Entering the film industry is both exciting and intimidating. It’s a very unconventional industry and there isn’t a clear universal path to find success. In the film industry, an accountant from Minnesota can move out to LA with nothing but the skin on his back and become one of the most prolific directors of all time. Anyone can make it in the industry and find success but the hardest part about working in the film industry is getting started. There are many avenues you could take to get into the film industry. In this blog post, we go through 5 of the most common ways to get your foot in the door.
Production assistant or PA starts our list of ways on how to get into the film industry. A PA is an entry-level position responsible for a wide range of delegated tasks that supports the film crew. In short, the PA does the tasks no one else wants to do. A lot of these tasks will be menial and just require basic common sense. The diverse work PAs get around a film set make it one of the best positions to observe and learn about the film industry, which is why the PA position is extremely competitive. Being a PA is the definition of getting your foot in the door and often, one PA gig will lead to gigs on other film sets or even a promotion to production coordinator or other roles higher on the food chain.
There are many types of PAs. Some film sets will have a PA for all of the different departments but overall, the PA role can be separated into 3 categories:
Set PAs work to support the physical production from the set itself, which usually means 12hr days or more. The duties of a set PA will vary day to day from managing extras to controlling crowds.
Office PAs work from the production office of a film, television, or commercial. Their duties are more administrative such as directing and rolling calls, doing coffee and supply runs, and maintaining the kitchen area.
Post PAs work similarly to office PAs except that they support the post-production office. Specifically the editors and post-production producers. Post PA’s duties include organizing the footage, scrubbing the footage, and managing the hard drives.
The PA position is a great starting point and the only place to go from there is up. Many successful filmmakers started as PAs. As long as you are reliable, helpful, and hard-working, you are likely to get more opportunities.
Internships are reserved only for college students or recent college graduates. Internships are a period of work experience offered by an employer to give students insight into their field of study. Internships are valuable experiences that can prepare you for your field of study better than any experience at your film school. Just like production assistants, internships are a common way to get your foot in the door at production companies and studios. Many interns are offered jobs by their employers but usually, this is offered when you have already graduated or are about to graduate. This is why interning in your last year of college or in the summer after your graduation is a great idea. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can give you wonderful insights into the industry.
The downside to internships is that many of them are unpaid and if you are moving to LA, for example, it may be difficult to support yourself and work the internship. Internships can vary from part-time to full time but if it’s unpaid, I’d highly recommend making it part-time.
Internships can be an amazing experience but not all internships are good. Some internships can work you like a mule for no pay and barely any gratitude. It is an unfortunate reality of starting from the bottom. It’s also important to focus on getting high-quality internships. When applying to internships, most students focus on what they can offer the company but you also need to consider what the company can offer you. If you want to be a screenwriter, it doesn’t make much sense to intern at a rental house. Make sure that the company has the resources and environment to help you grow into your aspiring role. Internships are supposed to be an educational experience, especially if they are unpaid.
Most internships will require a resume and cover letter in the application. Since internships are extremely competitive, you should make sure your application stands above the rest. Here are a few tips when applying to internships:
An internship may not lead to a job at that company but if your superiors like you, they will try their best to help you find a job elsewhere and they probably have a lot more connections than you do. So, always leave a good impression at internships. Arrive on time, follow instructions, and most importantly, take initiative. There won’t always be something for you to do and most interns use this time to scroll through social media. If you find a way to help out in ways your superiors never expected, then I guarantee they will try their best to help you in your job search.
In the same vein as being a PA, you can also freelance in the film industry. Freelancing is for those who are confident in their abilities and understand a film set well. You could be a freelance PA, grip, script supervisor, director, the list goes on. However, freelancing is difficult… extremely difficult. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires tremendous work ethic and discipline but freelancing is very popular in the film industry because the industry is project-based. You'll find a lot more freelancing jobs than jobs in an office.
Freelancing can be rough but starting out as a freelancer is when it’s the roughest. You have to build your network and credibility without a lot to show for it. When starting out, tell everyone you know you are a freelance cinematographer, editor, or whatever you specialize in. Attend networking events and you could even offer to work for free or at a discounted rate.
When freelancing, build relationships and keep in contact with past clients or connections. Put everything you have into every job you do because with every job, you’ll meet more people and those people could lead you to your next job. Eventually, if you’re good at what you do, you’ll have enough connections and recommendations to stay constantly busy. In order to get to that point, it’ll take perseverance, patience, and an incredibly strong will.
You can also create your own films. The goal of this method is to get your film to break through and get noticed by notable figures, large production companies, studios or even develop a significant audience of its own. You’ll have to find a way to support yourself and focus on funding your independent projects but creating a micro-budget film that gets noticed has worked for many big-time filmmakers today. David F. Sandberg is now a blockbuster director but was discovered creating short films on YouTube. Fede Álvarez, director of Don’t Breathe, was also discovered on YouTube after uploading a short film. There is no universal model on how to become a successful filmmaker but as long as you are creating good content and giving every project you’re all, you’re sure to find an audience.
Every production company, studio, and film needs an assistant. There are so many assistant positions in the film industry and especially in Hollywood. Not all assistant positions are entry-level. It is rare to get an assistant job at a studio or network as your first job in the industry but at an agency/management company, it is very possible.
Being an assistant can be taxing work and if you work for someone who doesn’t appreciate you, it can be a nightmare. But, there are many opportunities for assistants to move up and build their network. For one, you are in contact with filmmakers, actors, and producers daily to organize meetings or schedule events. This gives you easy access to build relationships with important contacts and access to their contact information. If you have a decent bond with your boss and you do a great job, then they will want to help you out in your career goals as well. In order to be a good assistant, you need 4 things:
Whether it’s working freelance on non-union film sets or just working in an office as an assistant, here are some resources to use that can help find your first job in the film industry.
Facebook and social media is a valuable resource for freelancers. There are Facebook groups that offer amazing opportunities in a variety of roles. Here are a few groups to join below.
Film Commissions are government-run film councils created to attract different film productions to their state. Film commissions know all about the productions shooting in their locality. You can search for the film commission nearest to you here. Call them and explain that you are seeking experience and were wondering if any large productions were shooting near here anytime soon. Once you get the number to a film production office and call them, make sure to reference whoever gave the production's number to you at the film commission office.
As we’ve stated before, there is no clear way to get to your dream job in the film industry. Any one of these methods could work for one and be terrible for the other. We hope we at least gave you a place to start when thinking about how to get into the film industry. In every role, there are 3 things you should remember...