Dismore holding a chameleon.JULIAN DISMORE

A career in TV: notoriously difficult to get into, glamourised by the media, and competitive beyond belief. Even the professionals will tell you it’s near-impossible to make it, and when the world is battling a global pandemic, it is even harder to achieve.

Enter Julian Dismore, TV Director and Series Producer, a man who has flown all over the world making programmes about wildlife in Australia, scientists in America, and cricketers in India. He has fallen thirty feet off Krakatoa, filmed documentaries in a war zone, and been bitten by a King Cobra (on the boot, luckily). He has worked with the likes of Lorraine Kelly and Andrew Licoln, been termed a legend by Good Morning, Ukraine, and broadcasted programmes on BBC1, ITV, Netflix, and National Geographic.

How did his TV career begin? Dismore studied Economics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, but always felt reluctant about applying for an office job. Following the advice of friends, he began exploring the creative industry halfway through his second year- participating in a TV training course, University radio, and student journalism. “More importantly, I got a taste for it”, says Dismore, “and I realised that this was a career I was interested in pursuing.”

His first job was research-based in the Yorkshire Television Science Department, where he worked on a quiz programme about the mathematics and underlying logical truths behind puzzles. The programme was immensely popular, reaching 10 million viewers, but “certainly was not what I expected to do”.

Dismore stumbled across the job vacancy after multiple visits to the Cambridge Careers Office (“and that is an important tip, be persistent”), and accidentally got the wrong address for the interview location, meaning he turned up late and thought his chance was gone. His absence of expectation kept him relaxed in the interview, and it was precisely this calm attitude that set him apart from the other 85 Oxbridge applicants.

“The magic of television grabbed me, and though I was not making shiny studio programmes often, I was really enjoying the experience.”

Dismore recalls his first day at the YTV studios: “I walked in and there was the set for Darling Buds of May, and on the left-hand side was the Countdown Clock, still used to this day. I saw so many amazing props and these incredible people, like Bruce Forsyth and David Jason. The magic of television grabbed me, and though I was not making shiny studio programmes often, I was really enjoying the experience.”

In his time of developing 40+ prime-time TV series, no two days have been the same, as he constantly finds himself working with different teams and contributors. “The real privilege of working in television is the extraordinary ordinary people that you meet, who give you access to their lives and tell you what that they’ve been through”, reflects Dismore, “And that’s an amazing privilege”.

He goes on to share his favourite social aspects of filming. While shooting cricket documentaries, he learned magic tricks from the sporting stars. Shane Warne equally stated that his dancing was the most entertaining 15 minutes of his life. On a more serious note, he recalls filming the BBC series Real Lives Reunited, where he interviewed a variety of people who had been part of major news events. Contributors ranged from survivors of large-scale disasters to the World Cup Born Boys from 1966, and the series provides a fascinating insight into recent British history. “What I love about the television industry”, Dismore explains, “is the variety of it, the life experiences, the stories you hear – I wouldn’t swap the last 33 years of my career for the world”.

“If you’re a clockwatcher, then maybe a role in TV is not for you.”

Despite his enthusiasm, Dismore admits that working in TV has its challenges. “Television and working in media is very hard work”, he says, “if you’re a clockwatcher, if you want to have a full hour lunch break and want to leave work at five o’clock because The Chase is on television, then maybe a role in TV isn’t for you – it’s sometimes very long hours indeed, you need to get a job done. But it’s a creative industry, so you often don’t notice the clock.”

JULIAN DISMORE

As he progressed from researcher to director to producer, he noticed the increase in pressure and demand. The higher up you are in the TV world, the more responsibility you have to deliver the programme and often in tough conditions, because you’re constantly reliant on other people – contributors, presenters, and technical crew alike. The current economic environment does not help the situation: cuts in budgets and team numbers are rife, and deadlines are continuously shortened.

While working in TV is often perceived as challenging, it’s not frequently judged to be a dangerous profession. However, Dismore’s experience proves otherwise. During one of his most high-risk roles, Dismore worked undercover in the Philippines to expose sex traffickers with hidden cameras. Although he ground his teeth with the stress of it “to the point where I needed dental work when I got back”, his work helped to change the law, making it easier to prosecute sex offenders.

“My microphone was a pen in my pocket,” Dismore continues. “I was told that a previous journalist who tried to expose sex traffickers in the area was executed by the local mayor. One of the suspects asked to borrow my pen, and if she had got hold of the microphone, all the wires would have come out and I’d have been killed later on that night.” From here follows one of Dismore’s life-saving tips to TV runners: always carry a spare pen.

Dismore goes on to explain changes within the industry since his experience in the Philippines. Staff jobs are mostly a thing of the past, he admits; and the industry has become freelance, with professionals working in short-term contracts. A variety of technical skills form job requirements – people are expected to shoot, edit, and employ these skills under pressure within difficult circumstances. No matter the situation, the show must go on.

“Working from home allows an improved work-life balance.”

This is a motto Dismore has stuck to during lockdown. Luckily, he could edit his most recent series, the Mega Council Estate Next Door (now screening on Channel 5), from the safety of his home. He reflects on how working from home has changed as a result of the crisis: “It used to be a bit of a joke in television when you’d say, “I think I’m going to work from home tomorrow”, and then your boss would look and say, “Oh yeah, I see – England are playing a test match tomorrow, so ‘you’re working from home’. A lot of that was tongue-in-cheek and part of phraseology, but now it has become apparent that you can work productively from home – in all industries, not just in television.” In fact, Dismore has seen several advantages of working from home: gone are the exhausting commutes and here to stay is more family-time, alongside an improved work-life balance.

Lockdown has equally allowed Dismore to focus on another aspect of his career beyond the big screen. Through his company Direct Productions UK, he now provides opportunities to students, academics, and business professionals. His Zoom talks and courses cover a range of topics, from improving job interview technique to formatting media specific CVs, and he remembers: “I was actually watching CBBC a couple of years ago, and one of the students I trained just cropped up on the programme – she’s called Jess French – and she was doing a wildlife show.”

At a glance: Julian Dismore's top 5 tips for getting into the media industry:

1. Join societies- join the university/student organisations that interest you the most, whether it’s student journalism, radio or CU-TV, try to acquire as many skills as you can from them

2. Work experience- make the most of any opportunities you have- use them to generate contacts, get references, find mentors, and acquire skills to maximise your chances of making progress in the future

3. Manage your expectations- most people start out as a TV runner, or a junior researcher/production coordinator if they’re lucky, and won’t be directing or producing in all likelihood. “You need to realise that you’re there to make decent coffees, get release forms signed, keep contributors sweet, keep your presenters happy. You might have been the crème de la crème at university and getting firsts, but suddenly, you’re at the bottom of the food chain and you need to work your way up.” says Dismore.

4. Networking- join LinkedIn, where you can get fifty pounds of a month’s enhanced status for free, and send contact requests to all the production managers, producers, executives you can find. Watch credits of programmes, track down their creators, and email them to request a short face-to-face chat for advice.

5. Online content- YouTube, Instagram, WordPress...the media industry grows in size and accessibility every day and there are so many ways to get your stories heard. As Dismore says, “Be creative and ambitious with your ideas. The odds are, if you create videos, they won’t be seen by anybody when you’re actually applying for jobs because employers are very busy. However, the fact that you’ve done them is a great sign.”

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So, while some professionals might say that it’s impossible to break into the TV industry, Dismore is here with a different message: if you fully immerse yourself within the media world, if you commit to projects, and if you’re determined to make this career work, there’s nothing stopping you.

Direct Productions UK equally gives remote work-experience opportunities for aspiring media professionals. To learn more about these opportunities, just email juliandismore@gmail.com.

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