This article is for new entrants wondering how to get into the film industry. You might have recently graduated from film school or perhaps you are making a career change later on in life. Whatever your situation I have broken down how to start a career in film in this five step guide
If you wish for a more detailed guide, I also have an e-book called ‘ Find Work In Film’ which you can download here
#1 Full-time Vs Freelance Work
When I first started my career in film, I was clueless about how this industry works. Likely you are in the same position, you have dreamt of a film career (perhaps even studied it) but have no idea how to make your dream a reality.
There are hundreds of individual specialised jobs in film that fall under different departments. These jobs can also cross over into different media platforms (such as TV, Games, Commercials).
Some of these workers are in contracted full-time employment, others are freelancers (aka self-employed). Full-time jobs in the film industry come with all the benefits of a typical full-time job e.g. health insurance, holidays.
Freelance work is harder to start out within, the main difference being that you are in charge of finding your own work.
Full-time jobs can be found on regular online job sites. These will likely be admin, office-based work, occasional full-time creative work can be found in TV and creative agencies. I have known people to be hired for full-time crew jobs in some recurring TV shows (such as soap operas & news broadcast).
Creative film crew jobs are almost always freelance.
Your first step is to determine what type of film job you are looking for. If you currently need security and a monthly pay-check, then a full-time job would be best (you can always change to freelance work later).
Do you wish to be employed full-time are you going to take the plunge into freelance work?
#2 Work Routes Into the Industry
There are several different work routes you can take to become a filmmaker. I have listed the main few options below and you can also download my career in film work route options guide.
Don’t Know What Job You Want -
If you are completely unsure of what job role to work in the film industry start off within the entry-level job roles Runner or Production Assistant. These jobs will give you initial experience and allow you to see how all of the job roles work together.
Alternatively, make your own low/no budget short film. Write a screenplay, cast your film, shoot and edit it. This will teach you the basics of filmmaking and allow you to practice some of those key job roles without any pressure.
The Traditional Route Into The Industry -
A lot of jobs in the film industry can be obtained by working up the department hierarchy. For example, if you want to become a producer, you can start out as a PA, then work your way up to coordinator, manager and line producer before producing your own films. The same with a production designer, there is a clear route into that job role.
Interested in the film art department? - check out my guide here
Working Your Desired Job Role Straight Away -
You could also start out within your desired job role straight away and work your way up to higher budgeted productions.
For example, you might want to become a director of photography. So you start working as a director of photography on low/no budget films until eventually working your way up to major film productions.
Often people do a mixture of climbing up the hierarchy and working their desired job role to progress in this industry.
Want To Become A Film Director -
Film directing can be pursued from both routes. I have known directors who have previously been 1st ADS and production assistants. I also know of directors who have started out directing straight away, starting with short films and eventually making an indie feature film. Note that the latter directors have had other jobs to make an income.
You might like my film director detailed career guide - read here
Want to Become A Screenwriter? - check out my ultimate guide
For most people in the world, we have a job that makes us an income and we pursue the dream job in our spare time. This is how it works for all creative work. Stay positive, it will take time to develop your talent and make contacts.
#3 Finding Work Experience
If you have just graduated you are likely looking for paid work. If you want a full-time film job simply search for entry-level openings on job sites. Some larger companies will have paid apprenticeships for recent graduates.
If you are a career changer consider how your previous work can translate over to a film job (for example, someone with office admin experience could transfer directly over to a production office admin job).
Take a look at your current CV/Resume and judge whether or not you currently have enough work experience. Would a producer hire you based on the experience you have right now? Keep in mind that the film industry is very competitive, likely you are applying alongside people who have already done this job before.
I previously wrote an article for Freelance Video Collective on how to find film work experience which you can read here.
Here is a list of places that you can find work experience -
Film Job Sites - find a list here
Facebook Groups - find a list here
Networking Events - find a list here
How much work experience do I need?
For myself, I needed 5 film credits on my CV within my desired job role before I started to get consistent paid work.
Apply to paid film work straight away in case you get lucky but keep in mind that the more experience you have the more likely you will get the job. For example,if you are finding it hard to find paid work as a Production Assistant - gain more experience within this role on indies, short films and student productions.
There are a lot of people out there looking for work. Any job these days will ask for previous experience. You can gain film experience whilst working full-time, make the most of your weekends and holidays. Once you have work experience it will be easier to find paid work in the film industry.
#4 Applying To Film Jobs Correctly
Ideally, you will have some work experience before you apply to paid work in the film industry. If not consider how your previous work can be transferred over to your film CV/Resume.
Yes, you will need a CV in the film industry. Online job applications will always ask for one. I have a free film CV template which you can find here. If you don’t have the time to create your own, I also have a CV service where I will create your CV for you - find more details here.
Importantly the job title on your CV will be the same as the job you are applying for. For example, If you are applying for a film runner job - put the job title film runner on your CV. Even if you only have limited experience in this role.
You can find paid work in several places - from your previous industry contacts, from film job sites and company career pages, from Facebook groups and networking.
When you work on one film set, you will be introduced to many filmmakers and these connections could potentially lead to more work. That is how this industry works, you gain enough experience and contacts until you are getting hired full-time. One job can lead to many.
For myself, it only took a year of freelancing before people were calling me up with paid job offers. If you are interested in how I found work I made a detailed article on how I found work on ten feature films.
Send your film CV in PDF format and in your email write a simple cover letter outlining why you want the job. Examples of cover letters can be found in my e-book ‘Find work In Film’.
You will also need to apply to film jobs in bulk (up to five jobs a week). Don’t be disheartened if it takes a few weeks/months to find your first paid job. If you have the time gain more work experience whilst you are waiting.
How to apply to Film Jobs Correctly-
Create a filmmaker CV, Write a short cover letter explaining why you are a good fit for the job, attached your CV to the email in PDF format, apply to jobs in bulk
#5 Career Progression Advice
OK, I have got this far and I am wondering have you learned anything new? A lot of this advice is repeated throughout my whole blog, focus your job role, create your film CV, find experience and apply to jobs in bulk.
It really is this simple and hard to start a career in the film industry. One thing that confuses people is the career progression, just how do you go from being a PA to a producer or how long will it take to become a film director?
If you have anything else you would like to ask, feel free to leave a message for me in the comments section below this article. Here are some FAQs on film career progression -
How do I go from PA to (insert job role)?
Your experience as a PA will teach you a lot about how this industry works. From here you can apply to assistant positions within any department and progress up that departments career ladder. I list of six alternative work routes can be read here
How long will it take to get my dream job role?
This is different for everyone, your talent, location, who you meet and most importantly luck will play a part. Do you want an above-the-line job role such as producer, director, screenwriter or lead actor - then it will take you longer to gain full-time paid work in these roles. Try to enjoy the learning progress and remember you can always work your ‘dream job role’ on independent productions.
I have also carried out several interviews with professional filmmakers, you can find a list of my past interviews here
What if I decide to leave the film industry?
No problem, I did and I wrote an article on nine new career ideas here. After all, it’s better to try and fail then to always wonder what if right?
If you have any more film career questions ask in the comments section below and I will add them to this list