What is a Runner in film and TV?
It's the bottom rung of the ladder and the most common route into the industry. Typically, you 'run' errands... make the tea, buy the stuff, clean the things, get the food, anything that's required, no matter how mundane - and a lot of it is.
Guy Ritchie started off as a runner, making tea for the director Peter Levelle (The guy who did the classic Ferrero Rocher ads) and learnt the ropes before making Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. He's currently filming The Man from U.N.C.L.E, a big budget film for Warner Bros starring Henry Cavill.
Being a runner involves long hours, low pay and often very tedious work. It can take a long time to get anywhere near holding a camera or directing your first shot.
Artwork by David Allcock
When you leave school, college, university or film school, it's likely that you will be starting out as a runner, even if your dad owns Pinewood Studios.
Lots of people hate being a runner and try to either bypass the stage or get promotion as quickly as possible - but you need to embrace it, find the positive angle and treat it as a vital part of your education...
Here are five tips and reasons why being a runner is so, so, so important.
1. Don't Rush
Whatever you learned about film and TV before you got into the industry, that is only the very first step in your education.
You need time to find your feet and learn the ropes; running is the perfect job for that. There are no shortcuts. And time does not mean a few weeks! Six months at least.
It takes a while to understand the professional environment, the unwritten rules, the hierarchies and the structure of the creative and production processes across Feature Film, TV, Commercials and Promos. The learning curve in the professional world is steep; you don't want to have big knowledge gaps that could be exposed later on. Soak it all up.
2. Find a job you love
You might aim to be a director when you get into this industry, but then find that you fit into another role perfectly. The industry needs all kinds of specialist skills; there are hundreds of roles, each suited to a wide range of personality types.
Find the thing you love the most because you will be working every waking hour doing it.
Take your time and be curious about what's out there. If you still want to be a director, you'll need to know all those other departments inside out anyway.
3. A Sense of Perspective
There are loads of people (your competition) who don't want to be a runner. They see it as beneath them. We encounter loads of people who leave university bleating "actually, I went to Cambridge and I'm a Director of Photography...." - "Fascinating, now photocopy that and stick the kettle on".
If someone employs you as a runner, they just want you to be a reliable, friendly, efficient runner. Don't forget, they will have been one themselves and they know what it takes. Concentrate on being a good, trustworthy, unflappable runner first before you start shoving showreels at people. Prove you are indispensible and you will be the first one getting the call for work next time. Build from there.
So, the next step, be it be a production assistant, researcher, production secretary.... is a bigger leap than you might imagine. Those roles carry responsibility and it's important that you are prepared for the step up and that promotion is a natural progression, ordained by the person hiring you.
This clip from Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe (BBC) sums up what it's like to be a runner starting out. It is required viewing....
4. Building a Network
As a runner, you are likely to be placed on lots of jobs for short periods. You should get the chance to mix with other runners and entry-level people. Keep in touch with the good ones you encounter. As you get more work in, you can help each other find jobs or ask advice. That network should grow and be incredibly useful as you all start getting promotions through the ranks.
You will encounter more new faces when running so you can build that network quite quickly and enjoy the benefits of those connections later down the line.
Don't see other runners as rivals, but as allies. You are all in the same boat, and if you become friends, when one runner is busy and has to turn down a job, yours will be the first name they recommend instead. When you have all moved up the ladder and one if you is a PM, another an AD and someone else is a Costume Designer, you will be able to call on each other for advice, do good deals together and even employ one another.
5. Genre jumping
There are not many senior positions where you can jump between genres. There's Feature Film, TV Drama, Commercials, TV Factual, News, Sport, Children's; people often end up working on a cycle of one particular type of production and stay there continually. It's much harder to jump from say, TV Factual to Feature Film without taking a step or two down.
Runners are in the fortunate position of being needed on all genres, regardless of previous experience. Runners are likely to find themselves working on a TV series one day and a Commercial the next. You can flit between the genres and gain experience from each before settling into the one that feels like home; it might not be the one you originally thought.
Artwork by David Allcock, storyboard artist extraordinaire. This article originally appeared on the Page1 blogs of thecallsheet.co.uk, written by Matt Gallagher and Susie Gordon, other contributors wish to remain anonymous.