Unscripted TV

Assistant producer

Also known as: AP, Shooting AP

Assistant producer

What does an assistant producer do?

Despite the name, assistant producers (APs) in unscripted TV are not exactly producers’ assistants. They are more like junior producers – doing similar work to a producer, creating programme content, but without the final say on the big decisions.

The role is the next step up from researcher and they continue to do research work. APs come up with ideas for programmes, write research briefs and plan and assist with filming, ensuring all the paperwork is complete and filed. Depending on the programme, they may also write short scripts. 

Some assistant producers are more like junior directors, in that they often assist on shoots by operating a smaller digital camera. If they shoot, they are known as ‘shooting APs’. They could be working with a producer director and providing alternative shots on a second camera, such as filming a chef’s hands as they cook while the producer director shoots on a big wide shot. Or they could be filming ‘recce’ footage of locations or interviewing potential new experts. A well-shot recce tape can help the director and producer plan the shoot. They also cut this material to show to a series producer.

Assistant producers are mainly freelance and work from project to project, although they are occasionally staff within ongoing productions such as news or sport. Some APs also specialise in certain areas of production, such as casting, where they could be looking for shoppers for a consumer series or participants for a reality show.

Watch and read

What’s an assistant producer good at?

  • Creativity: come up with original ideas for programming, know how to craft a story
  • Writing: create concise and factual documents that present your research clearly
  • Technical knowledge: know how to operate digital cameras, understand the basics of lighting and sound, use various software packages for editing and presentation
  • Organisation: work to a tight and evolving schedule to ensure everything the production needs is sourced, written, shot and edited
  • Understanding rights: know the different permissions and rights needed to use different materials, access different locations and film individuals

Who does an assistant producer work with?

Assistant producers work directly to series producers and producers and manage researchers and runners. When filming, they work with production management, crews, presenters and contributors.

How do I become an assistant producer?

Most APs start work as a runner or personal assistant and work their way up to become a researcher before then becoming an AP. Screen Scotland has set up a TV Researcher Programme, a 10-month paid training scheme.

At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in English and media studies. Or you might just want to study whatever interests you most.

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. Some of the major broadcasters offer apprenticeships. Check out the schemes with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky.

If you can’t get an apprenticeship with a broadcaster, it might be worth trying to find one outside the TV industry, where you can develop your skills and your craft. You can then move into TV at a later point.

These are the relevant apprenticeships that might be available:

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will give you the skills you want. Go to where can I find an apprenticeship? to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region, or approach companies directly.

Get a degree:
You don’t need a degree to be an AP, but it may be beneficial to have one relating to TV production. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV or search for "TV production". We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the unscripted TV industry. You may also consider a degree in broadcasting, communications or journalism.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.

Look outside the industry:
Look for opportunities in project management roles that will highlight and develop your strengths in organisation, communication and problem solving.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in producing by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in producing.

Network:
Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to the head of talent. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in…

Being a producer, producer director, director or a specialised producer in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a producer in the film and TV drama industries, a games producer in the games industry or a producer in the animation industry.

Further resources