So you want to work in television? Dreaming of becoming a part of the team behind that moving documentary you watched? Wanting to write and see those characters in your head come to life? Or maybe you just want to work with celebrities and famous personalities?
The tv industry may seem exciting and appealing. But it’s not all glitters and glamour. There are a lot of complicated things going on behind the camera. Those explosive production numbers, gritty news and engaging documentaries are just end products of a lengthy process of production.
It requires a great deal of effort from numerous people involved to complete your favourite show. From conceptualization, shooting, previewing, writing scripts, getting the scripts approved, editing and more previewing for final approval, a 3-minute video may take 2-3 days to finish. For the longest time, I’ve been part of various public affairs programs that air on a weekly basis.
So I listed down random things I learned from personal experience that I really wished someone warned me about before I started working in television. I hope these would help communication students and those who maybe want to shift careers to get a glimpse of what it’s like to work in the media.
- Working hours can be long and unpredictable
Working schedule depends on the availability of interviewees or institutions you will be featuring. Other factors like the studios, camera equipment and crew, shooting locations, editing bay and other facilities may also dictate the time you should go to work. When doing a breaking story that needs to be aired immediately, the staff need to stay up for days until the project is completed. Unlike regular employees who clock in and out on specific schedules, the job of tv a production personnel is more of a project basis; if you can get the job done faster and earlier, then you’re free to go which also means you don’t get to go home until the task is finished.
- Do not expect a permanent job
Each program has its own set of staff. From the director down the line, production workers are assigned to a particular show. Now the show’s “life” depends on viewership ratings and sponsorship. If one of these two doesn’t work well even after just 2-3 episodes, tv management can close the program and leave the team jobless.
Know that network companies in the Philippines follow a “talent” system, simply put as contractualization. They just continually renew each contract unless of course they terminate you or simply do not want to keep you anymore. In the event that a program folds, you can internally apply to other shows. The talent system also allows staff to work simultaneously in various programs provided you are able to juggle the tasks and schedule.
- You’ll start to dislike non-working holidays
Typically, production for each airing takes an average of 2 weeks, 3 at the most. Some, especially breaking stories may only take 2-3 days to complete. Well, of course news programs air on the same day and even real-time. So when you need to get a story done swiftly, you may need to report even on weekends and holidays when regular employees from other companies are not available and there is no once you can call or coordinate with in case you need anything from them.
- Competition is a way of life
Networks compete with other networks. Programs compete with other programs. Teams within programs also compete with other teams. You will also compete with yourself and beat what you did during your previous airing. The quality of work and standard is so high. The trend is constantly changing; challenges are new each day and each week. You will need to always stand out and try to come up with a new gimmick.
- You will have to multitask
Every now and then you will have to do some tasks that are beyond your job description. As a producer, there have been many times that I had to do a researcher’s work, assist my camera man, hold a boom microphone during shoot, transcribe, buy props and do groceries when utility staff are not available and so on. When you’re out in the field shooting without the program’s coordinator and researcher, it is automatic that you troubleshoot when unfavourable circumstances arise. This is necessary to get the job done quickly. What’s good about this is that you get to explore different facets of work and learn what other staff does.
- You will miss important occasions and events in the life of your friends and relatives
Sure we make our own choices, but once you work in the media, you may find yourself so caught up with work. Some of the regrets I have in life are missed birthday parties, weddings and other important event and occasions in the life of my friends and relatives. I was unable to attend, fine! I chose not to attend because I preferred to be at work. I always felt that my job needed me and it was difficult to find someone to do the task in my behalf. I also felt guilty at the thought of having to leave unfinished work while my colleagues cram to meet the deadline.
- There is great possibility of developing an illness called wanderlust
Media work often requires a great deal of traveling. I was in the public affairs department that does travel, medical, showbiz, documentaries, talk and other feature programs. All of these shows have huge needs to do shoots in various locations within and out of the country. There was a point in my career that in the span of two weeks, I was sent to three different provinces, one after the other that I almost ran out of clothes. When we were not out-of-town, we’d still hit the streets daily to interview people within Metro Manila.
I had my first flight because of this job followed by numerous trips, I have lost count. Traveling is one the many privileges I am so grateful for that I experienced while working in television. I have seen places I may have never reached if not for this work. The only problem now is that I couldn’t get rid of this restlessness and great desire to always travel. Now, where must I go next?
- You should always bring extra clothes and toiletries
Long hours of work and various shooting locations are always part of production work. When I was starting, I lived in our family’s house that was a 2 hour commute from the office. There were times I’d only come home to shower and change clothes then go back to the office.
After two years of tedious commuting to work, I found out that other employees actually stay in the office for days. Production people are really creative and will endure almost everything to complete their work. Some would sleep in sleeping bags, others on lined up swivel chairs, those who don’t want to be seen just doze off on top of plastic storage boxes under the tables. With all those styles to choose from, I started sleeping in the office. At the start I stayed for just a night, then two, and then three. I learned (the hard way) that having clothes stacked in the office and toiletries, especially girly stuff were necessary.
Because work schedule was so unpredictable I eventually decided to move nearby. Even then, there were still times that we had to stay in our shooting location longer than expected and extra clothes and toiletries came in handy.
- You must learn to control your emotions
Whether seeing your celebrity crush or the politician you hate the most in the entire world, it is necessary to control your emotions. In person and in social media, television workers must at all times, try to remain neutral or cautious in expressing opinion about national and controversial issues. Employees’ personal opinions may not always reflect the views of the company they work for, but there are a lot of idiots on the internet that think otherwise.
You will also meet a lot of interesting personalities and celebrities at work and it is a must, never ever forget, to maintain proper decorum in order to do your work properly. Fangirling should be kept discreetly when interviewing your celebrity crush and try not to smack the face of that a$$4ole you are shooting.
- Fall madly, deeply in love with what you do, you must not!
The force is strong and one must learn to control the force. Work in the media may rouse that passion within you, get a stronghold of your mind and emotion. Work in the media is engaging and exhausting, can be fascinating and horrifying at times.
I had a love-hate relationship with this job when I was starting. I cried tons of tears and wanted to leave many times. The task is hard without a doubt but I always gave in to its demands and complied. The industry exposed me to some the best and worst things in life. I felt privileged and exploited at the same time but I chose to stay. There were times I favoured it over friends and families. I should have known better and made fitter choices but those things already happened.
I know a lot of colleagues who for years chose work over sleep and rest, fast food over well-prepared meals to get back to work quickly. Years of physical abuse has taken its toll on their bodies, some has done irreversible damage. But I guess you can never blame them, seeing your work feels so rewarding, even more so when you know you’ve helped someone and changed their lives just because you aired their stories on national television.
In the end, loving your work so much will have its reward and cost.