Rhodri Williams - Digital Producer @ Rio 2016 Paralympics

By Billy Dowling-Reid | 17 August 2016

Soon to jet off to Rio de Janeiro and cover the Paralympics for Channel 4, Rhodri's CV includes stints working as a Content Producer with the Rugby Football Union, as a Digital Assistant Producer for the 2016 Sailing World Cup, and as a Digital AP for Channel 4's American Football Show.

While studying Film Production at the University of Gloucestershire in 2010 you were also working as a Lifeguard at a swimming pool. You went on to have a number of interesting jobs around the time of your graduation in 2013, including working as a Production Assistant on Monkey Life, and a Film Officer with the British Council. What was it like transitioning from being a student to taking the first steps in building your media production career?

Rhodri: It’s weird going from the safety of university into the big bad wider world. You realise very fast how artificial university life was and, especially for me doing a creative course, how artificial the briefs and tasks are. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life post-uni…so I used the free time I had doing the course to try and do everything, hoping something would stick. I thought I may have wanted to work in wildlife filmmaking, and a friend had a contact who could help, I also worked in an edit house and packing kit bags in a hire house. Some experiences were great and others less so – for a while I wanted to be an editor, it was the thing I had the most fun doing at uni, but as soon as I met and worked with editors in the real world it became clear fast that that wouldn’t have been a role I’d have enjoyed in any way.

I applied for every opportunity that I saw (including quite a few from Mediargh). For me, I approached leaving university as a blank slate. I had done all that work experience and the course had given me some practical tools to lean on - a website, a showreel and a few awards, but I knew that didn’t give me any kind of a leg up in the real world. You’re owed nothing in this industry from doing just a degree. I also used a lot of skills that I’d developed away from the course to sell myself – understanding how to use social media being one of the big ones.

Getting a three-month internship at the British Council in their film department was huge, and no doubt that role, company name (and a sprinkle of luck) helped when I got my second job working for Sunset+Vine on the American Football show as a Digital AP. Once your foot is in the door, everything becomes a lot easier. The “it’s not what you know, but who” is incredibly true in the world of media production – and bridging that gap between leaving university knowing no one and getting slightly more established with contacts is what I’d consider to be the first step.

You have gone on to specialise in sports media, covering everything from working as a Researcher at the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics to being a Digital Content Creator working for Basecamp, a ski and snowboard instructor training experience. What would you pick out as some of the highlights from your CV and what were your key learning experiences in these roles?

Rhodri: I have quite a lot of surreal moments being a fan of sport/travel and doing what I do. In the locker room chatting to Jared Allen after he’s won an NFL match at Wembley, looking into a dormant volcano after hiking to the top of a mountain with all my ski gear in New Zealand, on the field taking an England Rugby team photo at Twickenham, chatting to Sir Bradley Wiggins before the start of a stage of the Tour of Britain, filming the Northern Lights at 3am while chugging Fireball Whiskey in Canada next to a frozen lake, following the West Indies onto the team bus while they celebrated winning Cricket’s ICC World T20. There are a lot of these highlights, a lot of the pause and think “how did I get here?” moments – and they’re great, but the real learning experiences come when things are tough or hard or through making mistakes. Really, for the bigger roles it’s hard to learn while doing them – there’s a lot more pressure, a lot more on the line, and too much to risk and make mistakes. It’s one reason I love doing free work or my own projects where I can – if I miss anything or attempt anything too ambitious it’s a shrug and another lesson learned for down the line.

Working as a Digital AP on the Cricket World T20 in India earlier this year was incredible. The ICC’s digital team have a great social first outlook. Often “digital” can take a back seat to television, but the ICC pushed the content from all fronts allowing us to get some incredible engagement numbers. As well as that, running the visual content creation for the Women’s Tour last month after doing it last year alongside the awesome team at Sweetspot (who also organise the Tour Series and Tour of Britain) was a bundle of fun and a rare opportunity for me to work on something I’d worked on before! Normally I’m jumping so much between sports and events that by the time I feel I’m getting a grip with what’s going on, I’m at the end of the event and moving onto something new. It’s a shame I’m going to have to miss this year’s Tour of Britain as it clashes with the Paralympics, it’s a good problem to have had but I’m still gutted by the timing of it all – last year’s ToB was one of my favourite events to work on by far!

You're off to cover the Paralympics in Brazil this coming September. What exactly will you be doing and how did that role come about?

Rhodri: When I first started I had to fight really hard for every bit of work – send masses of emails, start up conversations via Twitter, take people out for a coffee or beer and try and work an (often unpaid) opportunity to show what I could do and then use that as a springboard to either get more work, or hopefully that person passing my name onto someone else. I still fight, send emails, tweet and take people out for coffees…but it’s shifted to people contacting me more often, rather than the other way around – which is certainly a nice change!

The role with the Paralympics came about via a contact from my first job with a company called Sunset+Vine, I worked for them on the NFL, Sochi Paralympics (from London) and for Lord’s Cricket Ground, but left to go freelance. I stayed in touch with the people I worked with there though and had been freelancing with them out in India on the World T20, in France for the Sailing World Cup and for the Henley Regatta. I was in the running for a job on the Olympics which sadly went to someone they had in house, but then an opportunity opened up on the Paralympics and they got in touch with me to see if I’d want to do it. It wasn’t too hard a decision to make!

My Role for the Paralympics is as one of a few Digital Producers who’ll be filming content for the Daily Channel 4 Online show. The working hours will be long, basically no sleep for the time I’ll be in Rio, and everything will have to be turned around for the edit almost as soon as it’s captured. Alongside that I’ll also be filming and editing extra features and hits for the website and social media. It’s a great role to have, jumping around the whole of the Paralympics and working with everyone everywhere. It’s great to have a job where rather than checking the clock and seeing it’s 10pm at night and being annoyed I’m still at work, I’m more shocked where the hours went, grab another coffee and continue to work away!

Working heavily with digital and online content, in what ways do you think media students, graduates and jobseekers can perhaps utilise online platforms in order to make themselves more appealing to potential employers?

Rhodri: My top tip online is to remember that anything you type, tweet, share on Facebook, post on Snapchat or put online in anyway represents you, and you are your own brand. It might not seem important, but I have gotten jobs before based on either my personal social media pages, or pages I’ve started and run for fun. For my internship at the British Council, they told me after I was hired that it came down to reading a film review twitter account I said that I ran in my interview – and that because they wanted someone with some social media experience, that finally tipped the scale in my favour over the other candidates.

I could go on forever about little things to do, or don’t do – but at the end of the day whenever you’re about to post something have a think what that post looks like from the outside. Does it represent you fairly? Would you mind if the person you just sent a job application to seeing it, and what would they think? I’m not saying don’t be yourself, but understand the “self” you place online, is the self everyone else is judging you on.

Social media is great for finding work – you can connect yourself with some of the most powerful people in a few keystrokes and with all the additions can creatively share a lot of what you do. There’s always tweetchats going on and they’re a great way to grab some tips and interact with influencers online. Currently I’m loving Instagram (therealrhodri) to share some little insights behind the scenes to the more polished stuff I post on that platform.

At the end of the day a paper CV and wordy cover letter only gets you so far – having all of what you can do and have done be easily accessible is a great way to back those words up. I often use my various social media channels as a landing hub – a kind of visual CV to show off what I’ve been doing and what social media sports articles I’m reading/sharing.

Thinking back to your University days between 2010 and 2013, what advice would you give to your younger, student self, or to anyone else looking to build a career in sports media?

Rhodri: Ask more and generally do more. Call and email everyone pitching work, worst they could have said was no! Work unpaid if the opportunity is good enough, especially if you’re at university where the government is helping fund your development. One of my biggest regrets is not tapping my university for more opportunities. I wish I’d started a film club, ran a university film festival or filmed and photographed more university sports. If you’re doing a creative course, never stop. Take part in 48-hour film festivals, make a film a day for month, do photo challenges, make more random things – anything to test your craft and get better. Work with the people on your course, start a weekly YouTube channel, make a podcast. Once you leave university and enter the real world that time disappears very fast! It might be artificial but you can do loads around what’s happening, and there’s always people looking for some photo or video assistance, and always companies looking for cheap, quick promotional work from students willing to work for beer money!

I also wish I'd thought into the future more. I've just got my permissions to fly a drone commercially from the CAA... but I'm late on that and now everyone seems to have permissions. I do have some 360 filming gear, so I'm on the front of that wave - but I wish while I was younger I'd thought more about what was coming next - some of it can be too expensive to get involved in - but while you can take those risks it's a great way to sneak into the niche early.

For people looking to work in sports specifically, get in touch with your local teams – whether that’s university or a local non-league side. Do their game-day photography, tweet updates, mid-week videos, some Facebook Live content – go along to other sports events and do the same…eventually people will start coming to you!

Follow Rhodri on Twitter: @TheRealRhodri and check out his website.