Entertainment Jobs Q&A: Is the Control Room in Television the Right Place for me?

working in a TV control room

As a Technical Director in the control room of a TV operation, you know what all of these buttons do

The television control room is the nerve center of the entire operation. What appears so organized and controlled on your screen, is in fact orchestrated chaos that to the outsider appears to be tumbling out of control in manic fashion.

This is what draws so many to the television industry. Some deeply recessive DNA strain of our personality that not only survives but thrives under stressful conditions, much like a cockroach.

I say that lovingly as a TV veteran.

This week’s Entertainment Jobs Q&A comes from Mark Morse, Mark wants to better understand what happens in that crazy control room and if his natural personality could be a match for any of those roles.

If you have a question for an upcoming Entertainment Jobs Q&A just add it to the comments below and we will be all over it!

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The Q:

After returning from Iraq with the Marine Corps and graduating from The College of Charleston in ’92 I moved to Chicago to work on the Trading floor of the CME. I found the absolute perfect job for me. Fast paced, high stress, attention to detail and customer service/relationship building skills were a perfect fit for my personality and I quickly succeeded. I have always wondered if those same skills would serve me well in the room with all the camera shots where they yell, Go to 4, zoom in on the guy in the hat, now 7, etc…What is that? Am I correct in my assumption that could be a good use of my skill set? I would love to hear your thoughts. I have been following you on Work in Entertainment for about a year and find your advice informative and non-condescending. I hope we get a chance to speak? Thanks Brian! 

Mark in Chicago Area

Entertainment Jobs Q&A: Is a job in a TV control room my perfect career match? #tvjobs Click To Tweet

The A:

First off Mark, thank you for your service to our country, my father fought in Vietnam so I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line for our freedom.

I’m also very impressed that you were able to transition so well from your military experience into the financial world, I know many who after their military career finishes get stuck answering the question….what now? It’s enlightening to see how you figured that next career step out.

Now let’s talk TV!


The person that yells out, as you put it, “zoom in on the guy with the hat” is the Director, and the room they ply their trade in is the Control Room. I’ve spent half of my career in these rooms so I can tell you honestly, we grizzled TV veterans often remark that it is similar to what we imagine the trading floor to be on the stock exchange.

In a Control Room there is incredible urgency, pace and more blinking lights than Vegas – but it’s more controlled than you would imagine, everyone in the room has a role and if you know what to look for it’s like a symphony being conducted by a master.

Whenever I used to bring people in for a tour of our control room at CNN, they would look at me in amazement as if to say, “I don’t even know where to look! There is so much going on, how do you survive in this?” And again, once you are able to break it down into the most important pieces, it becomes much easier.

This is a long way of saying you have the right traits in place to survive in this environment, but there are specific skills that you need to develop. Being a Director isn’t an entry level job, there are steps to get there.

entertainment careers in television

First is a Technical Education

Directors have to know every role, not necessarily as the master of each, but understand the function, operations and capabilities very well. This starts with education – so look into junior colleges or technical/trade schools, many have programs in the specifics of television production.

In addition, these schools will have employment pipelines to local TV stations, which is a huge advantage of going back to school. I know when I was the News Director at Fox Sports Northwest we had a few local trade schools and community colleges that would send us over interns and entry level employees that were all very capable and well-trained.

The Path To Director

As I mentioned earlier, Director is not a first step on the operations side of television. Usually, one of the other jobs in the room like Audio, Playback, Graphics, Camera etc are the more logical starting points. But, if you want to be a Director the best training is as a Technical Director.

If you aim to be a TV director start out mastering the role of Technical Director #tvjobs Click To Tweet

A Technical Director turns the Directors words into action.

For example – when a Director says. “Ready Camera 3, Take Camera 3”

The “ready” call is to alert the camera operator we are coming your way, the “take” call is to tell the Technical Director to actually push the button that activates the camera on the program monitor (what goes out on the broadcast).

The Technical Director (TD) sits in front of the aptly named switcher, to physically change what the viewer sees at home.  Graphics Operators create the graphics, the TD puts them on the screen. The playback operator gets each piece of video ready, the TD actually makes it play on the screen.

See the pattern?

Technical Director is a great training ground for being a Director because it teaches you the entire pattern and flow of a show. Learn the skills, apply them in the workplace and advancement to Director so you can ‘zoom in on the guy with the hat’ can be within reach.

If you have other advice for Mark or have a question you’d like us to answer in an upcoming Entertainment Jobs Q&A just add it to the comments below!

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Comments

  1. Dear Q&A,

    What area is the best to get the foot in the door in Television career especially for international applicant from overseas?

    Thanks,
    Hadi Partovifar

    • That depends on your skills Hadi – if you have a background in sales working as a sales assistant or account executive is a great way to break in — if you have a background in video editing and production, production assistant is a great way to break in — if you have a background in marketing, promotions assistant is a great way to break in. It depends on you! – Brian

  2. GREGORY GRIFFITH says:

    I HAVE A B.A. IN TV PRODUCTION FROM COLUMBIA COLLEGE IN CHICAGO. MY BIG DREAM WAS TO BE A TECHNICAL DIRECTOR . MY BIGGEST PROBLEM IS I ALSO HAVE A DISABILITY OF CEREBRAL PALSY WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL STILL DID EVERYTHING REQUIORED TO PASS ALL THE REQUIREMENTS. I ESPECIALLY LIKE TECHNICAL DIRECTOR.
    AFTER GRADUATING I WAS NEVER ABLE TO GET A JOB WORKING THE SWITCHER EVEN AFTER EARNING MY FCC 1ST CLASS RADIOTELEPHIONE LICENSE WHICH MEANT
    I WAS KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT ELECTRONICS , OPERATING TRANSMITTERS,SWITCHERS AND SOUND EQUIPTMENT. I EVEN CAME EQUIPPED WITH
    BEING ABLE TO REAPAIR ELECTRONIC DEVICES.
    MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WAS CONVINCING TV AND RADIO STATIONS THAT I COULD DO THE JOB I WANTED BECAUSE OF MY DISABILITY OF CEREBRAL PALSY. BECAUSE I WALK FUNNY I COULD NOT GET THE JOB WORKING A SWITCHER. EVERY EMPLOYER HAD AN EXCUSE NOT TO HIRE ME
    IF MEMORY SERVES ME CORRECTLY WHEN YOU WORK A SWITCHER YOU HAVE TO SIT DOWN TO DO IT.
    MY DISABILITY KEEPS ME FROM GOING ON A ROOF OR RUNNING UP A FLIGHT OF STAIRS WITH A TV CAMERA , EVEN THOUGH I KNOW HOW TO OPERATE THE CAMERA.
    NOW I’M OLDER AND STILL HAVE THE DREAM OF BEING A TV DIRECTOR .
    IN ADDITION TO MY PHYSICAL PROBLEMS I CAN NOW ADD MY AGE.
    ALSO MY BEST FRIEND ADDS MY SKIN COLOR BECAUSE IN THE SEVENTIES AND EIGHTIES BEING BLACK WAS NOT AN ASSET.
    AT ANY RATE I FEEL AMERICA NEEDS TO MAKE USE OF DISABLED PEOPLE IN TELEVISION INSTEAD OF TRYING TO HIDE US OR GWET RID OF US LIKE A PLAGUE.
    CAN YOU GIVE ADVICE REGARDING THIS FIELD OF TELEVISION TO SOMEONE DISABLED?.

    • Greg you are 100% right, your disability shouldn’t affect your ability to do that job and it is sad that TV station managers haven’t had the sense to hire you for a role you are capable of completing. Where are you now, still in Chicago area? – Brian

  3. Hi Brian,
    Im all over the place, but I have a passion and a gift for the media industry. I go to every film or television workshops and events in New York City. I applied to serveral job opportunities but I never landed a job and sort of gave up hope. I would take an entry level job but unfortunately the school that I attended really didn’t prepare me enough. I love television and I continue to write treatments on my spare time. With that being said what do you suggest I do? Lisa

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