Unscripted TV

Series director

Also known as: Multi-camera director, Studio director

Series director

What does a series director do?

Series directors are responsible for how an entire series of programmes looks. They work on big-budget, multi-camera programmes, either in the studio or on outside broadcasts. A multi-camera production is one in which there are many cameras filming the programme. On average, there are five, but there can be as many as 20 for something like a royal wedding. The series director works in the gallery, instructing the crew and selecting the shots, a bit like the conductor of an orchestra.

A series director has an initial meeting with the series producer to acquaint themselves with the content. If they’re creating a new series, they then work up a suggested visual style that complements and enhances the editorial, often creating mood boards with set styles, colour combinations, textures and lighting. Once a look has been agreed, they use their contacts and experience to help recruit the best possible crew for the job. They often approach production designers, camera supervisors, lighting directors and vision mixers they’ve worked with in the past.

If a show is in a studio, series directors oversee the build and construction of a new set, or any changes made to an established one. If a show is to be shot elsewhere (inside a theatre, for example), they are involved in signing off location choices. Series directors also lead decisions on all visual aspects of a show, from graphics to costume and large props. They advise the production on the number of crew required and their positions on the set, and they prepare all rehearsal and filming schedules. Before a show is filmed, series directors hold a planning meeting with the heads of all departments to go over the technical demands of the series and ensure they have all the crew and equipment required.

Once in production, all crew take instruction from the series director over ‘talk back’ (a system that enables the director to talk to them while they film). The series director is also responsible for communicating with the presenters and ensuring they are aware of what’s happening next. They need to clearly communicate with everyone and are responsible for creating a good working environment and smooth production.

Series directors are almost always freelance, unless working for a very long-term production, and often specialise in certain genres, such as sport or entertainment.

Watch and read

What's a series director good at?

  • Photography: have a good eye and understanding of composition, light, colour, texture, focus and framing, be skilled at establishing a style for a production
  • Technical knowledge of cameras: stay up-to-date with the latest technology, have an in-depth understanding of how all camera and lighting equipment works, select the best options for different productions  
  • Multi-tasking: be simultaneously across multiple camera shots, lighting and sound issues, whilst liaising with the presenters and series producer
  • Leadership: prioritise and make quick, effective decisions, communicate and give instructions effectively, make good judgement calls, have a good understanding of all crew roles 
  • Contacts: have a large contacts book and recruit the best crew for the job, have excellent established relationships with production companies, studios, crews, presenters, producers and TV commissioners 

Who does a series director work with?

Series directors work directly to the show’s executive producer. They work closely with the series producer to understand the content of the show, and with production management regarding scheduling and spending. They have regular meetings at all stages of production. Day-to-day, they work with the presenters, the production team and crew across all departments. 

How do I become a series director?

Series director is a very senior role. Series directors almost always have previous experience as a director or producer director. A good route to this role is to start as a runner and then become a camera assistant. You can then work your way up to camera operator before becoming a director or producer director and then moving up to series director.

At school or college:
You can A-levels or Highers in any subject you enjoy, but art, art and design, photography, media studies, English or film studies are all useful.

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
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)

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 these schemes:

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 throughout the UK:

You might be able to find degree-level apprenticeships through the following standard:

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 a series director, but you might want one. If you want a degree that is particularly related to the TV industry, have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV or search for "directing unscripted". 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.

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, and Sky.

More specifically, you may wish to consider:

Look outside the industry:
Managing a large team, working to fluid and evolving deadlines, dealing with sudden changes in the working environment – these are all skills a series director needs, and skills that you can enhance away from TV. If you’re on the outside looking in, consider roles within events or stage management to demonstrate your ability to cope under pressure.

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

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 production manager. 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 series producer in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a director or editor in the film and TV drama industry.

Further resources