When I first moved to Los Angeles, I only knew a handful of people in the area, but I reached out to all of them and asked for a bit of guidance and advice. I also submitted myself to assist on sets for free as a way to gain understanding and experience. Everywhere I showed up, I did so with no expectations of receiving anything in return.
Putting myself out there among full-time entertainment industry professionals was and continues to be a fantastic, unexpected path for me, and has even led to paid work in front of and behind the camera.
But there can be a downfall to doing too many things, having too many titles to your name. Sure, when you’re first starting out or don’t have any formal education in the industry (like me), it’s great to try everything you can to give yourself clarity on what it is you really want to do and gain knowledge from pros. But when you’re networking and meet someone new who wants to know what you do, what do you tell them? Find what you love and what you’re good at and, over time, start to focus on that to really hone your skills and make sure people in the position to hire you know that it’s what you do.
As a producer myself who is always bringing teams together, whenever I meet a new industry contact, I add them to my phonebook with a note next to his or her name about regarding their profession or area of expertise. Then, when I need to find a makeup artist for a project, I can search my phonebook for “makeup artist” and am reminded of the contacts I have available. It’s also a useful way to keep track of people I never want to work with again.
When I put a team together, I’m not only looking to hire the most skilled person. I’m also interested in whether they’re on time, if they work well under pressure, if they can communicate clearly. This is a fast moving business and I want to work with people who not only take their jobs seriously but who also take initiative, even when it’s not a well-paying gig.
I’ve had a lot of experience making content that’s not union pay scale—or is no pay scale at all—and regardless of what I take home at the end of the day in terms of money, it’s always been a great way for me to work with people on a smaller scale before I pitch and vouch for them on a bigger project. So never downplay free or low-paying jobs; if you do them well, the team you worked with is a goldmine of future opportunities.
One more fat tip that most people don’t do: follow up. Check in with your contacts every so often. It’s always nice to hear when you’ve crossed someone’s mind and I always enjoy a personalized update compared to what’s on your Facebook feed. Pay them a compliment on the last film they worked on, go see it, support the work, and keep in contact with the people you’ve worked with.
There’s no easy path to getting your film career started, but following this advice certainly won’t hurt.
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