Screen and Film School Graduate, Paola Dominique discusses the different Runner roles in the industry, and offers her top tips on how to build your career.
So you want to work in Film and TV?
Getting a job as a runner will be your first port of call.
It may not be the glamourous lifestyle you pictured when you chose this industry, but it is an essential building block to the foundations of your career. Almost everyone on a film or TV crew (nepotism excluded) started their journeys in those very shoes. It is an entry level position (so don’t be discouraged, you won’t be doing this forever), and if you’re lucky enough to get your foot in the door, it’s here where you will learn and pick up valuable experience that you’ll take with you throughout your career – so don’t take this job lightly! Runners are crucial to any crew and it is their seemingly menial tasks that ensure the smooth ‘running’ of a production – hence the name (there may also be actual running involved sometimes).
The mistake students often make when given the golden opportunity to become a runner is that they do not prepare. It’s a common misconception that because it is an entry level position that you can turn up on the day and sort of just “wing it”. The truth is that some people have done this and gotten away with it (good for them), but in case you are not this lucky it’s good to educate yourself on a few basic things so that you’re not flung into the depths of a set ill-equipped. It’s true, you don’t need any qualifications or real experience to become a runner, however having a degree in film or a related subject will show enthusiasm and commitment to the industry, which is important. It will also provide you with that preparation and knowledge I was talking about, and you’ll find yourself progressing a lot faster up the ladder than those who haven’t prepared.
Do you know what department you want to get into? If not, then that’s ok because being a runner is the best place to be to figure that out. As a runner you will come into contact with almost every department and get to observe how different roles on a production work. It doesn’t really matter where you start as a runner, because once you’ve got your foot in the door you can side-step to a different department from where you started out – just get in any way you can! If you do know the department you want to work in, make sure you are going for the correct type of runner role. Each department will have its own runners and assistants; see the list below as guidance to what type of runner you may want to become.
A floor runner works on “the floor” which means wherever you are filming that day – they work directly on set. They work for the AD (assistant director) department. This is the department that takes care of the day to day running’s of a set. The floor runner will meet almost everyone! This is the role that interacts most with the cast and crew – a good position if you want to be an assistant director, a director or even a producer. The responsibilities of the floor runner are vast, from setting up tea tables, locking doors, collecting lunch orders to looking after cast members. The floor runners are usually the first crew to arrive to set and the last crew to leave.
This is a runner that works at “unit base” which is where the production will have set up all the trailers (base is home and will move around depending on where filming is happening). They will work very closely with the 2nd Assistant Director and often the Crowd 2nd AD (in charge of background artists) as well. The tasks are very similar to the floor runners except you do it all at unit base instead of on set as well as help out with the daily travel of cast and crew to and from set – a very important task! You are the eyes and ears of the 2nd AD.
The production runner works predominantly in the production office, this could be a trailer at base or in the offices of the production company. You will work directly under the Production Manager, Production Co-ordinator and Production Secretary, all 3 of these positions will ask you to do things. Like the floor runners you will get to know everyone including post-production and development teams. You will also become good friends with the photocopier, stationary cupboard and kettle as well having to help out with administrative tasks. This is a fantastic position to make contacts and see how every departments works, which might help you discover where you want to eventually end up. In this position you will come into close contact with the producers and director as well. Have to be able to drive!
If you have a driving licence and no experience at all this is a fantastic first job. All the job will be is picking up the memory cards from set and driving them to the edit houses. The task itself is easy enough but it is also a huge responsibility. It’s a good way to get to know the production team, assistant director team and post-production team.
This one is pretty self-explanatory – your job will literally be to drive. You might be driving cast or crew, or it might be costumes or props. Again, as long as you have a driving licence this is a fantastic way to get your foot in the door and start making those contacts!
A job often overlooked by students starting out as its not very exciting at all but is also a guaranteed way to get your foot in the door. You will work for the locations department under the Unit Location Manager and Location Assistants. This job will be anything from helping out with parking, keeping set clean and tidy or more often its ‘locking off’ a location – this means perhaps standing on a street corner in a high-vis jacket making sure members of the public don’t accidentally walk into the shot!
Some tips to take with you to your first runner jobs
- Being on time is already late – get to work at least 10 minutes early
- Always be polite and respectful – also smile until it hurts
- Communicate and listen!
- Misinformation is worse than no information – don’t be afraid to ask questions
- NEVER assume – To Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME
- Do NOT take photos on set– this will end your career
- Do NOT ask for autographs – it’s just incredibly cringy…
- Do NOT sit down – makes you look lazy and uninterested
- Learn everyone’s names – they’ll be more likely to learn and remember yours
- Dress warm, dry and appropriately – good footwear is most important
- Take responsibility –own up to your mistakes as this is respected
- Read the call sheet, digest the call sheet, know the call sheet
- Get enough sleep and eat well!
As competitive as this industry is, please remember to take care of yourself above everything. We only make pretty pictures for a box at the end of the day