I have worked on 10 feature films, many more shorts, a few commercials and one TV show. In this post I am going to go through these feature length productions and show how I found work on each one.
For reference I am based in the UK and these productions took place from 2008-2014. I have decided not to mention the production names in case I mention anything that might offend those who worked on them.
I also created the E-book 'Find Work In Film' which goes into detail on how to find and apply to film jobs - More Info Here
1. Science Fiction. No budget. Job role - Runner. Pay – Zero
My first feature film experience took place at a summer camp that my college recommended. I was 17 years old and thought the opportunity would be great, I was studying film and had only made my own short films so far.
Looking back the experience wasn’t the most professional start, bad practice was taught and it was less of a ‘camp’ and more of a way of getting free labour.
2. Drama. No Budget. Job Role - Runner. Pay – Zero
I had fun during the previous shoot, so decided to work on another low budget film the following year. Unfortunately this set was more laborious, I had a tough time getting through this film and should have called it quits.
It is something you need to learn as a filmmaker that no matter how much you want to work in film, there are some shoots that are not worth working on for free.
3. Science Fiction. No budget. Job Role - Camera Assistant. Pay – Zero
OK so this is the third feature film I worked on for free (you do not need this much unpaid experience). However this was an interesting shoot that was taking place very close to my house on weekends. It featured a crew and cast of local filmmakers.
This shoot gave chance to meet local film crew, I was able to make some contacts here that would help later on throughout my career. It was a fun shoot, the days weren’t long and it is good to know that some low budget features can do it right.
4. Period Drama. Low budget. Job Role – Script supervisor. Pay – Minimum wage
Yes a paid shoot, if only low budget this gave me the opportunity to practice Script Supervision. I decided what I needed was a specific job role to work on film sets and get paid. I was recommended for this role from someone I worked with on the previous feature film shoot.
5. Comedy. Low budget. Job Role – Script Supervisor. Pay – Minimum wage
Although I was paid more on this shoot the days where a lot longer so the hours added up to minimum wage. I had already been paid a full wage as a Script Supervisor on a few shorts before this shoot, I found this job from Gems Agency Facebook page. It was a more professional shoot than the previous productions, I was put up in a hotel and fed well too.
6. Period Drama. Major budget. Job Role - 2nd unit script supervisor. Pay – High Rate
Well that was a leap. I went from minimum wage to major budget in a matter of months. I worked on a few paid short films after the last feature film. On one of them the Sound Mixer recommended me for a paid short film job that had me on location in Dubai for 2 weeks.
After Dubai I applied for a job sent from Creative England (if your based in the UK you can sign up to their unit list). I was feeling way too cocky and went for the main script supervisor role, I was honestly not experience enough but the director wanted me. Unfortunately the producer denied me the role due to my lack of experience and I ended up on 2nd unit instead.
7. Action. Medium budget. Job Role – Script supervisor. Pay – Medium Pay
I got paid more than minimum wage but worked ridiculously long hours on exterior shoots. Before this I worked on a TV soap for a few weeks to cover maternity leave.
I was recommend for this job from someone I worked with on a previous feature film. By this time I found that I kept bumping into the same people again and again on productions – an easy way to make connections in the film industry is to work on a feature film and meet 50 people at once.
8. Action. Low budget. Job Role – Script Supervisor – Pay minimum wage
I shouldn’t have taken this job the pay was way too low. I was finding it hard to find work at this point in time it seemed like no productions where happening. I was recommend for this job, talked into it but it wasn’t worth the trouble. Low pay, hideous work hours and freezing cold exterior shoots. It something to keep in mind when you are in the UK work can lack in the winter months.
9. Science Fiction. Major budget. Job Role – Script supervisor – Pay – High Rate
Keep in mind that these past three feature film shoots came one after the other. For about 6 months I was constantly working, the year blurred into one. This last shoot exhausted me to a stand still. Although the weather was warming up (we had had one the coldest winters in England), this shoot decided to take place on a mountain and in a coal mine. It was a tough shoot physically and the filming was slow. Once I got the feeling that feature film work was not for me it was hard to let it go.
Yes film work can be fun, some people get off on the hard work, long work hours and travel. But for myself I ran out of energy, after this film shoot I struggled to get back on the horse, I worked a few commercials and started to develop depression.
10. Documentary. low budget. Job Role – Director
Is it OK if I count this film (I may have left out anther low budget feature from the middle) after quitting film work I decided to see if I took a fancy to directing. I always wanted to direct but after my experience I realised the majority of first features don't get the attention they deserve. I made a documentary feature film as I thought it would be easier. I paid everyone who helped me make it (although I was mainly a one man film crew). I sold a few hundred copies on DVD, missed out on a TV deal and hardly made a profit. Its not great but you can watch it here
After the documentary I felt very uncertain about my role in film. If I carried on I easily could have worked on Major films continuously. I hated the script supervision job role (an over worked, thankless, stressful job) and I knew making a living from directing was not in the near future.
I started working ordinary jobs (because a lot of people I know are perfectly happy working them and I wanted to see if I could be satisfied with an ordinary day job). Ha ha it turns out I wasn’t, I need to find myself a creative job role that also gives me freedom. Right now I make up my income from a part-time job and blogging.
I plan on building this blog up, trying out writing (screenplays, maybe books), travel more and then maybe find a career. But for now I am happy with my current situation.
I hope this has helped explain my work experience on film sets. Thought out the productions above I worked on many more shorts and commercial shoots. For several years I made a full-time living from film work alone.
For myself the most important part of getting higher paid work was on set networking and making connections with the people I worked with. If you have any questions feel free to let me know below.