Graduate success story

Name: Gemma Wright
Course: BA (Hons) Media and Communication Studies
Year of Graduation: 2003

Millions of viewers enjoy the plot twists and drama of popular TV shows such as Casualty, Doctors and Waterloo Road.

For Gemma Wright, watching these programmes is a different experience, as she has been there for the prop checks, costume changes and re-takes. Now an Assistant Director, Gemma has built a successful career in television since graduating from the University of Wolverhampton.

Gemma decided to study Media and Communications after attending an Open Day and hearing about the course. She thought it offered everything she was interested in, although at that stage she didn’t know what career she wanted to pursue.

Gemma, who now lives in Bristol, was impressed by the tutors she met, who all had real experience of the media industry. She says she found one particular aspect of the course really useful and this helped to set her on the path to a career in TV.

“I really liked the fact that we had really good guest speakers from the industry, including some top people from the BBC. I got chatting to one of the speakers after a lecture and he asked lots of questions about what I enjoyed. He said the best thing would be to start as a runner. You learn very quickly in that role what you want to do,” she explains.

Gemma completed two weeks work experience as a runner on the BBC 1 daytime series Doctors. This was a good training ground and led to short-term contracts and extended contracts on the show.

“It was a brilliant first job as everyone who worked on the show was quite young or just starting out, so we were all in the same boat,” she says.

After a year as a runner on Doctors, Gemma went on to work on Channel 4’s Teachers and for the long-running hospital drama Casualty as third Assistant Director, which involves directing all the extras. Over the last four years, Gemma has worked on the BBC 1 series Waterloo Road, popular soap Hollyoaks and the Sky 1 film Skellig.

Gemma says she learnt many skills ‘on the job’, but the course also gave her a good grounding in the media.

“I learnt the discipline over the three years of study. I gained a general knowledge of the media and knowing what goes on in the industry was really helpful.

“I love the variety of my job - the different people you meet and the strange locations you find yourself in. You can have up to 100 people on set so it is important for everyone to get on well, and you make lifelong friends.

“I feel really proud when I have worked on something and then see it on TV and realise how many millions of people are watching.”

And Gemma has some encouraging words of advice for students following in her footsteps.

“It is a difficult industry to get into, but you should just keep trying. I really do think I got into this career through my degree so I would just say explore every avenue.”