David Shaw is a VT operator at the BBC, working on a wide range of programmes from The Weakest Link to Casualty. His job involves the latest in TV technology but that doesn't stop him getting butterflies when he's working on a live show.
How would you outline your role?
I work in post production, preparing tapes and programmes for broadcasting and adding in extra clips, captions and titles to live programmes. This is the area of TV where everything is put together, and sound effects and graphics are added.
What specific tasks do you do?
This can involve basic work such as dubbing tapes and making copies of programmes, to editing tapes. Another process is called digitising which involves taking material that has been shot on normal (analogue) tape and turning it into a digital image.
What hours do you work?
I work 12-hour shifts, either 8.00 am to 8.00 pm, or 12 noon to 12 midnight. It's two days on and three days off. I work every other weekend too. Sometimes I work overnight if a job needs finishing for a tight schedule, but I get paid overtime.
What's your working environment like?
I work at Television Centre in London which is a really vibrant place. It's modern and high tech, from the editing suites to the studio galleries, with their huge banks of TV monitors.
Who do you work with?
In the editing suite I'm with the producer and director, but in the studio gallery there will also be a director, vision mixer and studio producer. I also work with voice-over artists and sound supervisors, and then there's the administrative and management side too.
What special skills or qualities does a VT operator need?
You need an enthusiasm for TV, and a genuine interest in how it works. Being able to work under pressure is important as it can be pretty nerve wracking working on a live show.
This was once seen as just an engineering job, but nowadays it's got as much to do with people. You've got to be diplomatic and patient, with good team working skills and the ability to explain technical issues to people without sounding patronising.
What training have you done?
I've done a two-year, paid traineeship with the BBC. It was very intensive. As well as learning the theory behind video and TV and how it works, I practiced editing, shooting and generally built up my technical knowledge. There's a lot of on-the-job training too.
What do you like/dislike about being a VT operator?
I love the fact that I do so many different things throughout the day. I'm also left to get on with things, without anyone breathing down my neck. Of course working evenings and weekends can be a pain but it does mean you can get days off during the week.
How do you see your future?
It would be interesting to move into film/tape editing but I'm looking at all the opportunities within the BBC.
What are the particular challenges in your work?
On live shows, getting the timing right; in the editing suite, it's paying close attention to detail.
David's route to becoming a VT operator
- Left school with GCSEs.
- Youth Training (YT) in sound engineering for two years.
- Worked in a recording studio, on a building site and on a magazine selling advertising space.
- Went back to college to update knowledge of sound engineering.
- Freelance script runner.
- Two-year traineeship at the BBC.
- Get as much experience as you can, even if you don't get paid.
- It's worth it in the long run and gets you used to working in a TV environment.
- Read up on the subject as you're expected to have a technical understanding of TV.
VT operator related jobs
- Lighting technician
- Sound engineer (recording industry)
- Sound technician
- TV/film camera operator
- TV/film editor
Salary of a VT operator
- The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) recommends the minimum wage for a 60 hour week for a VTR operator is £791, and for a vision mixer £911.
- However, salaries are negotiable and working on a feature film often pays higher than working on a TV drama. Many VT operators are freelance.
How to become a VT operator
- While there are no set entry requirements for this career, pre-entry experience of working in film/video production or post production is essential, as is a technical or scientific qualification. Working as a runner with the promise of training is a common entry route.
- There are many qualifications available from degree and HND to NVQ/SVQ City and Guilds. Skillset and the British Film Institute can provide a full list.
- A number of paid for courses exist which cover specific skills, and the latest technology and editing packages.
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