Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, April 2007. Finding Film Industry Employment After Graduation: To Succeed, You Must Network by Michael Corbett. Pages 56- 58.
Networking: n., the developing of contacts or exchanging of information with others in an informal network, as to further a career.
Not only do you want to be a filmmaker, but you want to work in the big leagues. You want to be on set and work on Fortune 500 television commercials for national clients and on studio and independent feature films. More than 90% of the people you see on a film set are freelance. They are hired, sign a deal memo, and work in their craft as long as they are needed. At the end of the job, they are unemployed. To succeed in a working environment like this you must network. You must constantly stay in touch with other freelancers and stay abreast of what is happening in the industry. You must always be looking for a job.
Working for an industry vendor is a great way to build your network. Working filmmakers routinely visit and patronize industry vendors, renting equipment, buying expendables and arranging for needed services. By working for a lighting, grip or camera rental house, many a filmmaker has launched a career or gotten a foothold in a new market. Most rental houses are accustomed to a regular turnover of employees, as experienced employees join the freelance workforce, and newcomers take their place. Our industry is growing at an unprecedented pace. There is no shortage of opportunities for skilled craftsmen.
The plan: Make a plan. Take the time to plan how you will seek employment. Over time, your plan will change as your interests change and you discover strategies that work better for you. The important thing to note here is as a freelancer: you will always be working your plan.
Research and identify possible sources of work and leads for work. State and locally funded film liaison and production offices are paid for with your taxes. Almost every production will require a permit to shoot or some other service provided by the local film office. Call the film office and find out who is working and who is coming to town.
Equipment rental houses, production companies, film laboratories, and postproduction facilities are sources of leads for freelance employment. Organize your time and plan to go and visit these places. Take resumes and business cards with you. Make up a video “reel” of productions that you have worked on. Be ready to show it if the person you are interviewing with has the time to watch it and is so inclined.
Go see people. Look sharp, feel sharp, and be sharp. It doesn’t matter if you have long hair, no hair, earrings, tattoos or anything else. What does matter is that you look professional, neat, clean, and dressed appropriately for the job you are applying for. Always have your business cards and resume with you. Smile and use a firm handshake. Ask for work. Ask if they know about any work coming up.
Visit production companies, rental houses, production offices, the set of working productions, the film office, and your production friends (take some beverages and some chips and become better friends). Join and attend industry organizations. Volunteer to be on committees or just to help with projects. Go to networking nights and other social events. See and be seen. Enroll in seminars and classes to enhance your skills and continue your education. Go to industry conventions and conferences.
Make friends. Ask people to lunch, or dinner. Most of the work you do in this industry will come to you because an individual recommended you for a job. The more friends you have in the film industry, the easier it will be for you to get work. Have parties for production friends. Go to parties. Join professional organizations and attend meetings, mixers and network nights. If you are capable of doing a competent professional job, and if you go and visit sources for work and make production friends, you will succeed as a freelance production person.
Telephone. Your telephone is your most powerful networking tool. Call people you went to school with, production assistants, technicians, crew members from the last job you worked on, the film office, professional friends in the industry, production managers, production offices, rental houses, and post production houses. Call anyone who might be able to help you find work. I know freelancers who, when unemployed, spend their entire day on the telephone calling network contacts. They don’t stay unemployed very long.
Mail/fax. Send a personalized cover letter and resume to the production company you just worked for, production offices you learn about through industry publications, and to production managers and production offices you discover through your phone network. Generally speaking, you won’t often get work by simply mailing someone a resume and cover letter. This process is much like advertising done by Fortune 500 companies to establish and maintain their “brand” identification with their customers. By using the mail and fax to persistently remind producers and production managers that you are still in the business and seeking work, there will be a long term benefit to your career.
Read periodicals related to the industry not only to look for work possibilities but also to increase your overall knowledge thereby making yourself more employable. Publications such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter that you can find at most big city libraries or on the Internet, routinely publish lists of feature films “in development.” It’s a long shot, but send them a nice cover letter and resume. Getting on one eleven-week shoot at standard industry pay rates is worth a few hours a month of mailing out letters.
Persist, persist, and persist. If you make a plan and follow it, you will succeed. Keep calling people. Keep going to visit employment contacts. Keep sending out resumes and cover letters. Keep attending professional organization meetings, networking nights and other special events. Keep taking classes to improve your craft, your business skills and your human relations skills.
You are only as good as your last job. The single most important thing that you can do to get more work in the industry is to do a good job on the show you are on right now. Keep your mouth closed, your ears open and pay attention. Work hard, don’t complain and thank the person who hired you. Several key advances in my career came as a direct result of sending thank-you letters to production managers and producers that I had recently worked for.
I was hired many years ago by a film equipment rental house to drive a 5-ton grip truck from Miami to St. Petersburg, Florida and to keep track of the equipment and expendables used by the production. This was an equipment rental firm I had developed as a network contact by virtue of renting equipment from them. This was a breakthrough opportunity as I had been working on breaking into the Miami production scene. When I completed that job and returned the truck to Miami, I asked for and was given an entry level job in the rental house lighting and grip department.
I sent a letter to the St. Petersburg production manager of that job thanking him for his assistance on the job and asking him to consider me for work in the future. A year later he again hired one of the companies grip trucks and asked specifically for me as the driver. After that job wrapped I again sent him a letter thanking him for remembering me and asking for me on the job. In that letter I mentioned to him I was interested in moving from working as a technician into location scouting, production coordination and production management. A few months later he called me and asked me if I would consider taking a position as a location scout/production coordinator on a TV commercial in the Miami area. He was leaving the business to work with his father in real estate and wanted to know if I would feel confident “trying-out” with this production team.
That TV commercial production I worked on with producer Gary Learoyd and director Bob Canning turned into a 12-year relationship that took me all over the United States on commercials for Proctor and Gamble, Pontiac, Kraft Cheese and many other fortune 500 brands. About one-third of my income in those years came from working with their team.
I applied the very same plan I have suggested to you and experienced success. My work for the rental house led eventually to my first position as a production manager/first-assistant-director on an independent feature film with a $1,000,000 budget. Adapt this plan to your situation and work it. It will lead to your success in this industry.
Michael Corbett has worked on television commercials and feature films in roles as varied as grip-electric to producer-director. Corbett presently serves as the Director of the Piedmont Community College Film and Video Production Technology Program in Yanceyville, North Carolina.