If you want to work on a filmset but aren’t sure where to start, you need to be a runner. We spoke to Duncan, who started off as a runner, for some insider tips on breaking into the industry. After humble beginnings Duncan now works as a VFX Co-ordinator for a major movie studio. We (GTB) are currently we are giving you the chance to start out in film by making your own short film with our friends O2 and BFI.
Don’t be intimidated – it IS achievable
I always knew a lot about films but, due to growing up in the middle of nowhere, the thought of actually working on movies was about as remote as putting on a cape and flying away. Because of this, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time; it wasn’t until I went to study Sound in Technology that I first got my hands on a camera and met a lovely bunch of people who were as nerdy as me. One swift course change (to Media Production) and several amateur horror films later, I knew that I wanted to get into film any way I could.
Network. Then network some more
…because you never know who could give you your first break.
After Uni I was very unemployed and working for free on any media job I could find. This led me to a couple of jobs filming random promo videos around the country and that’s where I met my contact in London. It was months later, and I was visiting London on a completely unrelated thing, but we met up for coffee and they mentioned they needed a runner at the TV company they were working at and I said yes.
… because if you’re a decent bloke/gal, people will give you a job
You have to be very good at making friends in this industry to get remembered. Even the simplest things you can do to be nice, and remembering to turn up on time, can have a huge impact. Don’t be put off if you get knocked back at first, because if you persevere enough someone will remember your name and the next opportunity that comes up will be all yours for the taking.
The moment you get an “in”, push yourself as far as you can
My trick was to accept every antisocial, shitty shift going until I was hanging around the production building so much, everyone from the MD to the data technician knew my name and face. You can’t be shy here, always try and go the extra mile. Even if that means doing stuff not anywhere near your job description. Chances are if you are that guy or girl who ends up helping someone shift around their office furniture then they might reward you later on.
For example, I knew the guy that did the night watch was going on holiday so offered to cover. All the other runners thought I was mental, but to me it was the easiest gig going. All I had to do was lock up the building, turn the lights off and remember to call our external security company every hour to let them know everything was fine. I then became the go-to guy to cover the holidays and sick days of the old bloke who usually did it.
Any skills you need to be a good runner?
Learn to drive! That’s essential. Oh, and make sure you don’t lie about your abilities. You get found out very quickly and it will all go wrong faster than you can imagine…
What’s the hardest part about being a runner?
Night shoots – depending on the film a night shoot can be anything from 10-16 hours and, as good things don’t usually happen at night in movies, it’s usually always cold, raining with something on fire. The truth is that being a runner is a bit shit day OR night, and after a while it can wear you down; if you’re that person that turns up everyday and can still deliver teas and coffees with a smile and laugh then you will always be remembered. And promoted…
Remember it’s a means to an end
Be patient. It will be hard and frustrating, but as long as you have an idea of where you want to go then all the crappy dogsbody stuff you put up with will be worth it and soon forgotten. You’ll have more big important problems to be tearing your hair out about instead!
I’m now a VFX Coordinator, working within the Visual Effects team to assist the VFX Supervisor and VFX Producer in making sure what the filmakers want in terms of CGI gets completed in the most straight forward way possible. This mostly involves shot tracking and passing on all the notes that are required to make each shot better. But I started as a runner, like almost everyone!