Unscripted TV


Also known as: Electrician


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 the equipment and rig (meaning set it up). They also operate equipment, maintain it and de-rig (put everything away).  

During the planning stage of a programme, sparks assess the kit. 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 that power the outside broadcast vehicles and location lighting. They also monitor electricity usage during shooting to see if additional power resources are needed. Whether on a live outside broadcast or recorded studio show, 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.  

Watch and read

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:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn while you learn. In the past, it has been challenging to find jobs as an apprentice within production companies, although there is now a creative venue technician apprenticeship standard, with a specific pathway designed for people working as trainee lighting technicians. It might also be worth looking for a job as an apprentice that will give you a qualification as a domestic or commercial electrician.  This will make you handy on film sets at a later point.

Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in television. 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 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, 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 of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in lighting or electrics. 

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 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 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 gaffer or a lighting trainee in the film and TV drama industry.

Further Resources