Origin Story

One of the most common questions I get, especially one someone emails me to use my resume editing service,1 “How do I find my first job, if I have no experience?”

The short answer is, as always, work for free (or, preferably, intern before you graduate from college), until you have enough experience to get paid.

The truth is, everyone found their first job in a unique way. Maybe they knew someone, like a cousin or uncle in the business; maybe they had a connection from film school; maybe they just happened to walk by a film set right at the moment they needed an extra hand. (Seriously, I’ve heard of this happening.)

There’s no pattern, no set way of climbing the ladder (or, rather, of reaching the ladder in the first place). Yet, people do it all the time.

I’ve gone on record saying I think “breaking in” stories are worthless:

After years of running on the same treadmill, you start to think there must be something you’re missing. Some step you skipped or some trick you just don’t know…

Some secret handshake or codeword. Something that means it’s not all random luck. But the truth is, there is no secret.

It comes down to luck and timing as much as persistence and hard work.

That being said, this blog tends to emphasize the negative. It occurred to me it might be inspiring, or at least less depressing, to tell aspiring film students (and another newbies) a true story of getting a job for the first time in Hollywood.

Now, obviously, I can’t tell my story (anonymity and all that). That’s where you, dear reader, come in. If you’re a working professional, especially one who’s started in the last five years or so, I’d like to hear how you got started. I’ll put a few of these together for a guest post somewhere down the line.

Maybe I’ll even make a series of posts, like John August’s First Person series.2 Just send me an email at anonymousproductionassistant at gmail dot com.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Shameless plug time! Two of my customers, Brittany and Greg landed an internship and a job (respectively) after using my service. I obviously can’t claim credit for getting them their foot in the door (they’re both smart, capable young people), but they seem to think I helped.
  2. Only much more lame.
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3 Responses

  1. I don’t think breaking in ever stops really.

    I did a short back in 2004 and spoke with a prominent DP, who was interested to work on a short because he like the story and felt he wanted to be part of it. He has a reputation for working with new(ish) talent.

    In truth, coming from a UK background, many people are in the business and working constantly but never rich! In LA as in London, there are a lot of people who are happy to be working in a business they enjoy – paid or unpaid.

    The interesting years are ahead of us now, as production costs keep coming down, more and more people will be trying to get into the film business. It’s going to be even more cut-throat in the future.
    ‘Nuf said’.
    The Guvnor

  2. As Kim pointed out, the value of connections — ANY connections — cannot be overstated. People are lazy (myself included), so when someone is looking to fill a slot on a production, they tend to go the easy route, hiring someone they know and more-or-less trust. If there’s nobody familiar available, they have to leave their comfort zone — and that’s when a recommendation from someone else they trust can be crucial for the hopeful newbie.

    I got my first gig in Hollywood — as an unpaid PA, naturally — thanks to an ex-film lecturer (I’d taken several of his classes in college) who moved on to work in publicity for KCET which was then LA’s mainline PBS station. He knew a producer who was making a micro-budget movie in a co-production with KCET, and gave me the number to call. They “hired” me — remember, no money — and I worked for nothing over the next three weeks, picking up actors and delivering them to the set, bringing coffee to the director (black, no sugar), cleaning up the location after the company moved on, and occasionally driving the prop 5 ton. By that time I’d earned a little trust, so they offered me the job of assistant editor synching up the 16 mm dallies… for which I would receive $50 a week.

    Connections made on that job led to my next gig PAing a bigger (but still low-budget) feature for $25/day. Big raise, that. One thing led to another, and I ended up working with the grips and electrics, albeit still getting PA money. And now, thirty-five years later, my career as a PA- turned griptrician-turned-juicer-turned-Best Boy-turned-Gaffer-turned-juicer (hey, it’s complicated…) is all over but the wheezing as I crawl toward the finish line.

    Yes, I got started a long time ago, but the same basic principles apply. Lacking any useful/relevant professional experience, the brand-newbie will probably have to work for free at first. If you don’t have any connections at all, then make some — which you do by working for free, impressing everyone with your smarts, hustle, and attitude. Do that often enough and someone will notice — and remember you down the line.

    It’s hard, but it can be done, and those who really want to live this life will find a way. The others will go home or find another line of work. That’s just the way it is.

    Oh, that ex-film lecturer? He’s now a respected, working director with many features and dozens of big-time TV episodics under his belt, including “Mad Men.” See, he had much better connections… and a lot more talent.

    That helps too.

  3. “Breaking in” to the business should just be a phrase we delete all together. A long story short for my landing my first job (That started this past Wednesday).

    1/ went to school for a Cinema & Screen Studies Program. Let me note this a Bachelor of Arts program, not a BFA, so I learned both critical film theory and production skills.

    2/ Became a Teaching Assistant and First-Year Academic Peer Advisor for the Cinema & Screen Studies Program

    3/ Became president of campus’s Film Club

    4/ Met an alumnus of my school when he came in to speak to a class I was a Teaching Assistant for and Networked

    5/ Applied independently of said alumnus to an internship with Focus Features.

    6/ Alumnus then coincidentally has a best friend over at Focus Features and redirect my resume from the department I THOUGHT I wanted to work in. ( I had applied for Executive, Production, or Publicity, he moved me to Creative Development).

    7/ Internship at Focus Features

    8/ Returned to school to finish a minor but was miserable. Kept in contact with boss from Focus Features

    9/ Focus Features sends resume to International Creative Management (ICM) and intern in the spring in the department of Motion Picture Talent.

    10/ Read a script at ICM set for production in May and realized that my alumnus, former boss at Focus Features, and current boss at ICM all were attached to the project. E-mailed everyone for WEEKS until they granted me an interview with the UPM (Unit Production Manager), rocked the interview, got a job.

    *Note, the job I got was to become an Office Production Assistant, but they actually relocated me to the set, now I’m the “2nd Additional Production Assistant” but because the budget is on the smaller end (not micro, just smaller), I was asked to come in everyday.

    I know that seems long, but it was 10 steps. In total, for anyone you might relay this to, I have had a total of 7 internships, was part of the e-board of my film club for 3 years, a Teaching Assistant for 3 classes, an Academic Peer Advisor, and an equipment lab technician (where our editing computers and film equipment was kept).

    All my college extra curricular activities= internships
    the internships = the job

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