RESEARCH - THE KEY TO A FOOT ON THE LADDER
July 2021 | Georgie McGahey
Research isn’t just a necessary tool for job hunting; you should be researching your career opportunities straight after you make the decision to enter the film industry. If you’re serious about working in films, you’re going to have to lay some solid groundwork first.
So, when you have decided you want to be a DoP, costume designer or 1st AD, you are going to need to plot your path accordingly through the many roles that lead up to the main event. Although the role of assistant props buyer, playback operator, makeup assistant are not the roles you’re gunning for, you will need to go through them at some stage. Which means you're going to work in multiple roles over your career; if you’re looking at working in props guess which role you may take down the line. Job number one is to find out the job roles in your chosen department or area of the industry, from film sales executive all the way to the guys that deal with Greens (one to get your started).
Although there are no defined career paths in the film industry, we at MFJF feel there are some vital steps you can take in those first few years that should help you onto that first rung of the ladder.
Stage 1 involves a lengthy amount of research which isn’t just hitting the periodicals; this is research of the workplace via work experience placements. Any work experience you gain while a student will go a long way to informing your choice of career. A one-week placement would enable you to asses your suitability for film sales or distribution, better to know this now before you invest time and money into the endeavour.
Before you turn up at your work experience placement, make sure you have researched the company and know who you are working with. Have a think and write down a list of things you would like to come away with, such as sitting in on a meeting, visiting a particular department, being talked through an item of kit or simply gaining insight into the process. Needless to say, you should approach this topic delicately, and you should discuss it with them before your first day.
While you are there, you are on a fact finding mission. When standing by the kettle for the tenth time that day making tea, engage those who wander into the kitchen in conversation. It may push you out of your comfort zone a little, but the film industry is a very sociable industry, which means you should be chatty - witty if you can - and most importantly comfortable. So, ask questions about people’s jobs, what they are working on, do they have any advice for you, can you have their phone number and if you have been working with them - a reference. Don’t forget to take a little something in on the last day as a thank you, a box of chocolates or biscuits is always appreciated.
The second stage of your plan will mean acting on the information you have gathered to look for entry level roles, with an amount of relevant experience behind you, stage 2 is where you’re going to conduct some detailed investigations. Google will be your friend, as will MFJF with our resources and opportunities, but those numbers and email addresses you collected while you were on a work experience placement or internship are going to prove invaluable. Give them a call, ask if they know of anywhere currently looking for junior staff. Let them know you’re available and keep on digging for junior level opportunities via MFJF or any other provider of job opportunities.
Researching your work options form the basis of how you present your CV and covering letter. Information gathering is essential, as is knowing how the film value chain and the industry work. If you want to find a job in the business sector of the industry you need to be able to see the interconnectivity and be available for any opportunity. For example, one day you find a trainee scheme at a reputable film sales company. So, what’s the first thing that you should do? That’s right, research what film sales companies do, who they interact with, what skills are they going to be looking for in their trainees. If the advert mentions the company by name, work through their website and make yourself familiar with every facet of their business. Detail this all in your covering letter, and don’t forget to add some personality in there - it’s what the covering letter is for.
Employers are looking for candidates who are proactive, demonstrate focus and are driven. When you get to an interview, telling them how passionate you are about films and how you would do anything to work in the industry - even work for free - isn’t going to cut it. You need to show them you mean business, from the first handshake and hello to when you leave the office. Get in there and ask questions about their business, what new acquisitions have they added to their slate. As a trainee will you be given any projects to work on, will you be allowed to read scripts and shown the difference between a really strong script and a week one? Will you be able to see a transaction through from market to delivery? You have to let them know you have a good grasp on their role in the industry, if you ask them “will I be likely to go on set” you may get a strange look. Your research for each covering letter, each interview and conversation are going to impact heavily on your chance of gaining a foothold in the film industry. Knowledge is power, and research can halt you from making some serious faux pas.
So, join the Facebook group and ask us some questions about job roles that pop up in your inbox, don’t be shy. You’re going to need to complete each job application with as much thought as you would an exam. Be thorough, one or two sentences will rarely cut it. Use your research, ask some questions and add as much detail as you can about your experiences, remember to use the job spec as your guide.
By stage 3 you should be well ensconced in a full-time role, but your research on the job and the industry isn’t going to stop there. Just because you have a foot in the door doesn’t mean you don’t have to crowbar the rest of your body into the business. Whatever entry level role you’re in, be it film finance assistant, costume trainee, runner or development assistant you still have a long way to go. Like most people you need to continue to further your learning outside the workplace environment, so keep working on short films made by reputable professionals, or taking short courses to improve your skill set. Junior level roles give you a unique perspective on the process of each area of the industry, you will be learning as you go, so keep asking questions. To stay ahead of the game try and keep your knowledge of as many aspects of the industry current. None of the hundreds of job roles exists in a vacuum; it’s all connected. Now, go and do your research to make sure you know how!
Would you like to share your set stories, write reviews or blog about your journey into the industry? MFJF would love to hear from you!