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!Is the Control Room in Television the Right Place for you? #tvjobs Click To Tweet
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 AreaEntertainment Jobs Q&A: Is a job in a TV control room my perfect career match? #tvjobs Click To Tweet
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.
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!