Unscripted TV

Producer (Unscripted TV)

Producer (Unscripted TV)

What does a producer do?

Producers are storytellers. They use their experience and skills to tell stories in the programmes they make. Some producers make an entire programme. Others make parts of shows, like a short film or a live insert in a news programme. Whether working on a sporting event, like a marathon, or an entertainment show featuring celebrities, their role is to take the viewer on a journey with a beginning, middle and end.

Whatever genre they work in, producers need to be full of ideas, skilled at creating content and ensuring that whatever information they feature is factually correct. They attend all filming and often produce the edits.

Producers do all the pre-production in the office and usually manage a team of assistant producers and researchers. The producer leads the search for the material they need, such as factual information, locations, props, archive material and people. When there are a lot of people to find to take part in a show, a production often employs a casting producer. If there are lots of celebrities, they may bring in a celebrity producer. Producers need to be good communicators to ensure everyone is working towards the same end and are responsible for creating a good working environment and smooth production.

During filming, producers work closely with the directors and oversee the final filming, either in a studio or on location. Depending on the type and size of the production, they may be the only producer working with a director. If a producer is making an entire show, they create a running order detailing the structure of the final programme and work with the director to create a schedule. Producers write the scripts. If there are presenters, they work with them on their delivery when filming. On the day of recording or live transmission, producers work closely with the multi-camera director in the gallery, being on hand to deal with urgent content issues, such as correcting a mistake made by a presenter.

On a documentary, if there are no presenters, producers may interview people themselves (cutting out their questions in the edit). A producer is responsible for making sure that any contributor is clear about their involvement in a programme.

Some producers go into an edit to edit their material, while others specialise and become edit producers, working solely in an edit suite. Other producers may specialise in certain areas, working as an archive, edit, or a casting, celebritygames or question (quiz) producer. Producers are almost always freelance, unless working for a very long-term production.

What’s a producer good at?

  • Storytelling: recognise a good story and find the best way to tell it, look for new and original angles, think laterally and be ambitious
  • Communication: express ideas and give instructions clearly, convey what you need from the people you are working with, know how to bring out the best in them
  • Writing: write clear, compelling and factually correct scripts for filming and edits, consider the intended audience and the person who will be delivering it on screen
  • Adaptability: work well in challenging and changeable environments, problem solve on the go, make quick effective decisions and be able to prioritise
  • Caring: take responsibility for the wellbeing of those involved, consider health and safety, be aware of factors that may impact on any part of the production

Who does a producer work with?

Producers work directly under the series producer and during filming work with a director and crew, managing any presenters or contributors. If they work on studio shows, they may well produce alongside the director from the gallery on the studio floor. Day-to-day, they manage a team of assistant producers and researchers and liaise with production management regarding scheduling, locations and health and safety.

How do I become a producer?

Producers tend to come up through working in different positions in editorial teams, first working as a researcher in this department and then as an assistant producer before becoming a producer. You can get work as a runner or personal assistant as a point of entry into unscripted TV and gain experience. 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:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. It can also be a good way of getting into the TV industry. Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in television. If you can’t find a role in TV, it might be worth finding on in a related industry such as theatre, journalism or video production. This will give you skills that you can then transfer into TV at a later point. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly.

Get a degree:
You don’t need a degree to be a TV producer. If you want one, it may be beneficial to have a degree 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, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.

Look outside the industry:
If you can’t get a role in TV straightaway, look for opportunities in journalism or digital media production. Many organisations with good websites need people in these roles. This will give you the opportunity to hone your skills in storytelling and collaboration. You can transfer these skills into unscripted TV at a later point.

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.

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 director, specialist producer or series 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