Unscripted TV

Spark

Also known as: Electrician

Spark

What does a spark do?

Sparks look after all the electrical equipment needed to make a TV show, in particular the lighting. They help plan it. They rig (set it up). They operate it, maintain it and de-rig.  

During the planning stage of a programme, sparks assess what’s needed and specify what crew are required. They set it up and make sure all electrical equipment is working safely throughout the production. This might involve testing, cleaning and repairing equipment and writing dimmers and circuit boards. 

Sparks are in charge of the generators and running cables to the shooting locations. They will also monitor electricity usage during shooting to see if additional power resources are needed. During filming, they work with the lighting director (LD) and camera operators to position the lights and make sure they achieve the desired effect, softening or sharpening the lighting as required. They may operate lighting consoles on some productions.   

Sparks tend to work freelance.  

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What’s an electrician good at?

  • Electrical knowledge: have official electrical qualifications and a thorough knowledge and understanding of circuits, power supplies, motors, cables, fuses, thermal relays, fault current protection switches, heating, air conditioning and more 
  • Lighting skills: a good eye for colour, able to use all lighting equipment and aware of what can and can’t be achieved at different locations 
  • Communication: take direction well and work effectively within a team  
  • Health and safety: know health and safety issues including legal requirements, have strong attention to detail 
  • Manual dexterity:  be able to do a physically demanding, hands-on job, sometimes at heights, and work long hours  

Who does a spark work with?

Sparks often work under a senior electrician (gaffer) and communicate closely with any other electricians on the team, as well as lighting directors, camera operators and directors. On large productions with lots of lights and LED video projection, there will be a team of electricians working under a senior electrician. On smaller shows, the camera department might be responsible for the lighting and other electrical equipment.

How do I become an electrician? 

To be an electrician on a TV set you need electrical qualifications. You also need to be able to demonstrate creativity and an interest in and understanding of the unscripted TV industry. You might get your first job in the industry as a kit room assistant. 

At school or college:  
You can take A-levels or Highers in maths and sciences. 

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

  • BTEC Diploma/Extended Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering 
  • City & Guilds Advanced Technical Diploma in Electrical Installation 
  • EAL Diploma/Advanced Diploma in Electrical Installation 

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 throughout the UK: 

In England, there’s also a Level 3 apprenticeship as a Creative Venue Technician in which you learn to become competent in lighting, audio and video for performing arts. 

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 to go to university to become an electrician, but if you want a degree you could either study electrical engineering and learn about making films alongside that, or you could study TV production and qualify as an electrician as you do.Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV. 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 on a TV set 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:  
Electricians are needed across many different industries in industrial, commercial and domestic environments. You can gain experience of working as an electrician in another industry that you can later transfer to a role in unscripted TV.  

Take a short course:  
Hone your skills by taking a specialist course.Go to the list oftraining courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in lighting or electrics. 

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 Screen,Northern Ireland Screenand 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 gaffer or a lighting trainee in the film and TV drama industry.

Further Resources