Charlie Phillips

Charlie Phillips is the Deputy Director for Sheffield Doc/Fest. Prior to this he was Marketplace Director, co-ordinating the MeetMarket, a unique opportunity for filmmakers and digital media producers to present their most innovative and passionate ideas to commissioners, buyers, funders and distributors. Before that, he was the Editor of FourDocs, Channel 4’s BAFTA-winning online documentary channel. Here are his first 5 jobs…

1. Usher, Grand Theatre, Leeds, 1996-2002

I got this job at 16, with the manager saying I had sent him the most precocious job application he’d ever seen. I don’t think it was precocious at all, but I can’t really remember now. I sold ice creams and showed people to their seats as they filed in for the Opera or a strange retro-music show. Most of the time I sat reading a book or daydreaming. I had to wear a horrible uniform, but I still wear the shirt now, so it can’t have been that horrible. My main preoccupation was wondering why I was out on the balcony so much when I wanted to work the stalls with the classier crowd. I now realise that I probably seemed too big for my boots. I loved the staff there, but I don’t think I ever told them. I got loads of material at The Grand for lots of teenage writing, which is all now lost sadly (I think).

2. Tour Guide, Buckingham Palace, 2002

I will never have a job as strange as this. I showed people round the Queen’s House, part of a team made up mainly of holidaying students who had been out drinking the night before. I was sometimes on security and sometimes marshalling the garden, it was all very peaceful. Everything about this job was bizarre, though great fun. It remains remarkable to me that Buckingham Palace employed such a random set of people to protect it, and I’m sure they’re stricter on who they employ now.

3. Front End Assistant Fresh and Wild, Stoke Newington, 2002-2003

Worked the tills at Stoke Newington’s heart of organic and alternative foods, now part of the Whole Foods chain. I got this job on my first day in London after I moved here properly, a day when I managed to find a flat and a job immediately, giving me a skewed impression of how easy London would be. The shop was staffed almost entirely by fun creative people who went out a lot and were amazing to chat with. It was the kind of job that felt more like being in a social club than a job and I probably wasn’t the most proactive staff member, though I know I was super-friendly on the tills. It was the best way to get to know a local area – I felt like I know the whole of Stoke Newington, and given it’s the heart of the culture industries (less so now, mind) I met some important people buying quinoa and tofu before I realised they were important.

4. Runner, The Quarry, 2003-2004

I was a runner in a post-production house. This was my time when I paid my dues, getting sushi for editors and advertising execs who I thought were silly. They didn’t like me, and I didn’t want to be an editor. I only lasted 6 months, and that was stretching it out. I often wonder if I should have tried harder at this job, but I am sure I worked hard, and I just had the usual lot of a runner where no-one appreciates you. I wonder if I was completely unaware of what I was doing wrong, they always seemed to be annoyed with me. This job proved to me that I’m not good at being told what to do by people I don’t respect. That might make me a bad person, but it’s true. I think about this job far more than things I’ve done that I know everyone liked – that’s human nature.

5. Usher Rio Cinema / Fim Curator, 291 Gallery, 2004-2005

Including these together because they mingle into one period in my head. I was an usher/cafe/box office person at London’s finest cinema, the Rio, and I loved it. I worked with lovely inspiring people and got to hang around an art-deco indie cinema. It never felt like working. Meanwhile I was organising weekly screenings of artists’ films at the 291 in Hackney and getting the knack of curating and audience-building which I suppose has been what I’ve been doing ever since. The 291 events showed me that I could organise stuff without a safety net.

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We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.