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How to Get a Film Crew Job

How to Get a Film Crew Job
Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins

There’s a lot of information out there regarding the best ways to get jobs in front of the camera, but what about everyone who wants to work behind the scenes? They may not be the faces on billboards, but the members of the film crew are the ones who make it all come to life. Here, we break down crew members, what they do, and how to get a job behind the camera.

What does the film crew do and why are they important?

The film crew consists of dozens of different professionals, all of whom have the skill and talent to make sure the set runs smoothly, and that the story being told on film is being communicated effectively and efficiently.

What are the different crew jobs?

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of various on-set jobs, what skills are needed for each, and how to get one.

PRODUCTION

Director: Directors are the leaders of the entire set. It’s their responsibility to keep track of the moving pieces while ensuring the vision of the project is maintained. Directors will also work with the actors to get the best performance possible. Other aspects of the project they oversee include hiring, script adjustments, shot compositions, and editing.

Important skills to have as a director are leadership, patience, organization, and a sharp and defined aesthetic, as well as experience with various other film production jobs in order to know how to best communicate with the entire team.

Since being a director is one of the highest-ranking jobs you can have, it’s not the kind of thing you can find an opening for online and apply for. Being a director often means starting in other jobs on set and working your way up. Going to film school can be especially helpful if you want to be a director, both to hone your craft and develop a network of people with whom to work. It’s also important to get a lot of assistant director work, internships, and mentorships. Creating your own work and putting it out there (online, submitting it to film festivals, having a director’s reel, etc.) can also help you land partnerships and gigs moving forward. This is perhaps one of the least defined paths in the film industry, but also one of the most rewarding for many people.

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First Assistant Director: First ADs are the right-hand people to the director on set. They manage talent, crew, and filming while also handling various daily responsibilities. Additionally, certain ADs might be in charge of giving direction to background talent. Helpful skills for a first AD include leadership, organization, and communication.

Production job search sites such as Backstage.com, EntertainmentCareers.net, ProductionHub.com, and WorkinEntertainment.com are great places to look for this kind of work, as well as tapping into your network.

Second Assistant Director: Second ADs serve as the assistant to the first AD, though they’re typically only found on larger sets. Their work can include jobs such as scheduling, writing call sheets, figuring out equipment requirements, and wrangling background actors. Necessary skills include leadership, communication, and attention to detail.

Executive Producer: EPs are responsible for the financing of a production. They’re not necessarily involved with day-to-day filming, but their opinions are often held in high regard as a result of the fact that they’re signing the paychecks. Valuable skills for an EP include fundraising, networking, organization, and a strong financial and business background.

Being an executive producer is another job that you don’t just apply for (though there are many, many projects looking for EPs to back them!). Having a strong financial or business background—especially in show biz—is helpful, as is being extremely well-connected with a strong support network to pull from. Working as a regular producer on various projects can help lead to becoming an executive producer. Sometimes, actors are EPs on projects they believe in and want to have a greater artistic say in. Creating your own work, being on the lookout for projects that catch your eye, and forming partnerships with artists is another great way to go about it.

Producer: Producers are in charge of overall logistics, ensuring the set runs smoothly along with the director, and tend to be on set more often than EPs. There can also be producers specific to different aspects of the set. For example, there may be a different producer for finances, crew, locations, etc. They help with daily tasks such as meeting budgets, adjusting scripts, and working with the location manager. In addition to day-to-day producing tasks, it’s their job to “put out fires.”

Skills needed include organization, communication, attention to detail, ability to multitask, and a strong working knowledge of the various jobs on set.

There are colleges and universities these days that teach arts administration and management (like the New School and the Hartt School), which is a great background for being a producer. Making your own work and getting involved with projects you’re passionate about is another great way to get into producing, since it’ll help you start to form a network from which to draw work. It’ll also be useful in teaching you about every aspect of the industry.

Production Assistant: PAs are the extra set of hands all film sets need. Their tasks include setting up tables and chairs, charging and distributing walkie-talkies, locking up the set when filming starts, grabbing coffee and food, anticipating the higher-ups’ needs, completing errands, arriving first and leaving last, cleaning up at the end of the day, and paperwork. If you want an introduction to life on a set, this position will give you a taste of what the day-to-day routine is like. It’s also the place a lot of people on set start when they get involved with film production before moving on to other departments or up to higher-level jobs.

Important skills include flexibility, communication, adaptability, and willingness to work hard with long hours.

Standard job sites will likely have PA job listings, but you should also research local production companies to see about any entry-level work they might have available for which you can apply.

Line Producer: Line producers are the people in charge of money and preparing the budget. They keep track of expenses such as salaries and daily operating costs for things like equipment, craft services, location rentals, etc. Skills needed for line producing include a finance or business background, attention to detail, and good organizational skills. Having a producing, finance, or business background is a good way to find jobs as a line producer.

Production Manager: Production managers are other members of the crew who help with overall logistics to make sure the set runs smoothly. Duties can include organizing equipment, keeping track of crew, location scouting, obtaining permits, and keeping track of the schedule. Production managers also work closely with producers on set.

A production manager is best served by being organized, communicative, able to keep calm under pressure, having a working knowledge of all aspects of the set, and paying close attention to detail. If you’re familiar with theater, this position is similar to that of stage manager.

Associate Producer: Associate producers assist the producers on set, helping them with the day-to-day tasks from preproduction through postproduction. Duties can include organizing scripts, writing, and editing. Skills needed include organization, communication, attention to detail, and an ability to multitask.

MAKEUP + WARDROBE

Makeup Artist: Makeup artists work together with the director, hairstylist, and wardrobe department to ensure that the aesthetic of the project is achieved and to help visually move the story forward. Skills needed include creativity, artistry, communication, historical knowledge of different kinds of makeup, and training with both stage makeup and special effects. MakeupArtistJobs.com and GetMakeupArtistJobs.com are good entry resources for jobs.

Hairstylist: Hairstylists work with the director and wardrobe department to ensure that the aesthetic of the project is successful and historically accurate, as well as to help visually move the story forward. Helpful skills include creativity, artistry, communication, historical knowledge of various hairstyles, and technical training with hairstyling. BehindTheChair.com, Indeed.com, and SalonJobs.com are good resources for openings.

Wardrobe Stylist: Sometimes referred to as costume designers, members of the wardrobe department are responsible for working with the director to visually enhance a character through clothing in order to help tell the story and make sure their dress is historically accurate. Skills needed include creativity, design knowledge, communication, historical expertise, technical expertise, and experience in a wardrobe or costume shop. Many wardrobe stylists went to school for design or costuming.

CAMERA DEPARTMENT

Cinematographer/Director of Photography: Cinematographers, also known as the directors of photography, or DPs for short, are responsible for the overall aesthetic of the project. They are in charge of the camera department and call the shots (pun intended) along with the director when it comes to the type of camera and lens used, as well as the framing, lighting choices, and camera movements.

In order to be a cinematographer, you must have real artistry and creativity, as well as the necessary technical skills for various cameras often learned at film school or on set. This is a job you build up to over the years, not something you would enter a set for the first time doing; you can start by doing camera assistant and camera operator work. Creating your own work and eventually making a reel out of it will help show others your aesthetic and experience with the position.

Camera Operator: Camera operators are the people who hold and maneuver the camera. On smaller sets, the DP and camera operator can sometimes be the same person. On larger sets, the camera operators work under the direction of the DP to move the camera, whether it be on a Steadicam, drone, crane, or dolly. The larger the size of the project, the more camera operators there will be to individually operate whatever equipment the scene needs.

Camera Assistant: Camera assistants are the people making sure actors are in focus throughout the shot, working closely with the camera operator to achieve this goal. (Again, if it’s a small set, the DP is likely doing the job of both the camera operator and the camera assistant.) In order to make sure the camera is in focus, they will pull focus (meaning to change focus throughout a shot), create marks for actors to hit to establish shot distance, and make sure the correct lens is being used. They will also keep track of any equipment needed for the camera, including batteries, data cards, or accessories, as well as slate the scene to make sure that the sound syncs up properly in postproduction.

In order to be a camera assistant, you must be trained in how a camera works and operates, either through film school or on-set training. Try researching local production companies to see about any entry-level work they might have available.

Videographer and Photographer: Videographers and photographers capture behind-the-scenes footage for documentary or marketing purposes. Not all sets have these roles, but if they do, you must have a good artistic eye, creativity, and working knowledge of video and still cameras in order to work as a videographer or photographer.

LIGHTING + GRIP DEPARTMENT

Gaffer: Gaffers are the head lighting technicians on set. They help to shape the light design by using equipment such as gels, bulbs, diffusion filters, and light placement to achieve the desired aesthetic results on camera. Gaffers need to communicate with the DP and director so everyone’s vision for the light in the scene is on the same page. On small sets, the gaffer, grip, and best boy might all be the same position.

To be a gaffer, you have to be trained in light design, have effective communication, be creative, and have an aesthetic eye for how the visual in the scene helps to move the story forward.

Grip: Grips are responsible for the execution of the light design that the gaffer, DP, and director agree upon. They will physically execute the desired light by using lighting equipment to create diffusions, shadows, and patterns in the scene. They also have the important job of ensuring the safety of the light equipment so that everything is secure. On large sets, there can be more than one grip, in which case there is a key grip, who tells the other grips what to do.

Best Boy: Best boys are next in command to the grip and the gaffer, helping them out with whatever they may need, essentially acting as a foreman. This includes tasks such as ensuring the generators are working when needed, making sure the cables are correctly and safely stored, and that the lights are set up correctly with the proper bulbs and equipment in place. If the position is held by a woman, it is appropriate to call the job the best girl.

To be a best boy, you must be trained in light design and be able to effectively communicate with the rest of the lighting department.

SOUND DEPARTMENT

Sound Mixer: Sound mixers are in charge of the sound department. They make sure all audio levels are correct, check individual mic and recording levels, and transfer files onto media cards. If you’re interested in music or sound design and are technically savvy, this could be a position for you.

Boom Operator: The job of boom operators is to hold the boom pole with the microphone on the end so actors’ sound can be properly recorded.

To have this job, first and foremost, you need very honed upper body strength—you will be holding the boom pole above your head throughout the course of the shoot. More seriously, patience, communication, and attention to detail while performing this job are what will help to create top-notch sound quality.

SCRIPT DEPARTMENT

Script Supervisor: Script supervisors oversee continuity and make sure everyone is sticking to the script. If a production films on multiple days or shoots a lot of takes, it’s important that someone is paying attention to where props are placed, how hair was styled, etc., so that when it’s edited together in postproduction, it all appears seamless in the final cut. By nature, script supervisors should be extremely detail-oriented, organized, observant, and patient.

If I don’t have experience, where do I start?

Film production is a lot like other fields in that there’s lots of competition and you may have to settle for a job you don’t want and work your way up from there. If you don’t have any experience, start by taking classes, interning, and volunteering on small sets. Often, students are more than happy to have help in the form of free labor and in turn, you learn the ropes.

The more time you spend on set, especially in different positions, the more you’ll be educated and can cross over from job to job as you decide what position is right for you. You can also grow in the business with the directors you start working with, so it can pay to start small, work hard, and build relationships.

Like a lot of jobs in the film industry, when you first start out there may not be a lot of paid work, but as you continue to hone your craft and gain experience, you’ll work on bigger and bigger projects. You will also have to begin nonunion until you’ve gained the experience and expertise needed to join the union.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of creating your own work. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t on the fly, in addition to gaining an appreciation for all the varied jobs that appear on set.

What will I need to apply?

In order to apply for film crew jobs, you will first and foremost need a properly formatted résumé. Your résumé should be very simple, clean, and easy to read. Be sure to limit it to one page. List your experience, internships, mentorships, and relevant school projects, as well as any acceptances to or awards from film festivals or contests. Highlight any experience you have working long hours (without being too obvious about it) in order to let your prospective employer know that you’re fine in that type of work environment.

For a lot of the positions, especially the creative ones such as DP, wardrobe stylist, gaffer, etc., a portfolio is necessary as well. It’s very helpful to have a website that people can go to and see all your work in one place. (Having your resume and contact info on there is important as well!)

Being a member of specific job search websites that are geared toward film crew jobs is also important. Also, research local production companies to see if they have any entry-level work you can apply for. Work begets work, so be sure to build and maintain as many relationships as possible. The longer you’re in the industry, the more people you will know, which will hopefully lead to more jobs down the road.

What’s the deal with unions?

The largest union for behind-the-camera jobs is known as IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada). Another, broader group is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, colloquially known as “Teamsters.”

In theory, hiring a union member of the film crew should ensure a certain level of skill and professionalism. This isn’t to say that talented nonunion crew members don’t exist, but union status does denote a certain level of accomplishment in your career.

However, hiring union members often means there are more rules to the hiring process, including the projects someone can work on. The upside of being a union member is that you are protected on many fronts such as pay, working conditions, overtime, etc. Keep in mind that if a show is unionized, the project is legally obligated to hire only union workers.

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Do I need to be in NYC or L.A. to get a film crew job?

No! Shoots take place all over the world. You can apply remotely to companies that are based out of hubs such as NYC or L.A. and then be hired as a local where you live, closer to where the shoot will take place. Or if you’re willing to travel to work on a set—which may or may not be covered in your contract, depending on the specific project—you can apply from wherever you live and then travel to the location. If the production covers travel and lodging, great. If you will only be hired as what is referred to as a “local hire” (someone for whom housing and transportation is not provided), having friends or relatives willing to host you can allow for more job freedom.

What are some entry-level crew jobs I can apply for if I don’t have any experience?

The classic entry-level crew job is that of a production assistant. As mentioned earlier, being a PA means you get to do a little bit of anything that needs doing: setting up tables and chairs, charging and distributing walkies, locking up the set when filming starts, running to grab coffees and food, anticipating the higher-ups’ needs, completing errands, being the first on set and the last to leave, cleaning up at the end of the day, and filling out paperwork. If you want an introduction to life on a set, this position will give you a taste of what set life is like and allow you to observe many of the other film crew positions in action.

Another good entry-level option is the office production assistant. This position is more for behind-the-scenes, administrative tasks of working in a film production office. With this position, you may have a greater chance of networking as everything starts, ends, and travels through the office. (Writers, directors, props, cameras, etc.)

If you already know what on-set job you’d like to do, you can always specialize by being someone’s assistant. This is dependent on the size of the set (and whether or not you’re willing to work for free for experience), but there are all types of assistant positions you can try your hand at to gain experience: wardrobe assistant, camera assistant, etc.

The grip or best boy can also often be an entry-level position, as can the script supervisor.

Together, the film crew creates the magic behind the lens which in turn allows the story to come to life in front of it. There are a plethora of jobs on a film crew that cover a wide range of skill sets. If you have a love for film and know your strengths, there is sure to be a job that’s right for you.

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