Here, we chat to Nancy Wright, who works as a gram op at BBC Studioworks – a commercial subsidiary of the BBC. Starting out as a runner at an independent TV production company, Wright is now at the top of the food chain. You can find out how she got there with this insightful Q&A…
What first sparked your interest in the industry?
I had always been passionate about theatre and performing arts, and loved watching film and TV. I studied Drama at Hull University on a brilliant course which gave me the opportunity to try out many technical skills, including theatre, sound design and radio drama, alongside academic study.
During my first summer vacation from uni I started working as a runner for a little independent TV production company in the small town I’m from. I really enjoyed it and it made me start thinking about a future career in TV. A colleague recommended a scheme to me called ‘TV for Young People’, which at the time ran as part of the Edinburgh TV Festival. I applied, and the following summer I had a great few days in Edinburgh attending lectures, seminars and workshops on all aspects of the industry.
What was your first job?
I returned to work as a runner and researcher for that specific indie production company and a couple of others I met through them in subsequent holidays from uni. As my graduation approached, I started searching for jobs in TV and applying for a whole variety. One of those was a two-year technical traineeship at the BBC, which started the September after I graduated, and I’ve been here ever since.
What is an average day like at work for you?
One of the things I love about this job is that no two days are the same. Generally, if I’m working on a studio recording I arrive at the sound control room and work with the sound supervisor and the rest of the crew to get all the equipment up and running and rig whatever we need for the day’s show. Once scripts arrive, I’ll look through and see what music or sound effects I need to find or edit. I’ll set up my systems to play them out, then refine it through the course of rehearsals. I play music for the audience to walk in to, and sometimes play music in as part of the warm up comedian’s routine. We record the show, or broadcast it live, and at the end of the day we de-rig it all so the studio is ready for whatever show is next.
What has been your favourite project?
I’ve been lucky enough to work on so many brilliant and varied productions that it’s impossible to pick a favourite. Working on the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the 2010 Football World Cup in Cape Town were both incredible experiences. I always enjoy working on sitcoms – Miranda was a joy to work on, and the live episode of Not Going Out in 2018 was a great challenge. Some of my favourite projects have been the ones that probably very few people ever get to see – small shows for digital channels which don’t garner big audiences but that have a really dedicated team behind them, or pilots which might have been hugely challenging or entertaining on the day, but for whatever reason never get shared.
What is the most ambitious project you’ve worked on?
The most ambitious project I’ve been involved with in recent years was the technical sound installation for Studioworks’ return to Television Centre in 2017 after the building’s redevelopment. I was part of a team that worked throughout the summer alongside the SI company, Dega Ltd, installing and testing the new equipment and infrastructure, making sure that everything was ready to start making television again in the autumn. Working on the first show to be filmed in the studio, The Jonathan Ross Show, felt nerve-wracking after the months of preparation, but everything went smoothly and we were really proud of our sparkling new state-of-the-art facility.
How do you balance work and life?
It can be very challenging to strike a balance between the demands of work and home life. But, I see the upsides to not working standard office hours – because days in TV are often so long, my hours tend to be compressed into three or four shifts in a week, and I prefer to work longer hours and have more days off.
What’s the biggest challenge of your job?
The long and often anti-social hours. I try and get plenty of exercise and eat well, although the temptation is often to grab whatever’s convenient. It’s also important to remind yourself that you can’t work on every show going and it’s ok to say no and enjoy your free time.
What do you like most about the industry?
I love that every day is different. This job has given me so many surprising, unusual or simply money-can’t-buy experiences – travelling the world, watching incredible live performances from musicians, dancers, acrobats, magicians, meeting some of my heroes (and occasionally unusual animals when they’re brought into the studio), and often spending all day long laughing. I also love the people I work with – making TV is such a team effort, and sound crews are really happy and supportive teams.
PSNEurope editor Daniel Gumble recently went behind-the-scenes of BBC Studioworks to check out the production of hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing. You can read about it here.