How passion can take you from serving tea to an executive producer

JJames Hillames Hill (Psychology, 2011) started his educational career studying psychology as he was fascinated by people and their stories. Once he had graduated, after a year of travelling to expand his horizons, James used what he had learned during his time in University to pursue a career in television to release his creative potential. He had been interested in the world of filmmaking from a young age and the passion for it only grew as he continued through the university. James started off working on unpaid roles in the industry but through hard work and perseverance, he was eventually promoted to co-executive producer. James has directed and produced many of the shows that are enjoyed by audiences globally, The Masked Singer and America’s Got Talent to name a few. James has managed to reach extraordinary heights in his career and continues to work hard to deliver quality entertainment to people around the world.

Find out more about James below:

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I loved my time at City. I hated school and wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to go to university, however, I was passionate about psychology and was excited at the prospect of studying in London. During my three years at City, I enjoyed education for the first time in my life, started reading extracurricular psychology books suggested by professors who made me excited about learning. I loved being in that area of London and stayed there for years after graduating, which I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do if I hadn’t had the friends and familiarity of the area City University gave me. When I first started getting work-experience I stayed on friends’ couches from City and to this day we remain close.

What happened after you graduated?

After I graduated, I worked and travelled for a few years before starting a number of unpaid jobs in the TV industry. I slowly worked my way up from getting cups of tea and running errands to doing work on productions and eventually was able to start filming which was one of the main reasons I wanted to work in TV. I filmed, produced and directed on many different shows in the UK, Canada and US (America’s got talent, The Masked Singer, Gold Rush and Homestead rescue to name a few) before moving to the US, where I am currently a co-executive producer.

How did your interest for the television industry develop?

While I was growing up I had always messed around with my families old camcorder, making video’s with my friends and editing little movies by playing the camcorder through the TV and quickly pressing record and stop on a VHS player. This carried on and developed through uni and I was amazed and elated to discovered I was able to tell stories, either ones I had come up with, or through questions and a lens. On the rare occasions when I get frustrated at the industry or a particular job, I think what other career path might I have taken. However, I honestly can’t think of another field with the creativity and flexibility I have now that would have worked for me.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career?

The most rewarding experience has been getting to travel and experience so many different ways of life. I often find myself in the midst of a busy day and taken aback at the ridiculous scenery around me. Just a few months ago I was filming in a helicopter in the Ruby Mountains and had to take a moment to appreciate that this is my job.

What has been the most challenging experience?

The biggest challenge is the combination of how competitive an industry TV is and the freelance nature of it. Right from the beginning, unless you know someone who can get started at an entry-level position, you have to work for free for months, sometimes longer, just to break in (which was my experience). Most jobs don’t last more than a couple weeks so there is no job security and no reason for anyone to promote you or invest time in you unless it directly benefits them in the short time you are with them. This means you are constantly toeing the line of being eager and expressing a willingness to learn, but also careful of not stepping above your station and not doing the job you were hired for.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Make sure you are passionate about a life making TV and movies. If you’re not sure, ask yourself are you willing to work for free at times? Are you willing to work 15hr+ days? To spend weeks, sometimes months, in a hotel or camped in the middle of nowhere? If all of this sounds like a small price to pay for a career out of an office, one that can take you all over the world, where you’re able to be creative from the moment you wake up to when you call it a wrap each day and to see that creativity collected and packaged into a show or film, then the answer is yes.

If that’s the case then my advice is to never stop being hungry, never stop looking for work. TV is a relationship-based industry. If you are good at your job, it is likely the next job will be due to a referral from your employer who recommended you to a friend. If you get lucky you can bounce around the same shows, or even the same show, season after season. However, if you are the type of person excited about a career in TV, then you are also the type of person where this can get boring quickly. It can be detrimental to your career. Start out hungry for work; contacting as many companies as you can and expressing how eager you are to work, then keep this hunger no matter how many years in you are, or what title you have in the credits.

Thank you to James for sharing his story!

You can follow James’s activities and find out more from his website.