Technical Director Ellen Sagun takes us Behind the Scenes at CNN

Technical Director switcher

When you work as a Technical Director in TV, you actually know what all of these buttons do

It’s simple really, getting a college degree doesn’t guarantee a job any more. If you want to work in broadcasting it takes much more than just showing up to class and acing your Mass Media Ethics final to stand out to hiring managers, it takes professional level skills and experience.

“By the time I finished my undergrad degree, I had already been Directing and Technical Directing for three years – sure it was on a small-scale, but it was real experience” recalls CNN International Technical Director Ellen Sagun, ” I had more experience than a lot of other young people just getting out of school and trying to break into the field.

When looking into educational programs, I really encourage looking beyond just what the academic curriculum has to offer.  That’s where I really learned the skills that have helped me land that all-important first job out of college — at CNN, where I still work today.”

Here’s more insight from CNN International Technical Director Ellen Sagun:

Why did you decide to pursue a career in Television Production?

Sagun:  When I was 11 years old I went to MGM Studios in Orlando and saw a behind-the-scenes demonstration of a movie set and I was hooked.  I knew then I wanted to work behind-the-scenes to create pictures on a screen.  After job shadowing at a local television station in junior high school, I knew I wanted the fast pace and excitement of television, as opposed to the post-production of film.

I always pictured myself in an outside-the-box career… literally.  I didn’t want to work in a cubicle box, Monday through Friday, for the rest of my life and television production seemed the exact opposite.  Additionally, I loved the atmosphere involved.  I loved the pace.  I loved the movement.  I loved the immediacy.  And I loved the orchestration of it all.  It seemed like a really complicated dance, trying to pull the elements together and make it look and feel polished.  The added challenge of the live aspect was also appealing to me – the idea that you’ve got one chance to get it right, and move on to the next thing.

Did you have fears it would be tough to land your first TV job?

Sagun: Maybe I was young, naive, and stubborn.  Maybe I got started early enough to build confidence.  But I never really thought that I wouldn’t be able to find a place in television.  I approached every opportunity with the attitude of, “I can do this, I am good at this, and I will succeed at this” rather than doubting myself and my abilities. I still think that way in my career, and it keeps moving me forward!

You went to Ohio University, how well did being a Bobcat prepare you for life in TV?

Sagun: I grew up in Ohio, and had looked at several colleges in the area.  Once I saw the massive building dedicated to television and radio production at Ohio University, I knew that’s where I needed to be.  That program was amazing, because I had so many opportunities to learn OUTSIDE the classroom.  There were several television stations in and around the campus where I was able to get hands-on experience in news, sports, live remotes, post production, and networking. Taking full advantage of those opportunities made all the difference in my college experience, as well as my career.

How did you land your first job in Television?

Sagun: My senior year of college I attended The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas, along with others from my university.  While there, I attended a career fair for jobs in television.  The one table that stood out to me above all the rest was for CNN.  I spent a good bit of time talking to the recruiter there, who was impressed with the level of experience I already had as a college kid in production work. He took my resume and asked me to call him the following week, which I did.  After a few phone conversations I set up a few phone interviews, and was hired before I even graduated college.

A month after graduation I moved from Ohio to Atlanta to work for CNN in an entry-level position.  It took about two years (relatively quick at this company) to move up the ladder to my current position of Technical Director at CNN International.

Now that you are an experienced TV person – what advice would you give someone trying to enter the industry?

Sagun: Take every single opportunity that comes your way!!  And start early.  If you’re still in high school, seek out local people in the business to shadow/mentor with.  If you’re in college, get out of the classroom!  And find opportunities to work and train in real-world environments.  Apply for internships, even if one isn’t required for your college coursework.  Do things you think interest you as a career path, and related things that maybe are less appealing at first – you’d be surprised what you learn about yourself just by trying.

Keep an open mind.  Have a positive attitude.  Be the kind of person you would want to work with on a television crew.  Be respectful.  Be curious.  Never stop learning.  And most of all — relax and enjoy it!  It’s a really cool job!

Actionable Items from Technical Director Ellen Sagun:

  1. Get started early – volunteer or job shadow at TV stations while  in high school, when in college do multiple internships even if it’s not required coursework.
  2. Get real experience outside the classroom. Learn a skill that can be marketed, like: Non-Linear editing, ProSounds Audio Equipment, Grass Valley Switchers,  Directing, Producing, Writing. Separate yourself from the competition.
  3. Attend conferences to start networking. Getting your first job won’t be easy, but if you start making a name for yourself it’ll be easier.
  4. Take every opportunity that comes your way and give it your all.

What other takeaways did you get from this interview?

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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. I’m trying to get started in the TV broadcasting field, I haven’t attended any college courses but I did receive hands on training and have done small studio productions I’m currently at a road block and need some help on what other steps I should take to land a career?

    • Gary – you’ve come to the right place. But first I need you to answer a few more questions – 1: TV Broadcasting is a big field, what do you want to do? 2: What skills do you have so far? 3: What avenues have you tried to get hired? 4: Have you interned anywhere or even volunteered? Answer these questions and I can give you more advice! – Brian

  2. SRINATH R says:

    Hi, i like to work in media. but i don’t know the right place to contact people. Am a basic videographer, i didn’t studied as a course but still my passion made me to learn it. And i volunteered myself in college for big events like culturals, events and all. I have a great interest to be a live event broadcaster than videographing for films. The technical director, mixing kinda words excites me. i aim to become a technical director.. so please guide me what should i do…

  3. Hello,
    I am changing careers after being in the food & bev industry for 20 years. I’d like to get into film and television on the production level. I am taking programming classes and looking into a 3 year degree program that focus’ on engineering (computer & design) and you choose an artistic path. It is a relatively new program at ASU called Digital Culture. I am interested in intricate lighting set-ups, rigs for cameras, special effect software etc. I’m 38 years old and just starting out in Phoenix Arizona. I need real advise.

    • Sounds like you have a good plan Kris – start looking for internships with production companies or volunteer opportunities with a lighting crew. Find the companies that do what you want, and reach out to them for advice and intern opportunity – Brian

  4. I started working as a PA for a local television station. After working there for a year and a half, I went to another TV station where I am both a camera operator, technical director and associate producer. I have been working in broadcast for almost 2.5 years and am still in college where I just got into the professional program of my school. Will my job experience help me with getting a job after I graduate? I haven’t taken an internship yet, but my station manager says I could use my job as an internship. What else can I do to stand out amongst my peers?

    • Mason – YES YES YES. Internships are about getting experience you can place on your resume, it’s not the internship you need it’s the experience, and you have that! Your resume upon graduation will state that you have worked as a PA, Camera op TD and associate producer – no one will look and say “Yeah but where are his internships?!” You are doing it better than most Mason keep it up! Brian

      • Mason C Birgenheier says:

        Hey Brian,

        It’s been a while since I have revisited this thread. I am going to into my last year in school and have still been working in the production side of news media. I am nervous for I only have so much time til I graduate and enter the ‘real world’. I am still gaining experience, but really what I would like to have happen is get a solid grasp of my future job prospects. Since last year, I have received two scholarships; one I received through the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (The Emmy Foundation-NATAS-Northwest Chapter) and the other through the Montana Broadcasters Association (Joe Durso Jr. Award Scholarship). I guess what my question is.. What is the likelihood of landing a decent (full-time preferably) job upon graduation? Hope to hear back from you soon!

        -Mason

        • So much of it depends on where you are and where you are willing to be. You may need to relocate for the perfect job, or even just a decent one. It sounds like you have good qualifications and have honed your skills – good people find good jobs. Are you based in Montana – if so I have a good person to contact for you. Brian

          • Mason C Birgenheier says:

            Brian,

            I am definitely considering moving somewhere else after I recieve my degree. And yes, I am based out of Montana right now (Missoula to be exact) Thanks for responding!

            -Mason

  5. Hello Brian,

    It was an interesting article about how technical directing is working in the USA. I’m from Hungary, I’m working as a technical director for Hungarian TV channels for years. I’d like to try out my skills in international environment. What do you advice, on which sites could I look after technical director jobs in the USA? Thank you so much!

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