Coleg Llandrillo, Coleg Menai, Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor and Busnes@LlandrilloMenai logosColeg Llandrillo, Coleg Menai, Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor and Busnes@LlandrilloMenai logos

Former media student on how he landed Top Gear and Carpool Karaoke jobs

Former Coleg Llandrillo student Michael Kitchin knows the value of hard work and determination after he landed a job on Top Gear while still completing his university dissertation.

Since then, the 29-year-old from Dyserth has forged a career as a specialist camera operator, working on hit TV shows such as Carpool Karaoke, A League of Their Own and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.

He regularly covers global motorsport events such as the World Rally Championships and Formula E, and also works on Wingmen, the social media sensation started by Liverpool footballers Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.

Michael has developed a niche filming moving vehicles from inside and outside - involving a range of skills from operating drones, to patching up cameras following crashes, to rigging up onboard cameras capturing the likes of Freddie Flintoff, Matt LeBlanc and James Corden while they drive.

He has a skill set that has taken him all over the world, with Japan, Saudi Arabia, the USA and Indonesia just a few of the stamps on his passport.

But Michael’s journey started at Coleg Llandrillo’s Rhos-on-Sea campus, where he studied a Level 4 Foundation Degree in Broadcast Media Production from 2015 to 2016.

Speaking from one of the media production classrooms as he made a flying visit to his former college, Michael said his tutors gave him the confidence to pursue a career that aligned with his own interests.

“Here we weren’t told, this is your subject area and you must write about it,” said Michael. “You're encouraged to think, what would you like to work on? What are your interests? And the lecturers here would help.

“For instance, my interest was in sports and specialist cameras, and they'd be like, ‘Well how can we bring those two together?’”

After completing his course at Llandrillo, Michael went on to complete an honours degree in Professional Broadcasting Techniques at the University of Salford.

It was while researching his dissertation on specialist cameras in extreme sports that he landed his big break with Top Gear.

For more information about the range of Media, TV & Film courses available through Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, click here.

“We were advised to hone in on our specific areas, do our research, find people in the industry and set up an interview,” he said.

After a series of knockbacks, Michael secured an interview with a cameraman who was filming in the city with Manchester United.

“He asked me what I'd like to do after the course, and I just said ‘I'd like to come and work for you’,” said Michael, a United fan.

“Two weeks later I got a call from his boss. The company was in London at the time and they had the Top Gear contract.

“I just packed up and went to London and started working and doing my dissertation at the same time, and it started from there really.

“I was working in a kit house in London with cameras - modifying cameras, cleaning all the kit, dealing with invoicing, admin systems, generic emails and then going to shoots such as Top Gear as a complete newbie.

“I would just be there and I'd just be shadowing people and trying to get involved as best as I could without messing up the shoot. I kind of fell into a specialist cameras role where we did all the in-car cameras, and that's what I still do now.”

As well as Top Gear, Michael found himself working on car commercials and other shows such as Saturday Night Takeaway and Wingmen - with his dissertation deadline still looming.

“I was floating between London and Manchester, driving, train, driving, train. I started doing shoots abroad as well - Europe, Thailand, coming back, then doing my dissertation and then going back to Manchester to the lecture halls.

“I'd be in the office in London, and there would be Top Gear kit everywhere. This camera needs fixing, that camera needs fixing… oh, I still need to do 1,000 words on my dissertation. Then the phone - what kit do you need? I need 10 GH5s with X amount of lenses, filters, power, tripods, grip.

“Then straight on over there, clean everything up, get that all sorted. Coming in at 1am to pick up the kit, out the door, straight back to the dissertation on the e-mails to university, on lecture calls because I couldn't make the lectures…

“It was a case of, it's got to work. Obviously I've found my way in here. It needs to work. So it was like, head down, pedal to the metal. So yeah, it was mad.”

On Top Gear, Michael worked closely with presenters such as Freddie Flintoff and Matt LeBlanc, but said he was never star-struck.

“We'd have one specialist camera operator with one presenter, so we'd all have a presenter each, and we'd be in charge of that car with that presenter,” he said. “Setting up the shot, setting up the lighting, making sure the camera can power for a long time as they did their lines.

“I would say a lot of the people I’ve met are very down to Earth. Freddie's like one of the lads.

“Once when we were having a chat, he asked where I was from and I said North Wales. He said ‘Oh, we were looking at somewhere on Anglesey’. I reckon if I had said, ‘do you want to come round for a brew, he would have said yes’. He’s just normal, an absolutely lovely guy.”

Asked if he got to drive some of the cars on Top Gear, Michael said: “Quite a few, yeah, supercars - but not at speeds, only from A to B. Lambos, Mercedes, McLaren, anything like that, really. Just around the little yard at the Top Gear test track.”

One of Michael’s favourite memories came after he’d been working on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, Jack Whitehall, Jamie Redknapp and Freddie Flintoff, and an issue was spotted in the editing phase.

He said: “They needed to do a reshoot, but they needed the pictures exactly the same, but they couldn't get Freddie and James's availability, only Jack and Jamie.”

So as well as rigging up the cameras for a reshoot, Michael also ended up driving the car - unbeknown to the show’s Christmas Special viewers thanks to the magic of modern technology.

“I had to drive the car because Freddie wasn't there,” said Michael, who had to drive one-handed using a special steering wheel. “They had to do this because they were going to paint us out of the main camera. So if an arm went in, they'd know it was someone else's arm.

“They were feeding me doughnuts as well because in one of the scenes they were trying to stuff doughnuts in Freddie's face, so they were like, have another doughnut!

“They managed to pull it off and the Christmas special came on and I was like, ah, I was driving there!”

Michael acknowledges he has been lucky to earn a dream job, but his advice to current students is there are plenty of opportunities in the television industry if you work hard and believe in yourself.

“I'm very fortunate that I've fallen in the right places. I do look back on being here as the basis of where it all started,” he said.

“I appreciate that a lot because it kind of gave me a pathway then.

“The opportunities are there if you put the effort in. You'll get rewards 100%, and what I didn't realise as well is, there's so many jobs.

“There are people making cups of tea and taking Mars bars to presenters on jobs. That’s generally where a lot of people start, as runners. They'll be taking clothes to the presenters, or getting a card from me from my camera, taking it to ingest it into the computer.

“There's a job for everyone out there and you'll find your place. I do believe that for anyone, if you want it, you can have it.

“Also I offered my time out for free. I worked a lot of volunteering, with me having to pay for my own fuel to Manchester and back.

“You might spend X amount of money going out with your mates on the weekend, but you can put that money into going to visit a company, even if it's only for half an hour saying hello, saying if you've got anything, just let us know.

“There are a lot of people who are very accommodating in the industry, so believe - always believe.”

To watch the full interview, click here.