A runner is an entry-level position, the most junior role in the production department of a broadcast, film or video company. There is no single job description as runners act as general assistants and undertake whatever basic tasks are required to ensure the smooth running of the production process. Runners’ general responsibilities include tea making, transporting scripts and hire equipment, taking messages, looking after guests and getting everything in place for shoots.
This role offers the opportunity to gain vital experience and knowledge of the production process, offering valuable networking opportunities, and is often seen as the first step on the ladder for people aspiring to roles in broadcasting media.
The work of a runner varies widely but may include the following tasks:
- fetching and carrying items, such as equipment, tapes, cable and scripts;
- transporting cast, crew and production staff between offices, studios and shoot locations;
- driving cars, vans or trucks between locations and around sets;
- helping set up a location for a shoot;
- keeping the set clean and tidy;
- handing out post and messages to colleagues within the production team;
- delivering post to local clients;
- undertaking basic research;
- answering the telephone;
- photocopying and undertaking general administrative work;
- taking care of petty cash;
- looking after studio guests;
- hiring props;
- making arrangements for staff on location, such as booking meeting rooms or ordering food;
- transcribing production tapes;
- picking up cast for make-up calls;
- ordering stock;
- making and handing out tea, coffee and lunches;
- sorting out the kit bags, for example checking that the camera bag contains all the necessary items;
- writing down shot lists;
- using maps, tapes and clapper boards, and other film and television production equipment.
Typically, new entrants to the broadcast production industry will gain relevant experience through short periods of unpaid work experience. From this they are likely to move into their first paid job as a runner. There is no set time for how long you can expect to work as a runner, but you may well be in post for two years before getting a real break, and some employers, particularly in film, feel that two to three years is the norm to gain adequate experience. Having learnt the basics and gained exposure to a wide range of production areas, you can then decide which area you are interested in and pursue it. However, it is important not to specialise too soon and to appreciate that you may have to be flexible in the beginning in order to gain the necessary experience.
The next step up from a runner is to researcher. Many students view research as an entry-level job, but in larger companies this is rarely the case, although smaller independent production companies may sometimes advertise for researchers or junior researchers. These are roles which may combine runner and researcher tasks and for which a recent graduate with some work experience may be suitable.
This may include a move to the role of production assistant, then assistant production coordinator to production coordinator. In the film industry, runners tend to progress to become head runner before moving to third, second and then first assistant roles. In production, higher-level jobs include assistant producer, director and producer. If you are interested in moving into a management role, it is worth considering a management course, along with training in health and safety and first aid.
Promotion may be more defined in larger companies, but in smaller production companies you will find that there is generally no defined career structure – just more responsibility and a rise in salary. Runners have excellent networking opportunities and there is good scope for career development, with people often moving between different areas of broadcasting.
Most people in the industry work as freelancers and run their work as a small business. This means that being business-minded, entrepreneurial in your decisions, focusing on the direction you want your career to travel in and marketing yourself appropriately is key.