I must have worked on 50 film sets.
25 of them were short films, 12 where feature films, 5 where music videos, 5 promotional shoots, 2 commercials and 1 TV show. Ten of the shoots paid low wage and Five paid well. Here is how I found the work…
I knew I wanted to work in film from the age of 15 but I had no idea what I was getting myself into - after all there is no business like show-business and finding work in this industry seems to be some sort of magic trick.
I started by making short films with people from school you can see them all on my youtube channel they are not great films but I learnt the basics of filmmaking like this. In England when you’re 15 you have to spend a week doing work experience. My school done a good job of having me spend two weeks at a local production company which made short educational films. I was too shy to talk to anyone there, I ate my sandwiches on my break alone and the child actors teased me by calling me the ‘coat lady’ since it was my job to hold the coats for the actors between filming.
I studied film studies in college. I went to a film summer camp when I was 17 and worked on a low budget feature film making tea for people and got some training as a script supervisor. I worked for free the next few years on local low budget features and short films. I found these shoots by looking online and seeing what low budget films shoots were happening close to me and I asked if I could help out. I started to resent being at the bottom making tea for people, I would often get teased by people, insulted and generally treated badly by crew when I was a runner. Beinga runner I would often not be on set – I would be placed a mile away from the shoot stopping cars from going down a road.
So I decided I would be a script supervisor. As a script supervisor I would sit next to the director, never miss a shot. (I actually felt immense jealousy for the film crew and actors who got to always see the shoot take place, it was important for me to see everything that was being shot so that I could learn). I started to work for free on low budget features and short films. I found these jobs through just simple searching online for low-no budget shoots happening and applying directly to the producers.
When I was 19 I had worked on 20 or so shoots for free, my CV was full of experience (mostly making tea but some as a script supervisor). I started to apply for paid short film jobs as a script supervisor and with a starting wage of £50 a day I started to get the odd paid job. Often I would be recommended for work from the producers of each set. At 21 I graduated university, I studied film production and I do now believe that my degree had NO impact on myself finding work in film. I found work in film through experience and the contacts that the experience brought.
For 18 months – 21-23 years of age I worked full time as a script supervisor. My first job I found via mandy.com and I worked for a set wage of £800 for a months work. My next paid job came from a director I worked with for free with a year previously , he had found funding for his next short film – I was paid £300 for 2 weeks work. Then a job from being found on Creative England, I was 22 years old and I spend a day on a 6million budgeted feature £250 for a days work (I was hired simple because the dir liked me during the interview process)
My next shoot came from emailing a local TV company. I found 2 weeks work for them (covering maternity leave) I was paid £150 a day. Then I worked several paid short film shoots ranging from £50-£100 a day. Then two feature films one straight after the other (same producers). Then £150 a day for another feature film which I found via the gems agency FB page. For at least 12 months I made 100% of my living from script supervising.
If you want to work in the film industry you have two options work for a company or set hop. Either way you need experience, a CV full of that experience and a specific job. Telling people I wanted to be a film director did not get me work – telling people I WAS a script supervisor got me work. My advice is pick a department in the film industry (be it art, costume, camera, editing) and flood your cv full of that experience. This is how you get work on professional film sets.
Now the reality. You might get paid a daily wage, a weekly wage or even a monthly set wage. Being paid £250 for a week might sound good but when you’re working 12hrs a day – that means you’re getting paid £3.40 an hour. Film sets are often 12hrs+ work days, 6 days a week. Sometimes film sets can fall behind their shooting schedule and turn into 16hr work days. I worked full time for a year at this pace and I only made £10,000. That is not a lot of money for the work and time. If I wanted to be a script supervisor I could have kept at it and by now even be set hopping on major film sets making good money.
But I don’t want to be a script supervisor I want to be a director. And how do you be a director – you make your own films. My film set work has got me contacts and major experience but it was not making me happy. I might have been sitting next to the dir but its not the same. Its as if you were making a living being a movie extra but really wanted to be the lead actor. So I have taken a step back and I feel that this is the best decision for myself. Finding work in the film industry is more than possible but being a director is a different route altogether.
Please share any advice you have on how you found work in the film industry, I have a lot of film students read this site ask for advice on finding work every week.