The Producer And Writer Of 'The Late Late Show With James Corden' Reveals How To Get Ahead In Hollywood

James Longman started writing letters to television production companies and ended up working with the world’s biggest names in Hollywood – here’s how he broke in

RISING You work in a savagely competitive industry – how did you get your break? JAMES LONGMAN, PRODUCER ‘I wrote to production companies and executives, eventually getting work experience at the BBC on a music show called The O-Zone. They only paid travel expenses. After a few weeks, they moved me onto work experience on a BBC channel, but eventually I got an interview at MTV and got my first paid job as an intern, earning £150 ($194) a week. MTV was like a brilliant playground – full of young people having a good time and also making TV. It was a huge learning curve. There wasn't much money, so I got to do a little bit of everything – writing, shooting with the camera, lighting, sound, editing, directing, producing – we did the lot. Live shows were great as it was a real thrill to have an idea and then see it on screen two hours later (with varying degrees of success). We made lots of nonsense, and I realised I was pretty good at nonsense!’

RISING How did you get the Late Late Show gig? JL ‘I have never been pushy as a person but the older I got, the more I thought if you don't ask you don't get. In September of 2015, I bumped into the executive of the Late Late Show, Ben Winston, at the Edinburgh TV festival. I said to him, “if you ever need a producer out there, think of me”. He called me a week later, and I started on the show January 3rd 2016.’

If you go into television with a positive attitude, you'll be noticed and your path upwards will be quicker

RISING So what would be the first step for someone wanting to break into TV? JL ‘Do your research; work out what type of TV you want to be in. Watch those shows, watch the credits and see who makes the shows. Then email the right people. Offer to buy them a cup of tea or coffee – putting a name to a face is so important. Follow any meeting up with a polite email, “nice to meet you, keep me in mind”, etc – don't bombard people, but the occasional “how are you?” email is always welcome. So much of this industry is about being in the right place at the right time – it can be as lucky as your email turning up in someone's inbox just when they are looking for people.’

RISING It’s competitive, so what kind of attitude works to get your break? JL ‘Be friendly, always offer to help, and get on with people. If you go into television with a positive attitude straight away, you'll be noticed and your path upwards will be quicker. Production managers – the vital logistics people – are good people to get in with as they usually hire the runners. TV is a very freelance industry, so when your show finishes, everyone goes onto other shows. If you've been working hard, then those people will take you onto the next show.’

RISING How true is the old cliché: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? JL ‘Don't get me wrong – knowing people in TV is helpful when you're starting out, and once you're in the industry, lots of jobs come through connections you've made along the way. I never knew anyone in TV but I was persistent so don't give up. The traditional path from my school was to work in finance in the city. At one stage my older brother offered me a job there, but it wasn't for me. I stuck to my guns and eventually it worked out. It can be done!’

RISING What age is too old to try to change careers and move into a totally new industry? Is, say, 50 too old to be able to break in? JL ‘TV is a young industry and you have to have energy and passion. It won't be easy breaking in at a later age but people do. I always believe if you're passionate about things, and have the will, you can do what you want. Over the past few years, I have co-hosted an award-winning football podcast with one of my best mates Chris Scull, had a short horror film get into the London Film Festival and ended up being Emmy nominated in a dream job in LA, all through a mixture of hard work, belief, being in the right place at the right time and a huge dollop of luck!’

RISING Is working in Hollywood all it’s cracked up to be? JL ‘It definitely feels like an exciting place – the heart of the entertainment industry. You feel less boxed in here, like you can do anything. In London, you always feel a little like if you're a comedy TV producer, you can only do comedy. Here, they seem to recognise the talent and ambition rather than putting you in a box. I still get excited when I see the Hollywood sign. Visiting film studios, classic landmarks and eating in old-school restaurants and hearing about Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart dining there is a real buzz for me. So I’m definitely still under the Hollywood spell.’

Even if you do something you don't love, you've got to learn from it

RISING How precarious does it feel working freelance in the television industry? JL ‘The fortunate thing about freelance TV, is that contracts can be short, so if you end up working on a stinker of a show, it can only be for a few months. Also, even if you do something you don't love, you've got to learn from it. I ventured into daytime TV for a short stint, and soon realised that world definitely wasn't for me. If you're insecure about freelancing and short contracts, it may not be for you, but you can also use it to your advantage in terms of planning holidays and actually having a life.’

RISING Have you ever helped someone break into the industry – if so, what do you look for in people? JL ‘I will always help people if I can. I remember the people who helped me and it's important to give back to others. Generally I look for enthusiasm, passion and drive. It can be tough for people though as you're expected to choose a career at a certain age, and it's not for everyone. Generally I try to get people down to the show for a day, to see how it works and if it's something they'd be into. That's always a good step.’

RISING You must have worked with some big names – who has surprised you the most? JL ‘We did a shoot recently in London with Tom Cruise. When we initially pitched the idea, there was a lot of back and forth with his agent about the concept, but eventually we got to a place where everyone was happy. We were filming on a boat on the Thames, and he was an absolute joy. Professional, friendly, stayed longer than he was meant to, even asking to get a picture with everyone at the end. There is a reason someone like him has survived so long, and that shoot showed it.’

RISING What about the social life – have you exported London pub culture to LA? JL ‘I turned up on day one at the Late Late Show and suggested we should all go out together. A fellow producer, and American by the name of Michael, said “I’ve been meaning to do that for ages, I'll arrange a hike”. I nearly spat out my coffee. A hike! LA culture is very different, and drinking to the point of throwing up is rarely on their agenda. It is different in New York, where it's more like a London attitude but here, it's about Soul Cycle and smoothies. I am a big believer in getting a good night's sleep, working out and eating well. I think the better you feel mentally and physically helps in any job, but everyone needs to let go every now and again!’

WHAT NEXT? Want to know more about the biz? Longman recommends reading The War For Late Night. ‘It’s a fascinating look into the late night TV culture in the US. And while you’re at it, Any Human Heart isn't anything to do about TV, but a book I'd recommend to anyone!’