A runner is a general assistant on the production set for theatre performances, TV shows or motion pictures. It is the entry-level film industry job
The runner on a film set is the most junior position in the whole media production process. The role encompasses a variety of day-to-day tasks: tasks that although they are often not directly linked to the production, their contribution allows industry professionals to do their job effectively as the runner supports them. The tasks could include things like moving props, making tea, sourcing food for the production staff, cleaning, completing light maintenance or simple repairs to equipment, handling simple phone calls and assisting high-level production staff with anything they may ask for.
Whilst the role is seen as a very entry-level grade job on account of its “dogsbody” connotations, it provides an excellent way for unskilled candidates to begin working on a film set. From here, they open up the possibilities of being in close proximity with producers, writers, actors and other industry professionals who may be seeking assistance with larger projects. Famous film director, Quentin Tarantino, famously worked as a runner in Hollywood before going on to produce major motion pictures. In his biography, “Shooting From The Hip”, his tasks notably included menial chores such as cleaning animal droppings from the lawn of a house which was being used to film a TV show. However, it was a key moment which allowed him (and thousands of others) to progress to more coveted roles in film and television.
Salary is very modest in terms of the media industry. Typical rates of pay for runners working on UK productions are £40-£60 per day, depending on the size of the production and its total budget. It is definitely a part-time job to begin with, and for this reason, it primarily attracts young candidates who can fit the job around their school and college commitments. The job will sometimes be unpaid in the very first instance, but it still provides a useful stepping stone for career betterment in media.
- Arrive on set at the right time
- Have a can-do attitude, and be prepared to assist with a variety of duties
- Ensure the production crew are supported as they go about their jobs
- Undertake all reasonable tasks to ensure the comfort and convenience of those working on set
There are no academic barriers to entry. This is the main reason why it attracts candidates who are unskilled or have no industry experience. GCSEs and A levels demonstrate that the candidate has a willingness to learn, the ability to solve problems and to understand instructions.
- A willing and friendly attitude
- An enthusiastic approach to hard work
- Be able to work for long hours during the production, as this can entail 12-hour working days
- Thorough understanding of the demands of production staff, and how to provide for them, within reason
- Flexible nature and a willingness to travel and work weekends
A film set is a hot, time-pressured, ego-sensitive arena of stress and unpredictability, and whilst the runner is not directly involved with delivering the complete production, they must understand that they contribute indirectly, and so are subject to the same rigours. They are able to influence the success of the production by providing top-notch support to those who are trying to complete the filming successfully, and for that reason, they may often take some flack when things become difficult on set.
Working as a runner on a film set is a perfect entry-level position for someone trying to break into media; it puts the candidate into immediate proximity to industry professionals, and does not require qualifications or experience for the most part. It allows the candidate the chance to see how films are put together, who is involved in the process, and how each team member plays a large part. It is also very beneficial in opening up a new network of potential employers and new contacts.
Whilst the role of runner is seen as the very first stepping stone in a media production career, some choose to remain in the role and grow their reputation as a runner on major productions. There are several (UK and US-based) web sites where runners offer each other encouragement and swap work assignments. For most candidates, it is a means to an end: a chance to meet the people who can offer the opportunity to develop professionally into media production specialists in whatever field the candidate may be considering.
Pinewood Studios is the UK’s most renowned media production facility, with its own dedicated runners who are employed full-time. For the most part, and certainly in the first instance, the runner will be working with small independent production companies on an ad hoc basis.
Joe Cox is an A-level graduate who has worked as a runner on several film productions. She hopes that it will provide her with a suitable stepping stone as she begins working professionally in the British film industry.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I wanted to be an actress, but I was terrible at drama by my own admission. And so I did the next best thing, which was to work behind the camera. The first stepping stone, and a popular one for many new entrants, is to work as a runner on a film production.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
No! Definitely not. The scope of the work means you could be doing absolutely anything. Hours can range from an occasional 9-5 working day (what most people would deem as standard) up to all day and night filming - whatever it takes for the work to be complete. What happens on a day-to-day basis changes all the time, and so no day is the same. It is extremely varied and it definitely gets the adrenalin pumping!
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Taking up any role when needed. You have to be flexible and prepared to work hard; that work could be anything, in truth. And live television is the hardest, especially when working with producing the news. This is due to stories forever changing, and the stress of the potential for something going wrong on live television; there is no editing - everyone will see the mistake and so it must be perfect. You only get one shot.
What do you like most about the job?
The adrenaline and excitement that comes with the daily challenge of not knowing what will happen, and so you have to think and act very quickly. You have to be able and willing to improvise, adapt and overcome problems as they crop up.
What do you like least about the job?
It can take over your family and social life. Also, the runner’s job can include menial or unpleasant tasks, and as the entry-level body on the film set, it’s up to you to do them without complaining.
What are the key responsibilities?
Being on time! Also, you must be reliable, enthusiastic, and not afraid to get stuck in. You need to carry out your role to a high standard, work well as part of a team, and have a general will to do your best. If you have the appropriate mindset, it is similar to many jobs in this respect.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
I guess GCSE’s and A Levels show you have some form of rudimentary education, but a degree is definitely not necessary at this entry point.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
I’m reluctant to supply a universal answer to this one, as you usually start by volunteering and make your way up from there. I don’t think the pay is particularly brilliant considering the work and hours you have to put in.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Take any opportunity you have. This will get you noticed! Be determined, don’t give up and be prepared to work for free at the beginning, doing the jobs no one else wants to do. It will help you in the long run.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
Team work and enthusiasm. Being able to show willing and never stop working hard.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
Never give up if it’s what you want to do! Working as a runner will open up the film industry, even if you do not have strong academic qualifications or a sophisticated network. It’s the job that opens doors, so play the long game.