Everyone takes a different path to their first media job. Some people land their first choice right out of college. Others need to apply to dozens of places before landing an interview. There’s not a perfect way to get the job you want, but it can help to learn from the experience of others. In our feature “How I Got the Job,” we talk to some of the best people working professionally in media about what they did to get a foot in the door, and what it took to finally sign the contract. This week: James Churchill, video assistant with the Seattle Seahawks.
After I graduated, I came back to Seattle and returned to my job pumping gas into airplanes at Kenmore Air while I tried to line something up. I believe I started sending out resumes and applications maybe a month or two after I was home, so probably the late Summer of 2009.
Do you remember what you included on your first tape/work sample?
Well, I didn’t want to be on-air talent so I didn’t have a tape per say, but I did have a few episodes of shows that we had done at GUTV at Gonzaga University. I wanted to be a director so I figured it’d be best to have a few full samples. I had a newscast, a baseball game, and a comedy show handy if anybody had wanted to see them but I never actually had to show them to anyone.
What was your first job interview like?
My first interview was at a TV station in Seattle in 2009 for a job as a news assistant. I never thought I had a chance to even be considered for the job when I applied because I figured it was too big of a market for some recent college grad, but alas they gave me the interview anyways. They showed me around the studio and newsroom first and then brought me into an office and asked a handful of questions. The common theme was “why do you want to do this?” And that’s a fair question as the hours would have been rough, and the pay would have been terrible, but I just wanted to get my foot in the door in a major market and try to work my way up the ladder. When the interview ended I felt like I had answered to questions honestly and sincerely but I received notice a few days later that they had gone with someone with more experience and would keep me in mind if another position opened up. That was the last time I applied or interviewed at a TV station.
What skills did you practice in college that you now use as a video assistant?
I’d say the skills that I use the most right now that I learned in school are the ability to manipulate cameras quickly (we use ENG cameras primarily). For example, when we shoot practice we try to have all three cameras match perfectly so as you switch from one angle to another you don’t notice anything goofy (like a bad white balance, or someone is on the wrong filter and it’s too dark). In the fall, we tend to have a lot of days that are partly cloudy and we have to constantly adjust our cameras between sun and shade settings in unison. It sounds easy, but if you only have a few seconds before the next rep in practice, you have to be quick.
Other skills that I value from school include, working as a team under tight deadlines. Learning to deal with criticism (whether constructive or otherwise) and quickly putting things behind you and moving on to the next task.
Was there anything about the position that surprised you coming into it?
To be honest I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started. I just wanted to get paid to have a camera in my hands and I’d do whatever I was told in order to make that happen. I always figured it would be in news or something similar but dumb luck took me another direction.
First, football practices are very regimented and precisely timed, so don’t fall behind, or you will have many people that aren’t happy with you. Beyond getting over the initial fear of screwing up in the tower (and the fear of actually being in the tower), I quickly realized how much of my job now is based around managing our video system, which marries various video clips with game or practice data. It’s taken me years of working with it to become comfortable with it and I’m still learning new tricks every day. There are responsibilities beyond video that they give to us as well. For instance, on a road trip, the four of us are responsible for creating meeting rooms complete with computers, projectors, speakers and whatever else they might need to feel like they are at home. On gameday, while my three coworkers are shooting the game (along with our counterparts from the other team), I sit in the coaches booth and print off still images of the presnap and postsnap (that goofy tablet Bill Belichick is always carrying around, that’s me). Any given week, I’m probably only shooting for about eight hours and that probably surprised me the most once I started working here.
What is your advice to a student wanting a career in an athletics video/media department?
Every major college, pro football, pro hockey, pro (and probably minor league) baseball, some pro soccer, and pro basketball has an analytical video positions of some sort. I started shooting college football, but also shot college softball, basketball, soccer, baseball, and MLS before I started working in the NFL. Bottom line, do anything that’s available, and you’ll make plenty of connections in the process.