Getting a Lucky Break in the Film Industry
Surviving in the film industry is tough and having talent is just the start. It's a small and competitive industry and the key to success is ensuring that the right people know about you and what you can do – it's not necessarily who you know, but who knows you. An effective marketing strategy, networking, a good CV, and knowing how to handle interviews are all vital to finding and staying in work.
If you are working as a freelancer (as the vast majority of people working in production are) you are operating as a small business, so it's worth being business-like and working out a strategy. Analyse what you've got to offer and draw up your own marketing plan. Effective personal marketing depends on identifying and satisfying a need. It's not enough to know what you can and want to do; you also have to know if there is a market for your skills. For this, you need a good understanding of your own strengths and experience and to research the market to match your skills and experience to the requirements of the industry. Make sure you:
- read the relevant trade, industry press, websites and directories to find out who is doing what, where and when;
- have a strategy to keep informed about what's in pre-production and production;
- keep up to date with production or business development plans (including in house newsletters and gossip!);
- know what is going on in your region and make the most of the advantages of living there.
The Creative Skillset Film Skills Website is an invaluable source of information, from how to create a CV to finding out how the most established practitioners got started. There are also links on this website to other key organizations and agencies.
The film industry exists on word of mouth – you'll find employment from people putting you up for work and you'll soon realize you're only as good as your last job. You have to work at raising your profile if you want to find the right opportunities. This can seem extremely daunting at first, but a few starting points can make it all seem more do-able. To make the most of your opportunities start by listing all your personal contacts. You'll be surprised how many people you know. Then work at maintaining and increasing this list:
- develop an effective system for recording and following up contacts;
- join professional groups and associations – you can find contact details on the Creative Skillset website or in trade directories such as The Knowledge;
- look out for networking opportunities, such as festivals and trade events.
- ask fellow participants and tutors at training courses about their work and contacts;
- don't be afraid to ask established practitioners if they have ten minutes to meet you for a coffee – many people working in the industry are giving of their time (they were once in your position too) and often like to be asked. This can be an invaluable way of meeting people in the industry and gives you a chance to ask questions, get advice and ensure they know about you;
- where possible, socialise with the crew after a shoot;
- use your social contacts (they may have friends or colleagues in the industry);
- be prepared to do a few favours. Networking is a two-way street and you have to be prepared to share information. This often pays back;
- remember to keep in touch with your contacts, even when you're not looking for work.
And always remember that if someone has recommended you for a job (whether you have got it or not), make sure you ring to thank them. This is not only polite but they'll be more likely to recommend you again!
Looking for work
It is important to think seriously about who actually makes the decisions for hiring people in your grade, for example, if you are a camera assistant you should be targeting camera operators, DoPs, and facilities houses, not producers. There are excellent research tools now available to freelancers – www.imdb.com is an international database of films and technicians and is the ideal place to find out which productions individuals and companies have worked on. Directories are also indispensable for accessing individuals', production companies' and facilities/hire companies' contact details. Trade and association's publications are also a source of upcoming work but be warned, the status of a film (ie, whether it is 'greenlit' (financed) or not) can change over-night which can make published information out of date very quickly. The major film studios can also be a good source of information as they will occasionally be able to give you an idea of who has taken production space there – bear in mind though that they often have to retain the production's confidentiality. It's also worth registering with your Regional Screen Agency and the Skillset film industry database as they will have information on relevant productions, training initiatives and events. The trade union, BECTU, also offers an Early Bird newsletter for its members. Unfortunately, the most utilized method of finding work in the film industry is 'cold calling'. Rest assured if you're nervous or apprehensive about doing this – no-one likes having to do it so you're not alone! It is however a key part of the industry, so it will pay dividends if you do some preparation before you start the ball rolling. The following points are worth taking on board:
- Once you have identified who you are going to call, make sure you have paper and pen to hand and that you've noted the key points you want to make.
- Once you've introduced yourself ask if this is a convenient time to talk and if not, ask when would be good to call back. Don't be offended if the person has no time to talk – they may well be in a difficult meeting and the fact that you have shown awareness that they have constraints on their time, will stand you in good stead.
- Keep the conversation polite, friendly, enthusiastic and concise – remember, this is the first impression that they will have of you.
- If you are invited to send a CV in, make sure you have noted their email address correctly – you don't want to have to call them back for it – that's irritating for them and makes you look unprofessional.
- Thank them for their time.
- If you get very nervous, a good trick is to stand up when you make the call – you will sound more confident straight away.
- Make sure you make a record of the conversation – the last thing you want to do is call them again the next day without realizing you have already spoken to them. That is then what they will remember about you!
- Act on what they have suggested you do – if they have asked for a CV, make sure you send it as quickly as possible. This will ensure they remember who you are and will put forward an enthusiastic and motivated impression of you. If you send it weeks later, it doesn't look like you're that committed and the position will have been filled by someone who is.