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How to break into the film business

How to break into the film business

How to break into the film business

Updated to add: This post was written a decade ago, and while the information below is still 100% valid, other options have entered the field that help emerging filmmakers, like LinkedIn, KickStarter, and other online film groups that allow for easy networking.


“How can I break into the film business?”

There’s no one answer to this question, but I’ve learned that there are two things you can count on: 1) It helps to know someone, and 2) Once you’re in, you’re golden. I’ve seen completely incompetent people get hired over and over again – simply because they’re there.

Seriously Consider Film School

So how do you get that first break? I recently interviewed producer Tom Berry for a future post in this series and he had two great tips. Firstly, he said, be sure that this is the ONLY thing you want to do. If you’ve backup options, shoot for them instead. The dedication, drive and commitment you need to succeed in film is absolute and leaves little room for anything else. From experience, I can confirm this.

Secondly, Tom highly recommends film school. I’ve heard a lot of negative things about film school, how it produces prima donnas, the equipment is outdated and that it can’t compete with real world experience. But, as Tom pointed out, it’s the perfect place to build a network of talented people with that drive and commitment; people who can help you attain your goals and connect you with other like-minded people. If you can’t go to film school, at least check out a few courses or workshops.

But whether you went to school or not, you’ve still got to land that first job. The whole union aspect makes it difficult, but not impossible. I’ll dedicate a post to unions shortly, but for now suffice it to say that there’s a percentage of jobs on each production open to non-union members. The trick is to land one.

This is where knowing someone comes in handy.

The Art of Networking

If you don’t know anyone, you have to strike that perfect balance between being persistent and being a stalker. Check the industry trades to find out what productions are shooting in your area. Check with the local unions to see if they have a list they’re willing to share. Be sure you’re qualified for the job you want. Some unions offer professional training for their members – doesn’t hurt to ask if you can join a session.

Bringing the production office staff food might increase your odds of getting through the front door. It will certainly get you remembered.

If you’re a complete newbie, but are keen, demonstrate your transferable skills. How are your years of babysitting experience going to help you be an actor’s assistant? Aim for the ground-level and/or non-unionized positions, such as driver, PA, assistant (to actors or directors), office runner or craft services.

Most importantly, remember the golden rule of film production: Time is money. Don’t waste anyone’s time. And if you do land that job, make sure you do it well, and do it fast.

Do you work in the industry? Do you remember your first break? Share your stories in the comment section. And keep those suggestions for future posts coming.

Feature image by Bokskapet from Pixabay

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  1. @Documentary Paradise Agreed. But keep in mind this post was written over 2 years ago. The social web has created tons of new opportunities for filmmakers, from networking to funding (think Kickstarter or Indiegogo). But the core advice remains true – be there and be prepared to work – regardless of the tools and tactics at our disposal.

  2. Great advice. But I think your guidance regarding things like the value of credentials, networking groups (in LinkedIn for example), local documentary “meetups” and other networking opportunities would have been even more valuable. In addition, some advice regarding getting that all-important first break would probably be more valuable than gold.

    Apologies if this advice has already been offered in another post.

  3. In my opinion, the two most important ways to break into the industry is to gain experience and network. If you really don’t know anything then I would suggest taking classes at a Community College. Due to the decrease in equipment costs, some film schools have equipment that rivals expensive film schools. You can also network and gain contacts through those classes. To gain experience I suggest trying to join student films or independent films which will also allow you to network. Going to film festivals is also a great way to network. You really just need to get yourself out there and visible as well as have experience.

  4. Syeda: The starting point is your story. If you’ve got a great idea for a documentary, shoot some footage and use it as your calling card to raise financing.

    If you assume a producer role, yes, you will need to register a company for this purpose.

  5. Good advice, I must say it sounds realistic. I am, however wondering, if someone wants to be in the business of Documentary (either commercial or social), what could be the starting point? I am talking about as a solo business entrepreneur as well as producer/ director/ writer and even crew!

    Do we need to register a company for this purpose? Any advice in this regard will be highly appreciated.

    — Syeda,
  6. Excellent advice, especially liked the honest “school = networking” and “persistence/stalker” appraisals 🙂

    I just wanted to add that this advice isn’t limited to the film industry, it is a pretty good strategy for getting into just about any industrial process position, whether that is a cutter in a factory or a gaffer for a major motion picture.

    1. Yup, that’ll do it. You have my appreciation.

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