Career Insight - Sam Robinson - BBC Apprentice Cameraman

sam portrait Introduction
An apprenticeship has long been recognised as a great way for those starting out on their career to learn new skills whilst on the job, putting in the hours alongside an established colleague who passes on not only their skills but also their experience to prepare the apprentice for every aspect of their new job to be. Whilst we may associate an apprentice with jobs of a more traditional nature, today's apprentices are also busy learning their trade in the new realm of digital technology too. In our interview we talk to Sam Robinson, an apprentice cameraman serving his time with one of the World's biggest technology-based organisations, the BBC, who tells us about his experiences as an apprentice.

Tell us about your interest in filmmaking, how did it start and why did you decide to turn it into a career?
Thinking back as a kid my dad and I found the one thing we could always connect over was watching and talking about movies. As I got older I found my own passion for movies started to grow, especially how cinematography could change or make a movie, like the opening shot in 1992ís The Player which just set up the rest of the movie perfectly. In the end I saw the world through movie shots. So when it came to leaving secondary school my grades pointed in two directions, media and catering and Iíve never regretted my decision.

How did you become a BBC apprentice?
I was scanning through the BBC careers website and I saw this opening for BBC apprenticeship and thought ďwhatís the worst that could happen?Ē So I applied, lo and behold a month later I got a call saying ďDo you want to come to Birmingham for an interview?Ē

When I got to Birmingham I was definitely nervous, it was a group interview and there were over 30 people there, but I just remembered I got this far so they must be interested in me. We had about three different types of interviews all of which were meant to test our teamwork, creative and technical knowledge. During all of those interviews I just focused on my strengths, for example most of the other people at Birmingham were A-level college students who are mainly tested on written exams, however I was BTec college student which meant I had a lot more practical experience, like filming on location, setting up a studio environment, using DSLR cameras and so on. After showing I had split myself apart from the rest of people in my group, I then tried to push my creative thought process and my past team work experience.

After Birmingham I had a final interview where I had to go in and do a test to prove my news knowledge, I just talked about the most current story at the time which was the American Election campaign, after that I was invited to join the BBC which Iím happy to say I did and am really enjoying.

How is your apprenticeship broken down between formal education and on-the-job learning?
So almost all of my education is hands on which I prefer but every three months we apprentices go for a week of college where we learn about the legal side, how to prepare for applying for another job and other things that canít be easily taught on the job.

What subjects do you learn along the way?
I have learnt more subjects than I expected when I joined but I guess being around reporters, producers and engineers itís inevitable that I would pick up something. For example my journalistic side has developed by just watching how a reporter asks their questions and what will work best in a news piece which of course has helped me greatly with my camera work. Camera work is the main area Iíve been taught about, learning to use PMW500 (Sony camcorder), exposures in different environment, sound recording with shotgun mics and clip-tie mics, how to film when under time pressure, lighting in controlled and non-controlled environments and how to deal with filming members of the public. Frankly I think I would have struggled to learn these things anywhere else.

Sam setting up his camera How long does your apprenticeship last?
Sadly only 1 year and there's no promised job at the end but as Iím already in the company I get a heads-up on possible upcoming jobs. This means I can go to the people behind the job, asking what they are looking for or going to people already in that job role and asking those people what they think.

You must learn so much working with highly experienced camerawoman Rachel Price?
Iím struggling to think where to begin with this question, Rachel is incredible, In the time Iíve worked with Rachel Iíve grown not only as a cameraman but as a person in general. When I started I had no experience in a professional environment so for the first month or so It was incredible to watch how she interacted with reporters, producers and interviewees which really helped me with my social awkwardness and I became a lot better with people after seeing how friendly everyone is with Rachel. After that we started on camera work learning the basic of the camera and different ways of filming: hand held, sequencing and framing. in the most the most recent shes actual started to let me be the cameraman for most of the stories we do. Due to Rachelís past experience in news sheís a great mentor because she happy to talk about the good times and the really bad times and how it affected her, itís so good to hear, sheís done so much. For someone like me whoís just starting... it makes me so proud to say sheís is my mentor. P.s sorry Rachel for being a such a stubborn student at times but Iím glad you put up with me.

sam and rachel How do you keep on top of the ever changing broadcast technology?
In general my main source of information comes from talking to different cameraman and engineers who will tell me about new cameras and technology. Then afterwards, if Iím Interested, I go and look it up online. Being a dyslexic I find watching videos more understandable than reading an article about the technology.

What are the highs and lows of your work?
The people I meet are definitely the high points whether itís BBC staff or members of the public, I love listening to their stories and how they got to where they are now. As for the lows sad to say are the news stories themselves, as my wise mentor once said ďNews is not always goodĒ. Most of the stories are great and amazing to be a part of but sadly Iíve had my fair share of sad stories.

Where do you want to take your career once you complete your apprenticeship?
Before I started my apprenticeship I wasnít interested in news at all actually, I proud to say that's changed and after being in news for a year I really want to stay. Sadly because News Cameraman is a lifelong job it's very rare for a job opening so when there is one Iíll be jumping at it. Meanwhile I will be looking to build on what I have learnt.

What advice would you have to anyone wanting to become a BBC apprentice?
Itís scary, no doubt, applying to such a big company with more than 2000 other people vs you. The BBC want people who will add to their company, who have a passion for what they do and a great creative mind. If you can sell yourself and show your passionate and creativity and the most important thing remember what makes you unique, what makes you different from the other 2000 people, then the interviewers will love you.

What has been the best advice youíve been given so far?
Everyone screws up, just make sure you learn from it!

All images © Sam Robinson and used with permission.

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