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I Have No Idea What I'm Doing!

January 2023 | Katie Whitmire

"I have no idea what I’m doing" - The story of how I got my first job in film.

Being a filmmaker was never the plan. I was so far removed from the industry that I felt like working in the film industry was just a daydream, something nice to think about, but not a viable way to make a living. I didn’t know anyone who had chosen a career in film or TV, really my only exposure to the entertainment industry was my uncle who was in the ensemble of a community theatre production of “Sweeney Todd”. A career in film didn’t seem realistic, until it became my entire life. 


As a high school senior, I had no plan. I applied to college undeclared, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career, but I had  what I still consider to have been the best starting point. Naively I thought that by the end of my first week of college I would know exactly what I wanted my career and end goals to be. As my first few weeks at NYU flew by, a sense of fear started to overtake me. I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t want to admit it to myself.  I wasn’t just filled with the fear of the unknown, it was accompanied by a fear of failure. 


Living in my freshman year dorm was the first exposure I had to kids my age who knew they wanted a career in the arts. My first friends were aspiring actors, directors, camera people, and critics. All of them knew in high school, if not earlier,  that they were going to have careers in the entertainment industry. We discussed films, watched plays and musicals, and even made our own art. However, it was when they talked about filmmaking, what they were studying in their classes, and the projects they were working on, I realized that this what I had been looking for. I wanted to be a filmmaker, this was something I could pursue as a livelihood, and , and I would deeply regret not even trying to do so. 


Majoring in film was one thing, but finding a job after a worldwide lockdown was a whole other thing. I could have never predicted that helping my friend move a couch into her apartment would be the right place and the right time, but it was, and that was my first lesson about being hired in film. My friend, an already established PA, got a text from a friend asking if she could work for one day. She couldn’t take it, so she asked me if I wanted it. This would be my first time on a big set, my first paid job in production, and my first job after graduation. I said “are you sure?”, and once she assured me she was, and even though I still wasn't, I said yes. 


My first day as an additional production assistant set me on a course I could have never anticipated. I had a knack for production assistant work, and I was  was hungry for more. I started getting more work and more responsibility. I was lucky enough to work on a variety of sets, ranging from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, to smaller comedy shows like The Other Two, and finally getting my first full time job on The Blacklist. It was thrilling to be on set, to see the lights and cameras, to walk the actors to set. It made everything feel very real. I was fortunate to be on sets with some of the most incredible people who reminded me so much of the friends who inspired me to go on this adventure in the first place. 


Being a set PA throws you into a world of organized chaos where you learn how to use a walkie talkie, how a shot is set up, and the importance of making sure a door stays closed, and that’s just the beginning. What they don’t teach you in school or tell you when you first start out is how much set teaches you about yourself. You learn your limits, and how quickly you can push beyond them. You learn the joys of working on a team. And after enough time it helps you figure out what you want and where you want to go. Yes, being at the right place, at the right time, with the right person is key to getting your start in production, but knowing what you want is what creates longevity. 


As much as I loved being on set, becoming an assistant director, which is the end goal for most set PAs, was not my end goal. I had to make a choice, to stay in a position that was taking me in a direction I didn’t necessarily choose for myself, or pivot back into the unknown. I choose the unknown, just like I did in the past and it always proves to be the right choice. 


If I went back in time to myself a year ago and told her what I was up to now, she wouldn’t believe me. That has been the case for the last five years, with each year seeming more unbelievable than the previous. Embracing my fear and being patient with the unknown has led me to a job in a film that showed me what I did want, and now I am on track to achieve goals that I, again, was too scared to admit. 


My new position is still as a production assistant, but rather than on set, it will be working in a production office, the exact place I need to be to start chasing my goal of becoming a producer, which will allow me the autonomy to make the films that I have written. 


Working in film comes with highs and lows, and the lows are especially straining, but if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, or if you’re even in the right place, know that you are possibly on the precipice on figuring out exactly what your path should be. 

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