Being in Television and Scriptwriting
Screenwriter and editor Mark Boutros, known for Celebrity Juice, Through the Keyhole, and Sam Delaney’s News Thing, discusses what it is like to work in the hugely competitive television industry and suggests ways of getting ‘your foot in the door’
Boutros, 35, has been working on Your Face or Mine since January, which airs on ‘Comedy Central’, where he is responsible for competence and compliance. However, he is usually an edit producer.
He says, ‘The role varies depending on the type of show. On comedy entertainment shows you will sit with an editor and construct a video tape of pre-recorded material to be played during the show. Once the show has been recorded, I'll sit with an editor and cut down an hour and a half of footage to 22 minutes.’
How Boutros Started Out
I pointed out that the creative industries can often seem quite closed off, from an outsider’s perspective. Boutros agreed that ‘It can seem like that, but once you’re in, it’s quite easy to start getting jobs.’
He said: ‘I sent my CV to Talk Back Thames and got ignored. Four months later I sent my CV again and then I got a call straight away. And so, I was an office runner. I was responsible for the day-to-day running of the building. I got to know so many different genres and people.’ This, it seems, is the best way in. Start at the bottom, gather some contacts, and work your way up.
From there, Boutros had landed himself a job on a nationally renowned television panel show. He said, ‘I got a junior researcher job on [Never Mind the] Buzzcocks and that was it.’
He added: ‘My first writing opportunities came from friends I’d made from working on production.’
Ways into the industry
How do you know who to approach and secure that first job with a production company? Boutros said, ‘I researched online. I watched the end credits of shows I liked, and found the companies that made them. I called to ask who I could send a CV to. They gave me an email address, and I sent my CV. I got ignored the first time, but tried again a few months later. I got called that day to go in for an interview the next. And a day later I had a job.’
However, if you haven’t yet established a reputation it will be difficult to get a team on board with your idea. Boutros said, ‘It’s better to start with a production company, learn everything with them, and then take those skills and build your own.’
He added, ‘Co-production is the probably the wisest thing when you’re just starting out – they’ll be investing in you. If they can build a good relationship with you, that could lead to more co-pros [co-production] in the future.’
Boutros recalled, ‘I’ve done a pilot when it was just me, who booked it, wrote it, researched it, briefed everyone.’ So, it’s possible to complete the process solo, but experience is key.
I asked Boutros whether he agreed that the increase in value of apprenticeships and the more internships available to young people means that a degree isn’t necessary for the creative industries.
Boutros explained, ‘A friend told me, “you don’t need a master’s to write”. It’s part of that school of thought that says, “you can’t teach it”, which is nonsense.’
He described his master’s at UEA, which he took in 2012, as ‘the best year I ever had – I loved every minute of it.’
More than anything, he said, ‘It bought me a year to just write, which is what I needed.’ Not only this, but academically he also realised ‘how important theory was, with problem solving and communicating with other people.’
‘My advice is, if there are people that want to work in television, find the shows you like, try and work for the companies that make them. It’s hard to move genre. Once you’re in that, people will keep you in jobs doing that.’
‘Always look at the schemes on the BBC Writers Room. There’s always opportunities, especially for young people,’ he said.
When thinking about starting a career in the television industry it is important to decide how important free time is to you. Boutros warned, ‘the hours can be barbaric. There are shows when you’re in from 8 in the morning until 10 at night’.
‘Be polite, be nice. People want to work with nice people that are enthusiastic and competent. They don’t want to work with people that are arrogant or knob heads.’
Bethany Bacon is a second-year English Literature student at UEA. She regularly contributes to Concrete and is writing a children's book that she hopes to get published next year. In the future she wants to write and edit for television and film. For more information please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/bethany-bacon-792292160/