Andrew Bullock, BA English with North American Study (2006), has worked with celebrities such as Sir Michael Parkinson, Claudia Winkleman, Dominic Littlewood, Ellie Goulding, Katie Price, Ant & Dec to name but a few.

Volunteering in the Spotlight: Andrew Bullock

Last year 697 Exeter alumni volunteered their time to help current students. This took many forms, from giving a careers talk, to providing a profile, hosting practice job interviews, to one to one mentoring. We want to thank each and every volunteer for their generosity.

In this new feature we hear from some of the volunteers with their stories. This month it’s the turn of television producer Andrew Bullock:

What do you do and where do you work?

The main show I am working on is called “Parkinson: Masterclass” for Sky Arts HD. This is an in-depth interview show with various figures from the arts world. As associate producer, I book guests onto the show and then work closely with them and the host of the show, Michael Parkinson, to design the layout of each episode. I will be in charge of a certain amount of episodes per series – I will write in-depth biographies of the celebrity guest and provide them to Michael, and spend time with him going through the structure of the interview. Meanwhile, I will work simultaneously with the guest, going through what they would like to bring to the show. For example, one guest on the current series is Ellie Goulding, who I will pre-interview and talk to about what she would like to perform, demonstrate and talk about on the show. On the day of the shoot, I will spend the day in the studio overseeing the episode.

I am also just done producing a competition-style show for BBC2, which sees me prepare the tasks for the contestants in advance. On the day of the record, I will again oversee this, look after the contestants and be assigned a camera crew who will shadow me as I film individual contestants as they compete, with the objective of getting all the “good stuff” on camera.

How did you get into working in TV?

In television and film, and most media in fact, it’s always beneficial to try getting some initial experience, if only to make contacts. However, jobs in TV are very much “start from the bottom and learn as you climb your way to the top” type of jobs. So if you start without any experience, you’ll then gain it and learn as you go.

It can be a tough industry and you need thick skin. Perseverance is essential because at the start you will often have to hound and pester a few people to get noticed or to retain a position in the business. There are egos flying around everywhere in the media so you need to be willing to pander to a lot of these egos when you start. After that, just be enthusiastic, hardworking and keen, and you’ll go far. The hours can be long at times, so that’s something you’ll need to be able to deal with. It all depends on what role you want and what kind of programming you are keen to work on.

What’s it like working as a Producer?

It’s an exciting industry. You get to meet amazing people – in the form of celebrities and media figures you respect, and also in the form of the people you will work with. Most people who work in TV are a lot of fun, and there’s a great social aspect to it. The work can be rewarding and enjoyable, but it can be tough too. Seeing your name on the credits is always fun! If you love the media, you will just find that a job in the industry is a perk in itself.

What are your top tips for getting into working in TV?

  • DO – Be ridiculously persistent.
  • DO – List any experience you have. Anything at all. If you did a radio show at Uni, tell them that. Above all, show enthusiasm. And don’t be afraid to be cut throat. There are a lot of people clawing to get a job in the media, so make sure you push your way to the front of the line.
  • DO – Make yourself stand out. It’s so easy these days to self-publicise online. Create a website. Write a blog. Post your video-work on YouTube. Send potential employers the links to these.
  • DO – Be aware that your first contract may only be for a few months. Take it, and use it to prove why they should keep you on, extend your contract, promote you, use you for another production or ask you back in the future.
  • DON’T get annoying by sending rambling emails but do pester people. Be concise when you chase people and email people showing an interest in what they do. Be able to prove you know what you’re talking about. Mention people that you know in common and who can recommend you. If you send a CV and are ignored, chase it with an email. Then another. Then call them. It will be worth it when you get the job because things generally can take off from there and no one remembers that you got the job by phoning and chasing it persistently.
  • DON’T – Go into the media thinking you’re the bee’s knees or that you can start at researcher or producer level. Chances are you’re going to get hired as a runner and you will have to get people cups of tea. It’s not fun at the bottom and you don’t want to make it worse by acting like you deserve better. You DO deserve better, but there are people in the industry above you who will treat you as a dogsbody and you will have to deal with it. It’s harsh but true unfortunately. It gets a lot better and the nice, friendly, enthusiastic runners will propel quicker and further than the disgruntled, whiny ones.
  • DON’T – Give up. If you really want to work in the media, keep persevering and you will get there. Take long hours and diva celebrities on the chin and soon you’ll be producing shows and working WITH these celebrities and it will all be a lot more enjoyable.
  • DON’T – Be put off by me talking about the pros and cons. Working in the media is great and rewarding and now that the industry is so multi-layered with online content, editorial work, TV, film radio and even stage production, you will find an area you love and surely do well in it.

Any funny stories from your time working in TV?

The most embarrassing thing that has happened to me, by far, was when I met Victoria Wood at a BAFTA party. I've always loved her and think her TV work and writing is amazing, and so I jumped at the chance to speak to her. Unfortunately I talked AT her, rambling on about how much of a fan I was. I then panicked she would think I was a nutcase so I assured her that I worked on the production, reaching for the ID around my neck but accidentally grabbing my tie and waving it about in front of her nose. She must have thought I was categorically insane.

Do you get to meet lots of celebrities?

It sounds a bit rubbish, but the nature of working in the media is that you do meet a lot of celebs. I have worked closely on productions with the likes of Sir Michael Parkinson (from who I learnt a lot, given that he's a TV veteran), Claudia Winkleman, Dominic Littlewood, Ellie Goulding, Katie Price, Ant & Dec, Joanna Lumley and Terry Wogan. Amongst these I have met several others. Working on the Parkinson show obviously meant I saw a lot of well-known faces come through that studio. I particularly enjoyed meeting French & Saunders, Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham, Judi Dench and Dame Edna (who does not turn back into Barry Humphries when she steps off the stage! Instead she has to go to her dressing room and de-Edna herself)

Tell me a bit about your freelance work

I've taken on a lot of freelance writing gigs on the side. This is good because it's something I always hoped I'd do alongside TV. I write for various online publications, websites and blogs and run my own blog. It's great because you can earn a bit of extra cash on the side but if you've got writing deadlines due on the evening of a long day working on a TV show, it can be tiring. On the other hand, television work is freelance by nature anyway, and contracts often come in different varieties. This year I've been lucky, in that I had six month contract with Sky for the first half of the year and another one with Channel 5 for the second half. But sometimes, if you land a short three week contract, the writing work is a good way to tide you over. I love all aspects of the media and I enjoy being creative, whether it’s in a TV studio or at the keys of a computer.

And finally, what inspires you to volunteer so much of your time to help Exeter students?

I think it’s important to be there to guide any students who want to get into the industry you work in. When I've been back to Exeter and chatted to media students, looking to get into TV, film and so forth, I always find that they're interested to hear some insider info, so that they're fully prepared. Most of all, I like to go back to Exeter and see the place. It's an excuse to re-live the years I had there, even if just for one day. I had an awesome time at Exeter and when I get asked back I really enjoy seeing what the students are up to. Last time I was on campus, last summer, there were so many changes that were pretty exciting to see. I spent an arts day with media students and watched a drama showcase afternoon, which was amazing.

Date: 8 January 2014

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