Newport News Public Schools TV and the Telecommunications Center

guest speaker in classroom
Telecom grad Steven Wilks talks with Telecom students about his TV producer job in L.A. He visited while he was home over the holidays.

Telecom grad Steven Wilks wakes up at 5:15 a.m. each workday and the first thing he does is call the police.

No, he's not a prankster looking for attention - he is a television entertainment field producer for "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," and as such, he wants to find out right away about any arrests or police stories that he needs to cover.

That's what Wilks told Telecom students when he visited the Telecommunications Center over winter break. A 2005 Menchville High School/Telecom graduate, Wilks has been chasing Hollywood's glamorous and not-so-glamorous stories since 2010.

After high school, Wilks attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. One week after receiving his college degree, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles. For the first year and a half, he had an internship, but then was hired by "Entertainment Tonight" as a production assistant. He started "in the vault" and worked his way up.

"Working with regional crews, it's good to have experience in all jobs," Wilks told the students. It is much more efficient to send Wilks alone to a location and hire a crew there than send a whole team from L.A. It is essential that he knows the other jobs so he can get the shots he wants for the news package.

"You can succeed if you want it bad enough," he told the students. "You have to work hard and be willing to do any job."

"Don't expect to start at the top," he warned. "Volunteer to help out with everything to get experience.  Fill in whenever you are needed."

Wilks brought a DVD of some of his news packages to share, including boxing great Mohommad Ali's funeral and "Brangelina"'s divorce. The clips showed how he had to wait to speak with the people he wanted to interview, be in the right place at the right time, and sometimes run alongside lawyers while asking them questions.

"'Controlled chaos' best describes my line of work," he told the students, informing them that "not everything will be perfect."

Wilks always has a travel bag packed and a bag of equipment ready to go in case he has to get on a flight quickly.

"It's always longer than you think it will be," Wilks said, "so pack for an extra day."

The students peppered him with questions - two girls had even made a list while he spoke. They wanted to know who pays for travel, what to do about misinformation/how to confirm facts, and many other details of the TV news business.

Telecom Supervisor Ray Price, who knows Wilks from his days as a student, explained to the current students how important it is to keep finances in order, keep every receipt, and make a budget.

The most difficult thing about Wilks' job, he said, is covering upsetting stories like shootings.

"You have to put emotion aside and decompress later," he said.

Also, trying to balance your own life when you are on call 24/7 is a challenge, he said. Wilks carries two phones, one personal and one for work. He tries to make sure he has some "scheduled down time and other times for friends and family."

"You have to balance," he said.