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Jake's big TV break

Published: 29 Apr 2010 13:59

Is working on celebrity chef programmes all it's cracked up to be? Researcher Jake Smith says it is, but you've got to be prepared to muck-in

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After taking a degree at Leeds University in Cinema, Television and Photography studies, it took Jake Smith (pictured) several years to achieve his ambition of clinching a job in TV. He said: "It sounds a bit cliché but from a young age I'd always planned to have a career in TV or film as I love telling stories and working with images.

"But due to university debts and low starter wages in TV, I was 25-years-old by the time I got started. If I was to start over again I'd skip university and go straight to work as I learned more about TV production in my first three months working than I did in my three years at university, although I guess it depends on where you study and what course."

The process of finding that elusive first break was arduous. Jake said: "I emailed every TV production company and channel and sold myself for work experience, after two weeks at ITV they offered me a paid contract in October 2008."

Jake, now 27, has worked as a Junior Researcher for Optomen, one of the top 20 independent production companies known for making high-quality programmes such as Gordon Ramsay's F Word, Mary Queen of Shops and Great British Menu, for 18 months.

He said: "Working in a team I'll research and plan anything the producers need for the programme. This can vary massively depending on what type of format you are working on, for example what is needed for a live studio chat show will be completely different from a period drama.

"I believe the main attributes you need for this role are a willingness to listen, learn and work bloody hard. You need the ability to stay calm when everything around you is going off and you need a thick skin as people are always working to seriously tight deadlines, so they don't mince their words." Getting the first break is the key, after that, Jake said: "There are many areas you can go into once you've spent a year to 18 months running and getting your foundation TV knowledge and experience. For me it's all about taking the editorial route and one day becoming a writer/director."

A general perception of TV and film work is that a lot of travel is involved, but Jake says this is not always the case: "It all depends on what programme you're working on, I've known colleagues who have travelled the world, personally the furthest I've been for a shoot is Somerset, but the hours are long.

"Let's just say be prepared to not see anyone outside of work for months on end. I've worked 15-hour days, six days a week on some shows."

Certainly, dealing with celebrities is part and parcel of the job, but it's not all glamour, he said: "If you're in the middle of nowhere and a certain D-list celebrity asks you for two slices of brown bread that have to be a certain brand, not toasted, smile politely and do it. That is something I learned at the start of my career.

"So many people get into the job expecting it to be an easy ride and a bit glamorous, which couldn't be further from the truth. I once spent a 12-hour day shovelling rotten fruit and fish guts from a massive skip onto a set and then after one hour of filming, shovelling it all back again."

Jake works as a freelance for Optomen, which has created with Gordon Ramsay "Ramsay's Best Restaurant", an exciting new Channel 4 series which is dedicated to celebrating the finest restaurants in the UK.

Gordon will travel the length and breadth of Britain in search of brilliant restaurants that deliver gastronomic perfection and wonderful customer service.

"Restaurants can only take part in the competition if they've been nominated. So if you know a fantastic restaurant that is worthy of the title or want some more details, visit

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