How to Write a CV for Film and TV Drama (Excerpt from Breaking into UK Film and TV Drama)

1471 This is short exceprt from the book Breaking Into UK Film and TV Drama

Also check out the CV guidelines on the excellent Runners Group on facebook or attend the fantastic runners training day from The Calltime Company

 

How to Write a Great CV

 

Writing a good CV is vital to all job seekers, but particularly to those starting out. When you are a newcomer to the industry, you will be sending your CV to complete strangers in the hope that yours stands out enough to encourage the (usually extremely busy) recipient to pick up the phone.

Most crucially, a CV should be kept simple and easy to read, allowing the reader to glean key information about you quickly. It’s no secret that an employer will most likely spend 30 seconds to a minute examining your CV, so it needs to provide the basics front and centre. You’ve only got a small window of time to impress them, and give them an incentive to read further. As your career develops, the style and format of your CV will evolve; something we will look at further on.

One quick note for aspiring VFX artists; you will need an impressive showreel to accompany your CV. Make it short (between one to two minutes) and as good as it possibly can be. VFX companies are likely to look at a reel before considering your CV. You will still be starting out as a runner, but a great showreel will help you get your foot in the door.

Here, we will look at the basic CV elements that I have heard most employers talk about and, crucially, explain why they want to see the information presented in a certain way. If you can start to think about your job search from the perspective of the person doing the hiring, you can engineer your approach and CV to best suit their needs. Seeing it from the recipient’s perspective is a refrain you will see time and again in this chapter: it’s crucial.

For example, the reams of paperwork that professional production people are familiar with is incredibly concise. A typical call sheet, for example, will be densely packed into the shortest space possible, with most being two pages long, and contain the information needed to instruct hundreds of people through a complex series of events across an entire shooting day. If you are a production team member, you are used to dealing only with the pertinent information; it’s not surprising, then, to find that they expect such precision in your CV. If your CV looks shabby, poorly designed or padded-out, it will be binned.

Having read thousands upon thousands of CVs over the years, and having spoken with many head of department across a multitude of productions, I am about to provide practical, useable advice about creating a CV that will get you noticed. It’s worth noting, however, that the tips presented here only paint half of the picture; the actual content of the CV is obviously down to you and your experience.

 

Writing Your CV

Before we even get to the contents of your CV, we need to establish its ideal length and format. As a new entrant, a CV should only be one page of A4 paper; we have just discussed the necessity of being concise. As your career grows, your CV will expand as the credits pile up; you will also find that your name and reputation begin to precede you.

I once received a 12-page CV that had its own cover page and index. That’s far too much information for anyone to digest, let alone someone working on a fast-paced production who has hundreds of CVs to get through. You must learn to be economical with your information, and focused in the way you present it.

Your CV should be saved and sent in .PDF format, as this is far more clear than a word document, with the document title being your name, role, month and year (e.g. Jane Doe Graphics CV Jan 2016.pdf) so that your CV is easily discernible to the recruiter in the sea of others it will be joining. Make sure when saving your document that it hasn’t added an additional blank page at the end  ̶  a common mistake, this looks sloppy and can point to a lack of attention to detail.

This is a visual industry, and a bad font – such as Comic Sans and Heavy Heap – can count against you. Be sure to opt for a font that is clean and easy to read: Arial, Calibri and Verdana are always good choices. Another good reason to use .PDF format for your CV is so that you can see exactly how it appears to the end user.

If you are including a website or profile link in your CV, make sure you test it beforehand and get others to do so as well.

 

The Headline

The header of your CV should include the most pertinent information to a recruiter: your name, age, location, contact details, the role you perform (e.g. runner), driving ability and if you have your own car. The reader will then know immediately who you are, what you do and how to get in touch.

Your name should be the first line of your CV, in a slightly larger font; after all, as a freelancer your name is both your business and your brand.

However rightly proud you are of your degree achievements, it’s not necessary to include your honours alongside your name  ̶  e.[S1] g. Jane Smith BA (Hons) – rather they should be detailed in the education section of your CV. When your career has really developed, and you no longer need this book, and you have joined a guild, you may wish to write those letters after your name. For example, ‘BSC’, which stands for British Society of Cinematographers, is a prestigious membership, and well regarded throughout the industry.

After your name, you should state very clearly what role you do, making sure it best applies to the skills, experience and credits you will be listing in the CV below. Absolutely do not call yourself a film-maker: the term implies that you are an auteur who can pick and choose projects at will.

 

Job Title

There is a huge difference between life in the film and TV drama industry and other forms of filming. If you’ve shot a few shorts, or your graduation film, on a Canon 5D, that does not make you a cinematographer. If you have cut together a few clips from a wedding on Final Cut Pro, that does not make you an editor. It sounds obvious, but I receive so many CVs from people who have no basic grasp of this fact, listing themselves as a producer, director or editor – and even, in one memorable case, a non-existent 'director of cinematography' – although they had no professional experience. It immediately strikes a reader into thinking that the person has no understanding of the industry, and is arrogant enough to think that they don’t need to learn the ropes.

I hope you are in no doubt about the situation by now, but let me clarify things for you once again. You will not walk straight out of university or film school into a head of department role on a serious, large-scale commercial project. Graduates may be full of enthusiasm because they have talent, fresh ideas and a great student project but that has no bearing on the broadcasters and financiers of film and TV drama, who will only back projects with experienced crew. As we saw, one of the key elements of a production securing finance is to demonstrate that their HoDs have a proven, successful track record.

(Of course, if you want to shoot or edit shorts or wedding videos in your spare time, then create a second CV with cinematographer as your job title. It will likely impress a bride, or secure work on a short, but don’t send it out to commercial productions. For these, you will need a CV with ‘camera trainee’ or ‘runner’ across the top, to indicate your lack of real-world experience.)

Naturally, it can be tempting to put a slightly more advanced role on your CV, but resist jumping ahead of yourself when you are at entry level. Production assistant in UK film and drama is NOT an entry level role, neither is second assistant camera or third AD. A runner is an entry-level position, and don’t try to bypass it. If an employer has a third AD role to fill, they may ask an experienced and capable floor runner to step up, but that experience is still required.

There is absolutely no shame in being a runner and taking your time to work up the ladder. The production manager, HoD or supervisor to whom you are sending your CV was probably a runner themselves at one point, and will do all they can to help hard-working and dedicated newcomers to the industry. They can spot trouble and bad attitudes a mile off, particularly as the decisions they make about who to recruit directly reflects back on them.

 

Contact Details

It’s not enough to simply include your contact details in the body of the email when you send your CV; you need to make sure your mobile number and email are clearly visible in the document. When you save it as a .PDF, you can include a hyperlink for your email address to make it even more convenient to contact you.

Make sure you choose your email address carefully, and keep it professional as it may need to last you a long time. Think twice about putting your job title in your email, such as johnsmithrunner@gmail.com, as it will become obsolete as you move up the ladder, and certainly do not up-sell yourself in email address, for example using johnsmithdop@gmail.com if you are a camera trainee.

It’s advisable to use a free email provider like Gmail, as they are more successful at getting messages through the strict spam filters of production companies. If you are still a student, switch from the .ac.uk address as soon as possible.

The standard format for any mobile phone number on a call sheet or unit list is as a five-three-three formation (e.g. 07700 900 123). This is a (maddeningly) small detail that will appeal to fastidious production team members.

You don’t need to list your entire postal address on your CV, just your area, town or city is fine. Nor do you need to list your NI number on your CV.

 

Personal Details

 

Age

Most productions are looking for runners over the age of 21 for insurance purposes, and are also interested in the maturity of their candidate in terms of their professional outlook. If you are coming into the industry at a later stage, this can be a positive as extra-life experience is a plus, and there is a real-life example of this later on.

 

Driving Ability

Many runner jobs involve driving. In a survey conducted with employers by industry analyst Stephen Follows, he found that most employers said that being able to drive was more important to them than a university degree. That’s not to say your university degree is useless, far from it, but you need additional practical skills, which you need to perform certain roles. As a recent graduate, you will not be entrusted to hold the camera and a shoot a scene, instead you will be asked to take care of the things that need doing, which often includes ferrying around people and things. And if you are working at a studio like Pinewood and Leavesden, you will probably need a car just to get to work on time.

Some productions will want you to have your own car, and some will hire one for you. Most car-hire companies will not allow someone under the age of 21 to drive one of their vehicles, due to increased insurance costs.

 

Location

Where you live can be a key factor in finding employment. Productions usually want runners based in the area and possessing local knowledge and, as the working hours are so long, don’t want someone who has a lengthy commute each day. Filming is a marathon endeavour so they want someone who will be fresh on set or in the office each morning. Driving into work from a distance also increases the chances of late arrivals, which is an absolute taboo when filming.

I regularly see applications for entry-level jobs from people who live nowhere near the area the job is based. That person may have emailed hundreds of applications without success, and I would urge you to see why from the employer’s perspective. If an employer sees that you are not based nearby they are not likely to read further as they will already have many applications from locals, and are unlikely to shoulder the responsibility of you potentially moving hundreds of miles for one short-term job, or any travel costs. In this case, a rejection is nothing personal; it’s down to geography. You are much more likely to find work if you focus on your local area.

 

Credits

The main content of your CV will be your credits, i.e. your professional work. This does not mean short films or university projects; employers can tell the difference, and don’t like it when an amateur credit is ‘passed off’ as a pro-credit. One day’s experience on a professional production is worth more to your CV than 10 short films.

Even if you don’t have any professional experience at all, I still would not recommend listing your university work as individual credits. Instead, include them within your education section later on in your CV.

If you have no professional experience then highlight other personal achievements, and the motivations behind them. Do you have any language skills? If so, detail them and mark them clearly as basic, intermediate, fluent or mother tongue. Have you ever volunteered anywhere? Do you have a CRB check? Do you have any software skills beyond the usual Microsoft Office? Again, put yourself in the position of the employer and highlight what is relevant to them.

If you do have credits or employment history to list, then everything should be in chronological order with the most recent first. If your most recent project hasn’t been released yet, say so and put the estimated release or TX date on it. You can list any projects on which you have worked, even if you did not get an actual on-screen credit for it, but be clear about the level and length of work you did. Never lie about a credit on your CV; you will always get found out.

The listed credits must have some context, and all the relevant information for the department: the title and nature of the production, production company, dates worked and role performed, and the names of the director, producer and head of department. Below is an example; you do NOT have to lay it out exactly like this in your CV.

 

Title:                                    Downton Abbey 5
Production Company:            Carnival, ITV
Format:                                6x60m ITV Drama
Dates:                                  Jan 14 - Jul 14
Role:                                    Floor Runner (2nd Unit)
Producer:                             A N Other
Director:                               A N Other
Head of Department:              A N Other

 

Giving the names of the director, producer and head of department is important because it’s a small industry, and people know each other. If you have worked under someone the employer either knows or recognises, that is a positive association. It also gives them somewhere to turn for an easy reference.

How you arrange your credit information on the page is down to your personal preference. Ensure that the information is clear and the format is repeated and standardised for each credit. Ask people you trust to scan your CV for 30 seconds and tell you what stands out.

There is a tendency for listing achievements within a credit, but this is usually unnecessary. A production manager might be tempted to say things like ‘booked crew, organised insurance, managed budget’, but this is what every single PM does on every project. If you only have a few credits, however, you may wish to include a very brief line of context, for example, ‘crowd runner for over 200 background artists’.

Indeed, if you’ve worked dailies or crowd on a project, you must make that distinction clear. Never claim to be part of the main team if you were not; these falsehoods have a tendency to catch up with you. To avoid making this mistake, use the job title that is given to you on the call sheet and include the additional detail in brackets: ‘additional floor runner (dailies)’ or ‘costume trainee (second unit, dailies)’. Only ever use the title given to you by the production: if you were a runner then say so, even if on-set you found yourself doing the work of a third AD.

Use your judgement when deciding which credits to include. I’ve received CVs with porn channel productions included; unless you’re applying for a job on an adult movie or late-night TV, leave these off your CV.

 

Personal Profile/Biography

If you are going to include an ‘interests and hobbies’ section, don’t be boring.  If you were a former barrister or built shelters for refugees in Indonesia – and I’ve seen both  ̶  you could certainly consider putting that in. However, the reality is that I hardly ever read anything in these sections that actually stands out.

Personally, I rarely read all of the mini biographies but some people do. Whether or not to include one is a question of personal taste; you must decide what works for you, and act on feedback.

If you do include one, never refer to yourself in the third person, and do not include that standard line: ‘I am passionate about a career in the media’. Media is not film and TV proper, and all runners are notionally passionate. Other hot words to avoid include: ‘confident’, ‘dynamic’, ‘skilled’ and so on. Try to actually display these traits in your CV by showing that you’ve gone the extra mile and volunteered, led, organised, contributed and taken part. Back up your assertions: show, don’t tell.

Be careful too about your phrasing. A sentence such as: ‘I want to develop my career as a producer’ can be read as an indication of the direction you want to take, but some could infer that you are using their production simply as a means to spring-board your own success. A production manager needs to be clear on what you can do for them, and not the other way around. They are paying a person to do a job; if you do well, then they will be only too happy to help you find more work.

If you have something genuinely interesting that you would like to include in your CV, which doesn’t fit easily into the other sections, then it may be worth considering a personal profile. If you are merely following a standard format, then think carefully about whether it actually adds anything to the reader’s understanding of you and your achievements.

 

Important Information

 Not only can flat blocks of text can be off-putting to a reader when they have a stack of CVs to get through, but important information can get lost in a sentence and may be served far better as a bullet point. For example, if you’ve done the latest BBC Health and Safety course, or you're a member of The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS) or have been DBS checked, that information can get lost in the paragraph. Make sure it stands out:

 

• BBC Health and Safety trained (2016)

• Associate Member of AMPS

• DBS checked (2016)

 

References

List your references by name, company and occupation at the bottom of your CV. Many people prefer to keep their email address private, so it’s perfectly acceptable and advisable, to state ‘contact details on request’. The names and grades of those referees should be a reasonable indicator for the reader.

When you are starting out in the industry, references can be useful but they can also work against you if handled incorrectly. Let’s say you have a few jobs under your belt by this stage, including a couple of months working at the BBC. That will really stand out on your CV, and I would expect one of your references to be from this production, but if I find the references are from your sixth form tutor and holiday job employer, it would raise questions. Make sure you get professional, industry references on your CV as soon as possible, as it gives a very positive impression.

It’s worth noting that employers will consider any name mentioned on your CV as a potential reference, and could get in touch with any one of them for ‘unofficial’ feedback.

I have on occasion seen quoted testimonials from recognised industry individuals included in a CV. For example, a brief line from a producer to say that: ‘Jane Smith was a hard-working, cheery and level-headed runner on our shoot. I look forward to working with Jane again, and I recommend her for any production running work in the future.’ I think this can be a very positive addition to a CV, an industry endorsement which encourages me to consider the individual in greater detail. Obviously, you need to have done a really good job and have a great relationship with the HoD or producer before you ask for such a quote.

 

Education

This is a section that will probably only feature on your CV for the first couple of years of your career. No one will be concerned about your degree if you can demonstrate plenty of professional experience, and you’ll know when the time has come to remove the section.

When you start out, your education is one of the most important parts of your life and, whether you are coming from university, college or school, will be the cornerstone of your CV experience.  The vast majority of new industry entrants, however, have some kind of degree in film or media studies.

You only need to mention the name of the institution, the years you attended, the course title and the grade/award achieved. Some employers think highly of certain courses and institutions; others may be more interested in your result.

Often the CV that stands out from the pile is from someone who has studied an entirely different subject, purely because it bucks the trend. A different skill set might also be useful for the role. If you studied Law, for example, you might be considered for a research job, and if you studied English you might be considered for the role of an assistant script editor.

If you have no other experience outside of education to include in your CV, then you could describe the work undertaken as part of your course. Just be sure to be concise. As an employer, I will be more interested in the things you did outside of the curriculum, such as setting up any organisations or clubs, volunteering or learning a language. An employer will also be impressed if you have managed to find some work in professional TV or film production in your university holidays, or if you undertook some relevant work experience as part of the course.

Once you are happy with your CV, you can begin to start sending it out. Get into the habit of continually updating it; you may find that you will need to amend it for specific job advertisements to highlight your suitability for a job.


 

Simlar to this topic:

5 Different Types of CV

 

 

This is short exceprt from the book Breaking Into UK Film and TV Drama

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