Just Runners

We are not talking about the athletic type, however, you will need a lot of energy and stamina for the job. Film, TV and Advertising industry all share the same start – running. For most of us working in these jobs today, one thing is for sure, that is how we started. The interesting side of it is that it usually takes a familiar connection, chance meeting or a bit of luck to break into this wonderful world of organised creative chaos. About a year ago (or two, time stopped in 2020) we were discussing amongst ourselves how we can help change our working environment, how we can allow people to join and help them from the beginning of their careers. We thought runners! We have to start with runners! Like most ideas, it turns out this wasn’t the first time someone had thought of that and lucky for us all Paul McLoone decided to do something about it…

When did Just Runners start and what prompted it?

Just Runners launched in January 2018 but I had done a year’s research before that. And it did take a year. There wasn’t a lot of info out there at that time. Just a BFI report and a blog page. And none of that was based around short-form. So I had to basically set up a research group myself. I created surveys, hired telephonists and phoned up lots and lots of companies and then lots of individual crew members and then into courses and initiatives to try and get some insight. I met up with people at the BFI, Creative Skillset, BAFTA, APA, IPA, Film London, BECTU and local councils. Trying to get an inside picture. Everywhere really to try and work out what the flow from comprehensive school to being on set was. Then I did marketing investigations to see how many companies would genuinely back such a project. So it was a lot of expense and hard work but from doing that I could properly identify if it could work, how it could work and where each link in the chain required help.

What prompted all this? I’m not sure. I’ve moaned about it for years and I just said to myself: “Either you do something about it or you shut up about it.”

I’m not very good at shutting up.

How do you find the people to include in the programme? What do you look for in a perfect candidate?

Finding candidates is easier than finding employers. We need to acknowledge that, the makeup of our industry is not through lack of education or lack of talent. It is due to a lack of equal opportunities for employment, especially in the freelance world. If we acknowledge that we can solve the issue. So, the most difficult recruitment in Just Runners is that of employers.

In terms of runners, I link up the dots, pure and simple. That’s all we need to do to make an equal-opportunities playing field. I don’t have the social outreach that well-funded national organisations have. So I buddied up with them. I can’t teach as well as a media college can. So I buddied up with them. They cant get kids into work, so they buddied up with me. We chat a lot, build up trust and understand each other’s requirements. They put forward to me a short list of students that they think may benefit from the Just Runners set up, and I take them on a selection day course to decide if I think they will perform to our standard.

On the selection day, I assume that the people I have are capable filmmakers. Because they have been nominated by courses that I have built good relationships with. I do team challenges and assess them in action. All I need to look for is good communication skills, a good attitude, good common sense, good problem-solving.

How much training do the candidates receive?

I prepare people as much as possible. I discuss what it is to be a runner, we have a company ethos that they sign up to, I supply a guidebook, I do tutorials, I sign them up to other tutorials and mentors, I send people out on networking events, we teach cv’s, social networking, invoicing, kit bags, clothing. All sorts. Before lockdown, we even used to hold a quiz night upstairs of a pub to get JR’s learning DOP’s names and Production Companies and things like that – getting them talking in a film language

In terms of training? Being a runner is the training. That is the point of it. I meet folk with a media degree and four or five short films on their cv but they still need to get trained on set to become a professional. The soft skills in any career are the ones that make people excel.

What has been the client/production company feedback?

Feedback has been good because our runners are good, but that’s not the point. It’s not the employees who need to be accountable in this situation, it’s the employers. They have a lot of work to do to bring our industry up to date and resembling society. Some companies have been really fantastic and have really understood it. They get that inclusion is their job. Most companies dip their toes in and are happy we exist and use us now and again. They see it as the industry taking measures to fight back. That is not what Just Runners is. The truth about the diversity issue is inclusivity can only come from employers. Producers, Production Managers, 1st ADs they hold all the power in this situation. Just Runners won’t change the situation, only those employers can. We are there to make that change easier, we do all the filtering and recruiting but it is only employers that can change the industry. From our bookings, I would say a handful of companies have truly dedicated themselves to be 100% active in being an inclusive employer. PM’s and 1st AD’s it’s even less. Which for all the noise is quite disheartening. That needs to improve or the fabric of our crew won’t change.

What has been the runners’ feedback?

It’s proving successful, 70% of our people are moving on to work in the industry, so the runners are grateful for the break. However, that is something I want them to stop saying. They are the ones that decided to move toward film, they got recommended by their course, they got selected, and they have got good feedback from jobs and then they moved on in the industry. So they shouldn’t feel grateful they should feel proud. They shouldn’t feel imposter syndrome – they have earned everything and had every right to be given the chance and I hope they grow in confidence from that. And hopefully, a confidence that has humility and manners.

How long does the organisation support the candidates?

We do it as long as they want it. We are the first contact they have in the industry. And like all contacts, we are always there and we want to be in touch but we realise that our importance dwindles as a career takes off. As soon as they can find their own network we want them to fly off. I do insist that they do the right thing and use Just Runners when they become employers and we create more and more opportunities. I had my first ex-Just Runner employ a Just Runner recently. That was a really proud, rewarding moment.

What was one of the most interesting things the candidates ask you prior to joining?

Mmmmm. I think the most noticeable thing is that you meet all these great talents; writers, editors, camera ops, directors. They put me to shame with their skills – yet they don’t know the basics of the industry. There is a big step from theory to practice. So hearing this fantastic technical knowledge meeting really naïve questions is interesting. Which further proves that being a runner is brilliant and the ultimate training for film.

What were their perceptions of the industry before?

That changes on each individual. Some are so focused and bloody-minded about film, they are almost in the 100m hurdles and these are obstacles to get over to get making films. Others can’t quite believe that they will get to be on a set and it all seems a bit unimaginable. I hope we can change both those perceptions and grassroots positions is just about falling in love with the process.

But this is the really important bit. Of the 30% who leave, it is mostly because they don’t feel they fit in. That is a big unspoken issue. And its basis is riddled in class. To many, the industry culture is off-putting. Full of posturing, opinions, snobbery and grandiose concepts of service. It is a career with a lifestyle. The general public tends to use a word when they say someone works in media (if you don’t know, it rhymes with anchors) and we need to remember that. To make our industry inclusive we need to reign in some attitudes. Diversity fails if it means a wide variety of people are hand-picked to conform to another culture.

And after?

I don’t ask their thoughts on the job. I don’t think that is fitting, it is their career. I get feedback from the production and feed that back to them. I step back on asking opinions about their own performance as I think at this stage they need to work it out for themselves. I prefer to just build up their confidence. I am all about instilling the attitude of where is the next job. I drill into them to be building their CV and contact lists from word go. Work hard with a smile on your face but make sure that you earned contacts on every job. That’s a freelancers life. And at Just Runners they are that – freelance filmmakers.

Do your candidates simply work on set or are they also interested in working in an office environment during pre and post-production?

Individuals have preferences but I try to get everyone to investigate everything. 1. It’s a great way to learn the whole process, 2. It helps to know all the options available and 3. It’s good to challenge yourself.

I think it’s important to adjust straight away, the mindset of a filmmaker is to draw on yourself and your experience and quickly adapt and solve problems. As old Joe Strummer said: “You can’t be innovative AND know what you’re doing.”

What would you like to see change in the coming years as a result of your work?

A wider spectrum of society working in film is the immediate change we must all pursue, even from a cynical, business point of view, that is where the new talent and stories are. Imagine if a football team like Barcelona scouted for grassroots talent as thinly as the British Film Industry does?

My long-term change for the industry is to have a nationwide Just Runners set up – creating equal opportunities stepping stone to align entrance into the freelance world from education.
And the change I want in Just Runners is for it to represent people with disabilities better. We are failing there and want help to amend it.

What is your message to all of those people out there looking to find their place in the industry?

First of all, be who you are. Never change from that. Always feel you proudly represent.

Secondly, start now. Use your phone. Learn to edit. Direct things with friends. Practice little conversations or sketches. Build up your knowledge and skill. There is no reason not to develop on your own. And if you love doing that then maybe look at moving into it professionally. If you don’t know someone to get you a foot in the door then try and get on the treadmill some other way. Look at all those courses out there funded by the BFI and lottery money. Always let them know you want to work in film, you are serious about it and ask them to reach out for you (courses can contact Just Runners), and make the system work for you.

I recommend being a runner. Enjoy being one. Take your time being one. Work hard, take pride in your efforts and aim to excel but don’t worry too much about not knowing things. And enjoy getting to know as many people as you can.

Paul McLoone, Just Runners – justrunners.uk

Paul McLoone, Just Runners – justrunners.uk