They ferry actors to set, pick up local supplies, help out the crew, double as a PA, and whatever else it takes to keep a production running smoothly.
Life as a Runner is hectic, requires multitasking and great people skills.
In the latest of TV Tonight‘s Spotlight series on craft roles, three Runners tell what it takes to get the job done:
Jarrad Bowe (Here Come the Habibs, Hyde + Seek, Seven Year Switch, Q&A, Reuben Guthrie),
Katherine Gillespie (Offspring)
Elle Reid (Doctor Doctor, Infini, Terminus)
How long have you been a Runner and how did you get into the job?
JB: I’ve been a runner on and off for the last two and a half years now. I got into running, after I graduated from University and chased up some contacts I made and luckily they where needing some volunteer runners for “Terminus”, which I happily jumped on, following that production, I gained contacts and got chased up a few months later to work on “Ruben Guthrie” as the Production Runner. Since then I have been working ever since.
KG: I started working as a Production Runner in 2013, getting my first job as 2nd Unit Runner on Offspring series 4, which opened the door for me to continue working in television production in various roles, and over the years I returned to Offspring for series 5 and 6. I studied film and television at University and after graduating was looking for a Production Runner role as my entry to the industry, as it offers a solid grounding in most aspects of production and through the daily tasks gives first-hand understanding of the needs of various departments and how they interplay to get the show ‘in the can’. Working on short films and music videos after Uni was invaluable in expanding my on-set knowledge and building contacts, and it was through a friend who had already landed a job in production that I heard about a handful of upcoming shows and so knew where to direct my calls and emails, looking for that first job!
ER: Three years. I was in my final year at Uni finishing a Bachelor of Digital Media and happened across a callout on Screen Hub for a runner on a feature in Sydney. I tried my luck with shooting them through my resume and enthusiasm and somehow landed the job. They were the best crew and a really awesome introduction to the production world. Shameless plug: go check out Infini!
What’s a typical day on set for you involve?
JB: Sadly as a Runner, you don’t get to spend that much time on set, you will spend more time driving in your car. Most the time you start your day picking up cast members. Once you arrive at unit you check in with the 2nd AD and see what paperwork needs to go back to the office. If you’re lucky you have breakfast with the crew then head back to the production office. Before wrap you might have other casts to pick up or return, equipment pick up or return, lunch orders to grab for the production office, cleaning up the kitchen, grabbing coffees or help with paperwork or chasing up equipment orders. When you do spend time on set, you will help ferry cast between set and unit, run waters, and help the crew where you can. At the end of the day, you drop of call sheet and drive cast home, they might also have to handle the rushes and to make sure they are handed over to the editor. Handling the rushes are pretty much the most important job, if they lose or damage the rushes, I’m pretty sure they won’t be working the next day. But once they are safely in the edit suite, and you have informed the production office then your day has ended and you go home, to wake up and do it all over again.
KG: As a Runner, there’s the sense of being constantly in motion; a conduit between the production office and the set, supporting the production by doing my part to facilitate whatever is needed to achieve the day’s work. It’s early mornings, transporting cast members to set, collecting and delivering equipment to the crew on set, driving the camera cards (precious cargo as they contain the morning’s footage!) to the production facility after lunch, assisting at the office, tidying the kitchen, emptying the bins, photocopying Call Sheets, driving them to the set for Wrap, then driving cast members home. It’s countless hours in the car, with more visits to the airport, the supermarket, hardware and office supply stores than I can recall, but it’s also spending time with incredible people, having great conversations on the way and always learning a little bit more about what it takes to make a show!
ER: Depends on the job, but usually it’s picking up and driving cast to set in the morning. Being on standby with your car on set to travel anyone or anything that may suddenly come up. Making purchases and pickups of anything and everything required for any department. Organising lunches, helping out with paperwork, zipping around the city. Jumping in as a PA on set if they need a hand. Keeping smiles on and spirits high! And ending the day dropping home a cast member or two and traveling rushes to editorial. They’re big days, but usually full of so many great interactions that you wouldn’t get in many other jobs.
What’s been the best and worst experience you’ve had and why?
JB: One of the best experiences was my first week on Hide and Seek. I had been a Runner for just under two years and worked on low budget productions. However, this was my first real TV drama and the sheer scope of the show was mind blowing. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I got to watch and learn from a variety of crew, from the production office, to the writer’s room, all the way to the Producers and how they worked from week to week. As a Runner you get to interact with every aspect of production. One of the most difficult experiences I’ve had was on Seven Year Switch. Though the job was a fun and interesting there was one particular day that got a touch stressful. I was using my car, but the air con doesn’t work and in my car it peaked to a mild 42 degrees then my phone overheated and died. I had half an hour to pick up some camera gear and I was stuck in peak hour traffic with no GPS. I’m pretty sure I lost 5kgs in sweat and aged 5 years older that day.
KG: Best: Being part of a team, that sense of unity; each of us, in our own ways, working towards a common goal, and sharing pride in what we’re creating. Surrounded by amazing people, being immersed in the daily tasks of producing a television show is a rich environment, and though the Runner is a small cog in a big wheel, it plays a vital part. I get a thrill seeing the sunrises and sunsets on-set at some awesome locations – charmingly dilapidated buildings or stunning country vistas – hidden gems that I wouldn’t otherwise know existed. Worst: The unexpected happens often, so it’s accounted for as much as possible within the schedule of my day, but sometimes something happens that pushes beyond what can be anticipated. Being stuck on a freeway in grid-lock traffic, resulting from some major traffic incident ahead, needing to get an actor to the set is a horrible situation. Staying calm is the key, but knowing how the ripple effect of every minute we’re delayed impacts on production, makes the gravity of the situation more acute, and when there is nothing to be done but to stick it out and keep going, it’s pretty awful.
ER: Worst: There aren’t many ‘worsts’ in my experiences (touch wood) but this one would have to be when I lost my wallet with my petty cash ($600) in it. I’d had a handful of stuff at Officeworks and in the confusion left my wallet in the trolley. I was midway back to the production office when I got this sick feeling in my stomach. Luckily, some gorgeous soul had found it and handed it in to the Officeworks team but for a good 10 minutes I thought I’d lost a lot of important stuff plus $600 of the productions money. Best: Probably the introduction to the industry I got on Infini – my first ever runner gig. Everyone was just so friendly, keen to help me learn and not at all phased that I was such a greenie.
And the craziest thing you’ve ever had to do?
JB: I was once asked to collect toilet paper for one of the crew, as we were out in the country and they were on set and unable to get any. However, it had to be a certain kind of toilet paper, which I found very odd, but I didn’t question it. Since we were out of the city and local shops don’t seem to sell a variety of toilet paper, I drove an hour to the nearest grocery story on the hunt for toilet paper.
KG: Sometimes seeing my call time for the next morning seems crazy – but the early mornings are a normal part of being a Runner! The strangest task I’ve had was when I was Running on a war drama series; I drove to the rural location we’d been filming at, down a long and bumpy dirt road, to retrieve a dozen or so bloodied, dismembered prosthetic limbs from storage in a shipping container, putting them into black plastic bags and carrying them to my car. It would’ve been a crazy sight if anyone had seen me! I drove the 45 minutes back to Melbourne, having made sure I had enough fuel as there was no way I wanted to stop at a petrol station with that grotesque cargo in the boot of my car!
ER: Nothing overly crazy has happened. I mean, that time a lady ignored a stop sign and slammed into me sending my car into a 360 spin. Or when an actor went walk about without a phone and I had to run around Potts Point looking for him while everyone was frantic. Or when I suddenly found myself on set for the day rigging a big lighting wall with one of the elex cause everyone else was too busy. When I had to run a guy to the hospital who had slipped and hurt his back and every bump I drove over he cried out… Yeah, that was pretty crazy.
Where will you be in 5 year’s time? What’s the dream?
JB: So I hope in 5 years, whether I am a 3rd AD working in Australia or overseas I want to be progressing in the industry and gaining experience that will help me to become a Director. Though If I got to be the head Producer of my own show, that would be pretty cool too.
KG: I’m widely interested in the film, television and music industries as collaborative art forms, and as an exhilarating way to contribute my energy and abilities in collectively realising a shared vision. I love the energy and immediacy of the Set, and the big-picture magic that happens at the meetings between the Producers, Directors and Heads of Department. The dream is feeling inspired, engaged and challenged by the projects and the people I collaborate with in telling compelling, insightful and powerful stories that resonate with their audience.
ER: Hopefully ADing on something or maybe getting into some writing. I’m still pretty new to the industry and still trying to figure out where I want to go with it, but I just love meeting all of these creative, passionate minds and getting to hang out with them five (sometimes six!) days a week for a solid block of time. I’ve worked with a bunch of amazing people already and I think the dream at the moment is just getting the chance to keep meeting people like this and creating and collaborating.