Early Careers: Esme Ash
Esme Ash studied History at Brasenose College 2013-2016 and then did a Master's in British and European History 1500 to present. She is currently a Production Trainee at the BBC, primarily working on BBC Three programmes. Esme is very happy for people looking for further advice to contact her, please email OUMS to get in touch with her.
This time last year, I had just submitted an option essay for my History MSt and I was preparing for the onslaught of writing my dissertation, predominantly by spending a lot of time on the sofa catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race and staring into the abyss that was my uncertain future. Fast forward to today, I'm a BBC Production Trainee getting an early night before a month of casting on location for a new BBC Three documentary. In short, I’m having an absolute blast— and you can, too!
Oxford does have a ‘conveyer-belt mentality’ problem, ostensibly churning out hundreds of graduates destined for the city, but there are other (fun) options that I would invite you to consider, particularly if you have a creative bent. I woke up to this a little late, only getting involved with student media in my last year. This is also testament to the fact that it is never too late to try, if you think you might love it.
I had just decided to stay on for a nine-month master’s degree, and thought I could use the time to build up some media experience; I had always felt that I would enjoy working in television, but only after starring on Pointless did I see that there was a world beyond the screen in which people could get employed.
I joined the Cherwell Broadcasting team and helped create weekly videos throughout Michaelmas term, before returning as Broadcast Editor in Hilary. This gave me an excuse to muck about with editing software and conduct vox pops on unsuspecting strangers, which I would thoroughly recommend. During Michaelmas term, I had also applied for work experience with the BBC, which I was lucky enough to undertake in December, spending two weeks at Watchdog. I was hooked by the fast-paced, dynamic and creative environment that I found myself in, and met some wicked people too, even securing a cameo in the Christmas episode.
It was the relationships I built in this short time that started to open doors later down the line, as the production co-ordinator later offered me a few days as a freelance runner for a BBC Three series, ‘Sex Map of Britain’. Glamorous though this sounds, it consisted of sitting at reception in Homerton Hospital’s Sexual Health Clinic, asking every visitor if they’d be willing to have their consultation and tests filmed—and yes, this was as hard as you think.
Aside from these two small brushes with the World of Television™, I had no other experience to speak of, so sent off my Production Trainee Scheme application with much trepidation. It was a long and arduous process involving a written form, video interviews, two assessment centres and a final interview. Given that the scheme’s application window closed in March, I was only offered a place at the end of July, the day before my graduation! We then hit the ground running in September with two weeks of BBC Academy training and an introduction to our placements for the year. There are seventeen trainees this year - sixteen women -from a large variety of backgrounds and levels of experience, including a lawyer, a banker, a documentary filmmaker and a multimedia journalism graduate. My biggest obstacle to date had been wrestling with the Disciplines FHS paper rather than a Sony FS7 camera but I was at no great disadvantage, despite having had little technical experience.
I have been placed within BBC Three for the duration of the scheme so far, in which time I have worked on a number of different projects, across development, research, casting and assisting on shoots. I have even earned my first credit on ‘A Tattoo to Change Your Life’, a series of six shorts for iPlayer and YouTube. I am currently working on a newly commissioned observational documentary, which is top secret, for now, unfortunately. My role is to build relationships with potential contributors, research and cast, as well as to work closely with the director to develop potential story arcs and assist in the filming process. It is hard work, involving lots of travelling and thinking on your feet, but I am absolutely loving it and learning so much.
I cannot speak with certainty as to my long-term goals, but, with any luck, I will have secured a longer contract by the end of the scheme and will be able to continue working with a brilliantly diverse, creative team of people, making content that is provocative, exciting and important for younger audiences.
I am still very much at the start of what I hope is a long career in television, so I don’t yet feel well positioned to give any truly insightful advice, but, since the lovely team at OUMS asked me to write about my experiences, here is what I would say for anyone starting out. It is a very competitive industry, so your reputation counts for a lot. Therefore, you will go far by being friendly, open, honest, enthusiastic and ready to work.
Every time you are offered an opportunity, greet it with the right attitude and always go above and beyond, whenever you can - it is important to stand out, so keep your head down, ask the right questions and be sparkly! Cliché though it sounds be yourself and let your personality come through in interviews and when you’re working with others. Since a lot of television is built on working with people and managing those relationships, you need to develop your ‘soft skills’, so your communication, organisation, time management and teamwork ability: if you are the right person for television, then you can learn the technical bits later.
On your first day, you won't quite be presenting the 6 o’clock news, so expect to make lots of cups of tea, and do it with a smile on your face! The more people get to know you and trust you, the more tasks you’ll be given, and before you know it, you will be bantering away with Sophie Raworth on prime time television. I landed my first credit on the scheme via a conversation with a director while making said tea, which resulted in me spending a fortnight in Brighton and London on shoots looking after contributors and almost getting a tattoo (sorry, Mum).
Television is an amazing industry in which to work, full of passionate, creative people and incredible variety - no two days are ever the same. If you love consuming content and think you would like to create it, then I fully encourage you to apply for work experience, jobs, schemes and everything in between! Watch everything you can across different platforms, and ask yourself what you like or dislike about the way it was made; be curious and engaged and you can't go far wrong. The advent of online streaming services and content tailored for social media has brought a whole new world of possibilities. The future is bright - come and be a part of it!