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My job explained: TV researcher

TV researcher Amy Jackson talks about how to go from watching great TV to making it.

Could you tell us a bit about your job?

My job can change depending on which programme I work on. I used to work on a live weekly programme, I now work on documentaries, so they both require different skills. The basics are the same: looking for the right contributors and finding their contacts, researching the material needed for the production - from archive material and stills to notes for the presenter or director - setting up and attending shoots and completing paperwork.

Could you describe a typical working day?

There isn't one! But an average day recently working on a documentary included starting the day by checking emails to see if any American contributors have got back to say they are available for interview. Then I’d be chasing any UK contributors. In the afternoon we usually have a shoot which requires me to pick up camera kit and drive with the director to a contributors' house. There we would both set up the kit and I will ask the questions whilst the director films the interview, to save on crew. I would then take the kit back to the office, check anything for the next day’s shoot and make any phone calls to the US now that they have woken up.

Why did you choose to be a researcher?

I was originally an arts journalist and editor and I wanted to be a bit more involved in the arts, so I left to work in arts festivals. I applied for a live events job that was then withdrawn but it got me thinking about arts broadcasting, so I applied for a radio job and worked in arts radio. From there I managed to get a job as a TV arts researcher. So it was the arts element that attracted me, rather than TV itself

What qualifications do you have?

I have a degree in English Literature and I'm trained to use various cameras and sound equipment. My arts journalist background has held me in good stead in terms of arts knowledge and contacts, and for the jobs I have gone for in TV, these have been the most important assets.

What other skills do you need?

You need to be resilient and be able to think on your feet. Anyone that can think of alternative ways of getting things done, from finding a contact for a reclusive author to remembering a cheap location when one falls through at the last minute, will do well!

What’s the best bit about your job?

The best bit about my job is finding out more about the arts I love. Meeting authors and musicians and filming them whilst they explain their art is very rewarding. I also like the craft of television, you can take the raw footage of an interview, edit it well and then illustrate it with clips, stills and music and it can tell you so much more than just reading their words in an article. I also like the variety, if you don't like something, you can work on a different type of programme.

What’s the most difficult thing about your job?

The hierarchical structures - some people treat runners and researchers like dogsbodies which is a very old fashioned and frustrating habit! There’s also the tedium of things like paperwork and checking copyright. Some people don't like the long hours, but that often becomes part of the fun.

Was it hard to get your first job?

It wasn't straightforward, but my lack of television background didn't hold me back. I came into television through my specialism, the arts, and I've met a few other researchers who have done the same, from a former biochemist who now works on science films to a gallery assistant who worked on a modern art series.

What advice would you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

I would say there are essentially two routes into TV. Either you start as a runner and work your way up, or you have a specialism and come in as a researcher using that skill. Either way, watch lots of television and try to get as much experience in seeing it being made as possible. Write to the production manager of your favourite show and ask if there any way you can help out or shadow someone on the team. It's not until you see for yourself how a live programme is made or what actually happens on the shoot that you will understand exactly what you are interested in.

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