You have the skills to work in the film and television industry
September 2023 | Jennifer Haire @ Keys to the Production Office
To some people, starting a new career is an exciting new adventure, to others it elicits anxiety and doubt. New careers can be a choice, or a necessity.
A job in the film and television industry may seem glamorous and unachievable; but that shouldn’t deter you from pursuing the dream. Surprisingly, the entertainment industry is mostly a melting pot of the same skills required in regular, everyday jobs. Whether you went to film school, worked in finance or slung t-shirts at the Gap, you have skills that can be used on set, in the production office, and through any stage of the physical production process. The creative, technical, trade craft and logistical skills needed to bring a story to the screen are the same being used by project managers, human resources departments, C-Suite executives, plumbers, food services, trucking companies, customer resource specialists, IT managers and building construction. There are hundreds of jobs within the industry that can stem from a multitude of career paths. Knowing how your skills and talent apply can land you on a movie or television show, even without any prior industry experience or education.
The first step in applying your skills to this new career is to identify your tangible skills. Where do your strengths lie? Here are some examples of how existing skills can be adapted to the industry:
Ever had to plan a big party or event? What are the steps you take to pull it together? You would have to source, price out and select a venue, ensure there was enough space for the attendees and activities taking place, and make sure there was sufficient parking. Then book the staff for set up, tear down and the event itself. These are all solutions worked out every day in the Locations Department when sourcing the filming locations for scripted sets.
Did the event have a theme? You may have had to purchase and decorate the space for a favorite children’s character or install a temporary stage for the band complete with a dance floor. Streamers or no streamers? Perhaps you spent hours blowing up balloons, setting up chairs and cocktail tables. Then after the event, you’re responsible for taking everything down! If this type of work sounds like its own party, then the Set Decorating Department will be non-stop fun.
When planning that big party or event, how did you ensure it would be successful? Perhaps you were responsible for making a list of attendee names and contact info or making sure someone was there to check them in. With so many people and vendors involved, you managed it all, making sure the DJ was set up in time, the clown brought toys and the caterer knew where to deliver. Plus you made sure they all brought an invoice to get paid. When someone needed assistance at the event, they came to you. If this seems second nature, then a job in the Production Department is a good fit.
Often, having a trade skill such as carpentry or electrical makes you the one that can save the day. When the party lights blew a fuse or the stage arrived missing a leg, you were quick to act. That “fix it” ability makes you an asset to the construction, grip or rigging electric departments.
Not ready to make the big decisions but are excited to contribute to the party? Perhaps you are the one picking up the guest of honor, researching fun party games, checking people in or directing cars where to park. Someone is needed to keep the snacks organized and be in charge of the raffle and there you were, making it all happen. Sometimes when just getting started, the best way to learn is simply to be where everything is happening and doing whatever is needed to make the event a success. The Office Production Assistant is a catch all for everything that needs to get done and there’s no one else to do it. That makes it one of the single most valuable positions on a show.
When first starting out, the jobs will often be entry level and what it takes to excel is less about film and television production and more about effort, efficiency, communication and attitude. Most of what you need to know specifically about the industry can be learned on the job. Keys to the Production Office: Unlocking Success as an Office Production Assistant in Film and Television, is the first book dedicated to production office operations and the role and responsibilities of the Office PA. The book functions as an on-the-job handbook and offers foundational production knowledge that gets the reader up to speed quickly. Anyone transitioning into the industry, whether it is from another career or from student to professional, will find it a valuable addition to their workspace. Inside you’ll find traditional job titles with corresponding job descriptions to help you determine where your existing talent and skills apply.
We know that when passion drives someone to a career in film and television, it’s no longer a choice, but a necessity. You already have the skills to succeed!
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!