Bad Times

In Soviet Russia, bread stands in YOU line.
The TAPA readership.

In the last few weeks, I’ve received several emails like this:

I was laid off back in July, the 22nd to be exact. I have been out here for 3 years and have worked at 3 networks. One job in which I was a Story Assistant for a show on Nickelodeon(Irrelevant I know). Here I stand nearly 8 weeks later, thousands of resumes sent out and several connections called and nothing. My confidence is at an all time low, I’ve been on 7 interviews and also went to 5 temp agencies. Nothing has caught on at all…. I’m a college graduate but that doesn’t seem to mean anything these days and with the Entertainment business as a different animal opposed to the ‘real economic’ crisis going on in the rest of the world; do you have any advice for someone nearly as lost as I am?


I moved to LA 6 months ago, got a wardrobe internship with a low-budget movie a week later and have worked on multiple films since then as either a set costumer or a wardrobe supervisor. Two months ago it all stopped, no movies, no jobs, no money. I admit, I was spoiled with decent success getting gigs so easy but now I can’t find a gig to save my life.

And so on.

In July, 43% of unemployed people have been jobless for more than 27 weeks. Two months out of work is not that bad. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck for you personally, but you are in no way alone.

But that’s the economy as a whole. In the Industry, it’s not uncommon to be looking for a job for months on end, even in the best of times (which, I’m told, were the nineties, before I even had a driver’s license).  It doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job, or nobody likes you, or whatever. All it means is, nobody is hiring right now.

First off, most TV series are staffed by May or June. If you miss that boat, you basically have to wait for someone to get fired or promoted. Then, the new job opening will be posted on the Coordinator’s 411. Hopefully, you’ve made enough friends that someone will email this job posting to you.

Literally hundreds of people will apply to this same job. The coordinator will only look at the resumes until she finds five or six qualified PAs that she’d want to interview personally. Because so many people are out of work, that means she might look at only twenty resumes.

You better be in that first twenty.

You have to reply to a job posting immediately. I actually have a rote PA application template, saved in the drafts folder of my Gmail; my resume is already attached. When I hear of a new job opening, all I have to do is fill in the name, and maybe details if I have specific experience relating to what they’re asking for, and then hit send.

With a smart phone, I can do this from literally anywhere, from the grocery store to the movies to my current job that ends next week.

If, on the other hand, you don’t hear about the job until hours later, or you decide to wait until you get home from whatever errand you’re on, you will not be in the first cohort of applicants, you will not got the interview, and you will not get the job.

Even getting the interview is not enough, of course. There are five other highly qualified PAs angling for the same job. The one extra show credit might be enough to put them over you. Or, maybe they’ve worked on a show with the coordinator’s friend in the past. Or, maybe they’re a particular race, gender, age, or whatever diversity check box the show needs to fill. Or, the opposite, if the coordinator is racist, sexist, agist, or whateverist.

What I’m getting at is, there are a lot of things outside your control. I know I’m being harsh, but these are the cold hard facts of this Industry. All you can do is keep looking. Or quit. Less competition for me.

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8 Responses

  1. Make friends on set. Don’t just do your job. Learn another role, talk with a PM or AD. Don’t work a day and think people remember you. This industry is too up and down. Mass hires at the beginning, a few replacements, and extra for load out (depending on the project). As a friendly person who never went to film school, I’ve gotten pretty damn far with out long periods of unemployment. Most jobs don’t even get posted. People have their people and they have theirs. Work hard, show confidence in it, and people WILL notice.

  2. Aren’t you basically saying here that any of us who get the list through your site have a 99.9% of never having our resume looked at, since by the time it’s up here at least 20 people who have gotten it directly already have applied?

  3. The 80’s were pretty good times in Hollywood as well, but by the late 90’s most aspects of the biz began sliding into the crapper. Now that movies and TV are being made all over the country — and the world — it’s hard to imagine the circumstances that would bring true boom times back to Hollywood. It’s a grind now, and seems likely to remain a grind into the foreseeable future. This has always been a rough business to break into, and for those (like me a long time ago) who came from outside the Industry, it quite literally takes years to become established below the line, in production, and especially above the line . I’m not sure breaking in has ever been tougher than now, but it can be done — and those who succeed will be those who have the determination to keep at it, refuse to wallow in despair during the inevitable lean times, and who make the most of every opportunity that does arise. There’s just no quick and easy way.

    The hard truth remains that not everybody is cut out for the eternal insecurity of free lance Industry life. This is not a criticism, it’s just a fact. If you’re one of those who really aren’t suited for this life (which is to say, if you’re among the vast majority of well-adjusted, relatively normal people) then do yourself a favor and follow another career path.

    If , after you’ve taken that long look in the mirror, you conclude that this really is the life for you, then be prepared to suffer. And good luck…

  4. Another idea to keep in mind for those wanting to work on the coordinating side of film (PA, assistant director, etc) but aren’t dead set on set work is to look into visual effects companies. If you work in production, you do not need to know how to do visual effects, and companies willing to hire junior artists will often hire green PAs. I have quite a few friends that were hired as production PAs and knew nothing about film.

    The job (and eventually career) is very different than on-set or office PA though. But it does offer a more stable environment and a slightly less day to day contract lifestyle. But you will be working in an office at a computer for most of the day. But you do get to see that awesome explosion or crazy robot before everyone else too!

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