an eye out for other interesting stories that could be developed into an idea for future programmes and I liaise with my Creative Director if I spot anything interesting. I have also created a catalogue for our archive library of books, VHS and DVDs.
Every day is different which keeps me on my toes by challenging me personally and us as a team, but this is what excites me and drives me to keep striving for the future.
What did you find the biggest learning curve in the job?
The biggest learning curve for me in this job is time management. Everything happens so quickly and things are constantly changing right up until the night before a shoot day that you have to be even more prepared and organised than you can imagine. I can prioritise my workload and work to deadlines competently but I still need to keep about two steps ahead of the whole filming process.
It’s this fast pace of working in television that excites me most. I am constantly challenged at every step which helps me to develop my skills even further so that at some point I’ll be able to step up to Production Coordinator level.
What have you learnt about getting into TV, networking and freelancing?
Networking is imperative to getting into and continuing to work in TV. The television industry is surprisingly such a small world so meeting people and letting them get to know you is so, so important to get that first foot in the door. I can’t express enough how important networking is in the television world. My advice would be to keep in contact with all the people you meet along the way. Every time you update your CV email it to them stating your availability and your experience. I even send a Christmas card to companies I have previously worked for to remind them of myself and to keep my name fresh in their heads.
Freelancing can be quite difficult especially in between jobs. If you’re after a secure career with continuous contracts then maybe working in television isn’t for you. Personally I love it. I love the thrill of working on a production from pre to post and eventually its broadcast. I love seeing a project to the end and the excitement of going onto something new afterwards. I love the thrill of the unknown. I’ve learnt to embrace the gaps in between jobs by taking on temporary office jobs and getting myself involved in community projects. By doing this it helps to keep the stress of not working at bay and keeps me busy before that next role comes up.
What advice would you like to pass on to other people trying to get into TV?
Don’t sit around and wait for the job to come to you. In this industry you really need to get out there and take that job for yourself. Show people you’re passionate, ambitious and hardworking. Whether you’re waiting for your first initial TV job or in between work do as much as you can to hone your skills and prepare yourself for that next role.
Thank you, Suzanne. You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @scorpiobloo
And if you’d like further information about the role of Production Secretary then you can check out this job description courtesy of Start In TV: Production Secretary.