For those hoping to find work on a film or television set and are figuring out what the best entry-level jobs are or simply how to get their foot in the door, you’ve come to the right place. Professional film sets, and most independent projects as well, tend to have a structured hierarchy in place so it’s understood who reports to whom. This means that pursuing a career in any given crew specialty has a clear trajectory: apprenticeship or internship, low- and high-level assistant, and then department head. The entry-level positions listed below rank among the most popular areas of the film industry, but any aspect of filmmaking can provide experience at the apprentice or volunteer level; if you’re interested in professional costume or props design, for example, consider pursuing a costume or prop assistant gig.
Most early-career filmmakers start working in shorts, student films, and modest independent productions before moving up to big-budget studio features. Which film industry trajectory and entry-level jobs are right for you depends on your background and passions. What do you love about movies? Where do your career interests lie? Read on to spark some ideas and get started.
1. Production Assistant (PA)
The most logical place to start in film production is as a production assistant; many accomplished film professionals have launched their careers by taking on the myriad responsibilities this role requires. PAs provide support at all stages of production and are essential particularly on big-budget projects, making them the unsung heroes of the moviemaking world. This role is sometimes called a “runner,” especially in the U.K.
In the preproduction stage, PAs assist with handling paperwork, making copies, and doing administrative work in studio offices. During shooting, they help move equipment, take and deliver food and coffee orders, and accompany talent around set; a PA with a valid driver’s license is an especially useful asset. Finally, there are postproduction assistants, active in any or all departments putting together a project. If you’re starting out with no on-set experience, PA gigs, while grueling, are an ideal way to familiarize yourself with many aspects of the page-to-screen process.
2. Associate/Assistant Producer
Film producing jobs run the gamut from entry-level—self-funding independent projects or interning at production companies, for example—to the executive level, at major studios and feature films. To climb from the former to the latter, aspiring producers need to gain on-set experience and add to their résumés on a project-to-project basis. If a producorial track is of interest to you, consider becoming a line producer’s apprentice, assisting established film producers, or enrolling in internship programs at major studios or networks.
3. Apprentice/Assistant Editor
Video editing is in high demand—especially in today’s digital and social media age. While apprenticing or shadowing editors of professional film productions is a logical career path, skills in this field of postproduction can also be acquired in other mediums; consider freelancing as a video editor for YouTube and other content creators, for example. Becoming a video editor in the film and TV industry is all about learning the ropes on a technical level.
4. Camera Operator/Assistant
Start out as a PA specializing in assisting with camera equipment during professional shoots, and you could be on your way to a cinematography career. There to assist the director and director of photography with capturing shots in the viewfinder, camera operators are hardware whizzes, familiar with cameras, lenses, and all equipment needed to film. Similarly, first camera assistants are responsible for getting a shot and its subjects in focus.
5. Boom Operator/Sound Trainee
If working in sound is your passion, you could start out as a boom operator on set and/or a sound trainee in a project’s postproduction phase. Boom operators are there to ensure the boom microphone or “fishpole” remains close enough to the action to capture actors’ voices and any other important sounds. The top-level position in the sound department on big film sets is typically the sound mixer, who manages staffing and equipment to ultimately make a final project’s audio cohesive.
6. 1st/2nd Assistant Director
Perhaps your ultimate goal as a film crew member is sitting in the director’s chair. As with most of these other areas of production, a director’s career path can be either working your way up on professional projects or creating your own films. There are apprenticeship and assistant tracks on big-budget movies: consider the role of 1st AD, 2nd AD, or, in some cases, 2nd-2nd or 3rd AD. Otherwise, pick up a camera and start practicing how to bring your own vision to life.
Last but certainly not least, screenwriting is the most fundamental element of filmmaking. Writer’s assistants help film and TV writing rooms function. But screenwriting can also be an entry-level job in the sense that anyone can put pen to paper, or begin typing dialogue, to generate their first draft. If you’re looking to make a living in the filmmaking industry, a well-written script could take you all the way there.
This is a competitive market, which means there are more potential workers than available jobs in the film industry. Even getting in at an entry-level film job takes hard work and focus, and then you have to continue to hustle and network your way up the production ranks. But it can be a rewarding career path for those passionate about filmmaking; if that’s you, put yourself out there and start working on a film set!
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