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 I’ve heard a lot of negative things about film school, how it produces prima donnas, the equipment is outdated and that it can’t compete with real world experience.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.