Should VFX Graduates Take a Job as a Runner?

Should VFX graduates work as runners? Working as a runner is a standard entry-level position in our industry, but is it really necessary?  And should our students and graduates do it – or perhaps hold out for a more creative entry-level role?

Here at Escape Studios we support our students who take running positions.  Running isn’t glamorous, but it can – and often does – lead to better things.  Hang in there, put up with a bit of drudgery, and it can pay big dividends.

What is “Running” ?

Hours of drudgery? Or crucial first step?

Running is a traditional entry level job in the media business.  Running encompasses all kinds of basic studio drudgery – running errands, performing general menial tasks, fetching take-out, making coffee for clients – even cleaning kitchens and washing dishes.

Drudgery, or Training?
At its worst, running can be a a dreary, boring job, one that can feel no more glamorous than working as a waiter or a kitchen porter.  One Escape Studios student – currently working as a runner at a leading VFX house – recently sent me this email:

“I’ve found it to be more of a caretaker/cleaner job than anything creative – and I am disappointed, as I was excited to potentially watch some creative work, or learn some skills here.  However, all I am doing are things similar to what I have done in part-time jobs such as being a waiter in a restaurant.  I have seen there is a Runner’s Scheme where you potentially work your way up to becoming a junior in your chosen area – however I don’t understand how cleaning for hours on end benefits that in any way? Surely it would make more sense to be developing a portfolio to become a junior?”

Not all Running Jobs are Equal

The Mill VFX

The trick is to some homework in advance. Does this company promote their runners, or are runners just short-term cheap labour?  Clare Norman from Milk VFX explains that Milk “value our runners – and we do our best to push runners into production positions whenever possible”. But, she adds “do check before you take a running position – are runners getting promoted? What is the company’s track record?”

Henry Bull of the Mill agrees – The Mill “employs around 25 runners a year, and 25 runners get promoted. You’re doing the job for five to seven months, you’re paid, you’re in London, and by the time you’re on production – boom! – you know what you’re doing. It’s a structure that works”.

Cinesite

At Cinesite in Soho, where I worked for many years, runners were almost always eventually promoted, usually into the Matchmove department, or Paint and Roto.

However, this promotion could take a long time, up to a year in some cases, depending on the needs of production.  On the plus side, runners got to know everyone in the building, and learned how the overall production worked, learning the names of everyone in the company.

Running Success Stories

To see a few Escapees who started their careers as runners, see the blog posts below:

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