Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Getting My Start - part 2

Thanks for the great response to my previous post, I'm glad people are getting some useful information out of it. Before I continue I need to pause and answer a couple of great questions I got from readers that relate to the previous post.

Melissa, a Junior Boston College (my alma mater), took a recent interest in film and only has enough time to get a film minor, not the full major. She wondered whether that would hurt her chances of getting a job after graduation.

I often hear people asking whether they need a film major or whether they should go to film school after college. For the entry-level jobs I'm talking about, a film major isn't going to make or break you. It certainly won't hurt, but in no means is it a "requirement". I majored in English and minored in film and made it through the ranks okay. And I've seen plenty of people hired with no film classes or background. However, where you do benefit from taking those classes (besides learning something) is in the "skills" you can list on your resume. If you want to go into editing and are looking for a job as P.A. in post-production or an assistant at a post production house, being able to list that you're well versed in AVID and Final Cut Pro is certainly going to help. Likewise, a familiarity with Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft might help when you're trying to work your way into a writers office. One of things I forgot to mention about P.A. work is that you'll be doing a lot of tech support. Sure you can call the NBC support center in India or wait for a tech to drive halfway across town in traffic to help out your irate Executive Producer, but if you can fix the problem right then and there you'll look like a superstar -- and more importantly, you'll stick in his or her mind as "helpful".

The other benefit of taking film classes (and especially going to film school) are the contacts you'll make. You never know who's going to get a break and can help you out on their way up or at the very least pass on job opportunities they hear about. Which brings me to my next question...

Phil in Seattle (I think) asked "How does one go from working as a PA on indie projects they find on Craigslist to interviewing for a PA position on a "real" project?"

It's an excellent question and I apologize for skipping over this. In essence it's all about the contacts you make. More than likely, there'll be a few people on an indie set who also work on industry projects. Working on an indie often gives them the chance to work slightly higher up on the position-scale -- for instance, a set P.A. or a 2nd 2nd A.D. on a Network show might take the time to work on an indie film as a 1st A.D. or some other position they wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do. These are the people that can help you out down the line. If they remember you were eager and helpful to them on set, they might recommend you to their bosses when they go back to their "day job", or let you know about other jobs they hear about. Unless you happen to end up working on a student film or some guys with a flip-cam, my bet is there will at least be a few people with some contacts in the industry.

Another thing you can do is to call around to the production offices, even if they're not hiring most places will put your resume on file. Admittedly it's pretty rare that someone will then pull your resume out of that file -- almost all interviews come from recommendations or referrals -- but it's certainly better than not being in there. And if you're able to put that little bit of experience you have on there, all the better.

Many of the production houses/networks/studios etc. offer internships or have something akin to the NBC page program. They're not easy to get, but don't let that deter you from trying. Put yourself in for all of them and increase your chances. Many internships are only offered to students in exchange for college credit, so if you're in college, now may be the best time to get your foot in the door.

Finally, there's something called the UTA job list. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
"One of the things UTA is famous for is the elusive "UTA Job List". The list includes many assistant position job listings for agent/publicist/manager hopefuls. UTA will not confirm the existence of such a list, but it does indeed exist and is only available to those with connections to people within Hollywood to be able to obtain it."
Makes Hollywood sound like a secret society doesn't it? I can confirm its existence as it has passed through my inbox from time-to-time. From what I remember most of the jobs required some sort of industry experience so it might not be all that useful for people trying to break in, but some odd things do appear on there so it doesn't hurt to look. As for how to get it? I'm not too sure, but I'd suggest at least starting with a google search.

In short, while it's certainly not easy to break into the industry, there are ways to do it. I know it's tough starting out and can seem daunting -- you're lonely; you don't know anyone or even anyone who knows anyone, the whole process is completely unorthodox and there are absolutely no guarantees. But don't give up. My advice is to use brute force. Keep trying and eventually you'll find a door that you can shove yourself through. There's a saying out here that no one "fails" in Hollywood, they just stop trying. I'd venture the same can be said for trying to break in.

And before I forget to say it, "move to L.A." -- no one's going to hire you out here unless they can meet you in person and you live in the city (and have car). There are some jobs available in New York, Vancouver and other places that film productions travel to, but at the end of the day, Los Angeles is where you need to be if you're serious about it.

Good luck and keep the questions coming! I'll resume my story soon with my time at Crossing Jordan and getting started at Heroes.