Unscripted TV

Series director

Also known as: Studio director, Multi-camera 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 programmes, ranging from live multi-camera shows to documentaries.

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, using colour, textures and lighting.  They lead in decision-making on all visual aspects of a show, from graphics to large props.  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 to be shot on location, they are involved in signing off location choices.  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.

During production, series directors are responsible for communicating what they want to achieve with the camera operators, presenters and crew.  If it’s a multi-camera show, they direct from the gallery, like a multi-camera director.

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  
  • 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 
  • Multi-tasking: in live multi-camera progammes, be simultaneously across multiple camera shots, lighting and sound issues, whilst liaising with the presenters and series producer

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:
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 a studio photography, 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 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