Your resume is your calling card and best marketing tool - which is why it needs to be epic! Follow our advice and create an outstanding resume and cover letter to get you noticed and get you your first paying gig!
The resume is your best marketing tool when you spread your wings and decide on a career in the film industry. It’s the resume, not the showreel, that’s going to sell your talents to employers. Even as you progress your career in production, your resume as a grip, focus puller, or 1st AD will still be your calling card, that, and your impressive list of credits on IMDB. The good news is, creating one will be exceptionally easy to do if you follow our advice below. The trickier bit is filling your resume with relevant experience that will enable you to find sustainable paid work.
In some areas of the film industry, it’s acceptable to create a resume that goes against the traditional format. In the Art Department, for example, there is a certain amount of creative leeway. The majority of the industry, however, favor a standard format that tells you what you need to know while scanning the details. This does not mean it should lack creativity; you just need to think about how to effectively communicate your personality and creativity to employers via the written word. There is an expectation that the following criteria shall be present, such as:
Contact information including the location(s) you are based.
Link to your portfolio if you have a website to display your work (art, makeup, VFX, costume, etc.).
Your experience to date.
Try and keep the length of your resume down to a page, two maximum. Maintain the same style throughout, and follow through with the same font and format on your cover letter. Steer clear of fonts that make your text illegible. Having a film-themed font will not make your resume stand out, it’s the content of your resume that needs to be outstanding.
The majority of employers will not be looking at your hobbies and interests unless, of course, you can make them significant to your application. Any of the following can be of interest to the production depending on the shoot and their requirements:
Activities that require skill and experience
On average, you have around 10 seconds to impress the reader before their attention is turned to the next resume on the stack. During those 10 seconds you should tick off relevant skills and career focus, so your resume can transition to the possible pile - rather than the trash.
Full name at the top of your resume is a good start. If you prefer Tom to Thomas, put that down. If you get the job, you don’t want to spend the next year telling everyone to 'just call me Tom'.
This is vital, your job title needs to be the same as the position listed, and the body of the resume needs to back that up. Do not make the classic graduate mistake of referring to yourself as an HoD, director, producer, or worse - filmmaker. Obviously, your studies have been an essential part of your experience to date and it is not uncommon for graduates to elevate their status to that of the individual who is currently reading their resume. If you want to get the job though, be humble and keep it simple.
Phone and email, you can attach your full address to your cover letter.
Tell them where you're based. If you are applying for a job out of town, list the address of where you will be staying.
Key skills and qualifications
Employers and coordinators will be looking to see if you have a driving licence and your own car for most jobs. All junior positions will be sent on errands, so a driver's license is pretty much essential in the film industry, especially if you want to enter an area of production. Other things to list would be:
First Aid Certificate
Confident driving vans and minibusses
HGV license (if working in certain areas of production, grips, lighting, camera, art)
A personal profile is one for you to decide upon, it should be around three sentences in length and snappy. A short profile can be advantageous if used in the correct way, such as; "An experienced Set PA, who has been engaged on the main unit of ten feature films and multiple commercials over the past four years".
If you’re going to use it to say you are a “skilled communicator with exceptional organizational skills”, then leave the profile out. Profiles require a certain amount of effort to make them noteworthy, so think about whether it’s right for you at this stage of your career.
Link to your online portfolio
If you want to begin a career in any of the following areas, you should have a website, with a link to your site on your resume:
Although this will not guarantee you work, or even the employer viewing it, it demonstrates your talent and desire to progress in that area of the business.
This is the meat of your resume, and what can often make or break an application. Relevant experience in the same field of the industry as the job, be it voluntary work, internships in film - or another area of the industry such as TV - are what sell a resume to recruiters. You need to demonstrate some career focus, even in those early stages of your career.
When you get to this part of your resume make sure you understand the job description, then dissect the advert to determine what is relevant. Research the company if they are listed in the advert, know who works for them and what they do. Look at what they're asking for:
“Must have excellent written and verbal communication skills.”
Can you demonstrate where you have used these skills? Your cover letter is an exercise in written communication, which is why it needs to be great! Have you dealt with customers over the phone? When have you needed to impart information, or had to deal with clients who are unsatisfied with a service?
“Must be enthusiastic with a willing can-do attitude.”
Basically, can you demonstrate you are happy to work long hours without moaning? Can you demonstrate you are glad to be sent out on runs at a moment's notice with a handful of dollars? Employers are looking for junior members of the team who are adaptable and proactive when given tasks.
“Able to work as part of a team.”
All areas of the industry are similar to a team sport, from the PAs all the way up to the MDs. Being able to demonstrate examples of working in a team is essential; it’s not enough to say it, you have to prove it. If you play a sport, then highlight it. Have you worked with others to maintain a university society? Have you got experience working with other PAs and ADs? Detail how you worked within that team. Employers won’t be looking for leadership skills as yet; they want to know you can take direction and work with others to enact it.
If you’re at stage one with no professional experience to date, you can draw on past customer service experience in retail or hospitality, such as bar work, temp, or waiting tables, for example.
If you are applying for a production role make sure you only include production credits that match the job role, again keep it relevant. If the title on your resume reads set PA, and you can only provide office PA credits, you're going to need to put some thought into transferring those office skills to the set. It can be done, just make sure you give it some consideration.
NEVER embellish on your technical proficiency and knowledge, you will be making a rod for your own back. There is no such thing as ‘winging it’ when it comes to the kit - do you want to be faced with transferring data from card to hard drive for the first time on set?
Keep it brief, listing your college major, subject (s) taken, and grade. Keep it to your highest academic qualification or any relevant achievements, high school or college.
If you are in education and applying for internships have your education much higher up the resume.
Ideally, you need two references who are working in the industry. If you have a reference, it’s entirely possible the reader may know them, and your resume gets put onto the possible pile. Remember to ask people if they will act as a referee, don’t assume it will be OK for you to use their name. At stage one of your career, your tutor will do just fine, but if you have taken an internship call them and see if they will be happy to vouch for you.
It makes sense to actually apply for the position advertised, doesn't it? Believe it or not, we have seen a lot of resumes doing the opposite over the years. Don’t send it resumes customized to other areas of the industry! For example, sending in an application for a job in post-production and listing your ambitions to work in film production is a major no-no. It wastes everyone’s time, yours included. Think about this for a minute, why would they hire someone who has no interest in progressing in that area of the business.
Look at what they are asking for and make specific skills or credits more prominent within the body of the resume. Remember that 10-second scanning, use your formatting to draw attention to the relevant information.
Many freelancers are vying for work in the film industry, and the truth of the matter is if you’re not very good at your job - and that includes PA roles - then you will simply not be hired again. The more experience you have on your resume, the more attractive you become to employers.
Professional experience, even for a day, means you’re doing something right. If you have worked on a few features, of any budget, and have a reference from one of those productions, you become a safer bet. A resume for a production role should include a list of credits, which state:
Name of the production
Duration of your time on the production
Be cautious about listing your student productions, or try to pass them off as professional experience. Even though the hard work you put into them means you may class them as professionals, the industry will not see it that way. A few days of work on a professional production of any type is worth more than a list of student films you have personally made. If you do choose to list your student work, make sure you create another heading to avoid confusion.
A non-production resume should be based on the traditional format, and you should observe the formatting advice listed above. You will also need to lay out your stall by highlighting your skills and suitability for the role.
It may feel as though your resume should contain everything a recruiter needs to know. However, there are some details you may not wish to divulge such as:
Date of birth. There is no legal requirement to include your date of birth. Some employers may look at your age as a way of gauging how much experience you have acquired in your time in the film industry, but it’s not essential.
Address. You do not need to add your full address as it should be in your cover letter. You should mention where you are based, however.
Pictures. We would advise staying away from submitting pictures of yourself on your application. Firstly, employers don’t care. Secondly, it makes the layout of your resume look scruffy.
Your GPA. That being said think about the area of the industry you are applying for. The non-production end of the business likes switched on individuals, just don't rest your hat on it.
Do not embellish. That goes for skills, qualifications, and your job title. When you are fresh out of school or a filmmaking course, think about who is reading this. Professionals with significant experience within the industry who can spot a graduate a mile off. If you state you have ‘extensive filmmaking experience’ your resume will go in the bin. You might be the best candidate for the job, but you have just blown it by giving the impression you know it all.
Spelling and grammar. Do not rely on a spell checker, you and your are both spelled correctly, but you may not notice when you misplace a letter, neither will the spell checker. Employers value attention to detail, if you are sending out applications with errors what message does that convey?
Overstating your qualifications. Keep your education concise and neat at the bottom of your resume.
Concise does not mean vague. The obligatory ‘excellent communication and organizational skills are so vague it’s meaningless without specifics. What tools or software do you use to remain organized, how have you had to interact with others to produce the excellent communication mentioned.
Email your resume in an unrecognizable format. A .pdf document is the neatest option and a universal format and will open if you are using a Mac or PC. Save your CV file as "Your Name - The Job Title - Company Name, " i.e., "Joe Jones - Production Assistant - Bobs Film Company"
There are many layers to the beginning of your career. Even at the beginning, we’ve assed there are three stages to finding regular paid work.
If you are still in education, left high school, or decided upon changing careers, the likelihood is you’re not going to have any industry experience. So what do you put on your resume if you have no experience?
If all you have is your education then use it to form the basis of your resume. You can refer to any societies or clubs you joined, organized, or created while studying. Voluntary roles you may have undertaken, or any part-time work should also be mentioned.
Working as a PA - in production and non-production areas of the industry - requires many skills associated with bar work and waiting tables; it is all transferable experience such as:
Being on your feet
Having to deliver excellent customer service, often under pressure.
If you're deciding to pursue a career in the film industry as a career change, then you're in a strong position to use your skills and experience, again referring them to the role you are applying for. Humility is always rewarded in these instances, and employers would be glad to have a proactive, switched-on PA or intern, no matter their age; just make sure you can live on the dramatic pay cut for those first few years.
During your stage 1 experience, you should have been adding to your resume with internships and collaborations. You may now possess a relevant set of skills and knowledge, but you need professional credits to add to your resume.
If you research companies and study the job descriptions, it should give you all the material you need to tailor your resume to every job adequately. For the majority of entry-level roles, it’s an attitude and your career focus that can swing it for recruiters. To find out what it is they are asking for and reinforce this in your resume - repeatedly.
By stage three you should have a strong resume filled with relevant experience, credits, and developing skills. All the additions listed in the previous two steps significantly enhance your chances of becoming a successful candidate for employment. So, apply for those junior roles and draw on your experience and knowledge of the industry to create great applications.
If you are working in production, stage three will signify the end of your traineeship, and the opportunity to find regular work via your network of contacts in the industry. Keep your CV up to date with credits and newly acquired skills.
Once you have worked your resume into shape, it’s time to look at the cover letter or email. This is your opening pitch, where you can display some personality and tie in your experience with the requirements for the role on offer. Don’t leave it to the last minute; your cover letter is just as important as your resume.
Remember, every employer is different. Some are guided by the covering letter, some go straight for the resume, and if that ticks all the boxes they go back to the cover letter to make an assessment of the candidate's personality and aptitude for written work. If you have sent your application via email, then your cover letter is crucial; ultimately it’s what’s going to tempt them to open up the attachment containing your resume.
If in doubt stick to a relatively formal style, especially if you’re applying for roles within the business area of the film industry. You are, however, applying for jobs in a creative industry, which can allow you some poetic license.
Throughout the MFJF site we do refer to the film industry as 'personality driven', so if you can manage levity without it sounding too unprofessional, it could be what catches a recruiter or coordinator's eye. Use your judgment, and give yourself enough time to edit your cover letter if you change your mind.
Think about how many applications the recruiter will be reading, it’s your job to try and engage them from the very beginning, so if you can find other ways of saying you have 'exceptional communication and organizational skills make sure to do so. Saying you have "strong communication skills" is a very blanket term; and conversely, demonstrates that your communications skills aren't all that! It is possible to be creative within the structured confines of the cover letter, which is what recruiters pick up on.
If you’re applying for work outside MFJF, find out who is recruiting for the position and address them directly. All it takes is a phone call or a few minutes on Google. Taking the time to find out this information signals a sense of resourcefulness to potential employers.
The next thing you want to look at is your reference line, which is where you give a clear indication about your subject, i.e., the job title you are applying for, the company, and - if it lists one - a reference number. Make sure your job title matches the role you are applying for. If you title your application ‘videographer’ and the job is a production runner, your application is not going to get very far. If you are sending an email, make sure all your details are on your resume, and your reference line is stated on the subject of the email.
Cover letters are usually never longer than a page; as a guide, you want to be writing between 300-500 words. Be mindful of your spacing, if your text is cramped or visually unappealing, then you are doing yourself a disservice. If there are topics you wish to cover, you could use headings to draw the employer's attention to your suitability for the role.
If you are applying for work internships with little experience to draw upon, think about any voluntary roles or part-time jobs you have taken. If you have nothing but your degree, then pull on elements of your course that provide you with some appropriate skills; were you asked to analyze data, conduct presentations, or write up a synopsis of a script?
Look at the company that is offering the internship - other than someone who can go and get coffee, what skills would they require? Internships are the bottom rung of the ladder and everyone needs to start somewhere - but - a covering letter attached to a resume that is thin on information isn’t going to give the right impression.
Your resume should present all your relevant experience to date; in your cover letter, you are going to let them know how that experience makes you a strong candidate for the job. Your covering letter should accompany your resume, not regurgitate it.
Your opening paragraph sets out your stall:
Tell them why you are applying for the position, and why your background makes you the ideal candidate for the role. The opening paragraph is where you can add some figures, such as “I have been working in the industry for a year and have worked on ten short films and one micro-budget feature”, for example. Make that opening paragraph punchy; it should encapsulate all the essential criteria.
Within the body of your cover letter, you want to make mention of the following things:
The company or area of industry the company is involved with, such as film sales or marketing, for example. Again, your researching skills come into play here; you can showcase how proactive and eager you are, while also demonstrating your knowledge of the industry.
If the company is listed in the job spec, refer to their back catalog of work or any project that had resonance for you. It’s about making a connection with them and demonstrating that you have placed time and effort into your application.
Use the job spec and identify the key criteria the employers are looking for, use that information to inform what you include in your resume. You need to present your suitability to them on a plate, so, again, research and thought are required here. You don’t need to dedicate a whole paragraph to each skill; you need to be concise and informative.
Make sure you highlight your availability, and if you need to be a certain age for insurance purposes list your date of birth so recruiters can tick that off their list straight away.
Your final paragraph should mirror your first in its decisiveness. You want to reaffirm your suitability for the role, keep drawing on your experience, or if you are applying for internships refer to skills that can be transferred into the environment. Some good ways to sign off would be "I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the role further".
Once you have written your cover letter take a few moments to look at it as an employer would and work your way through the checklist:
Does the text look bunched up?
Have you taken the time to read it with fresh eyes?
Have you made sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors?
Are all your contact details present?
Is your formatting in unison with your resume?
If you have found the correct person to address the letter to, is their name spelled correctly?
Does your opening paragraph tell recruiters why you are writing to them?
Is the tone of the letter polite and engaging?
Have you listed all the fundamental skills and referred to how you have used them?
If you are emailing your resume and cover letter, are you sending them as a PDF?
Have you printed your name under your signature?
At the beginning of your career, the prospect of being asked for an interview can be exciting and nerve-wracking. As you wait for the interview date, a host of scenarios will buzz through your mind. What questions will they ask? Will they require you to demonstrate your incredible Excel skills? Will you freeze up? Not understand the question? Cry?
Fear not. Interviews can induce a lump in the throat and a dry mouth, but you need to remember your resume has got you this far, so they must be interested in what you have to offer. When you're reading your invitation to attend, or you may get a phone call, make sure you ask some questions to help with your interview prep such as:
Who will be interviewing you?
How long will you be given?
What’s the dress code?
Do you need to take anything with you apart from your resume?
Make sure to double-check the date and time if you are accepting an invitation on the phone. If you have been asked by a member of production to meet up, ask if they would like to see your portfolio; the answer will usually be yes. Make sure you have an up-to-date portfolio ready to go at all times, you never know when you will need it. You may not be able to demonstrate professional experience, but if you have a defined aptitude for the work, it can be enough for many HoDs if they are looking for work experience candidates.
As ever, the more knowledgeable you are about the company and the role you are applying for, the more confident you will feel when you go into the office to have a chat. Take some time to explore the company's website, look at their slate and find out who works for them. If you've been sent information go through it with a fine-tooth comb, you don’t want to miss a thing. Then you need to take a good look at your resume; think about the questions that will arise from the information you have given.
Your studies. If that’s all you have so far, don’t worry, everyone has to start somewhere. Be humble though, just because you have studied for a few years doesn't mean you are there yet!
Voluntary roles. Any relevant experience such as film festival ushering can open up another area of conversation.
Other internships. Think carefully about what you learned and how that experience best qualifies you for a paid role.
Your knowledge and understanding of the industry. If you are applying for a job at a production company, do you know how a film gets from script to screen? Likewise, if you are applying for a job in distribution, do you understand that particular companies model, are they investing in films too? Do you know how the relationship between film sales and distributors work?
When you are considering these questions, try not to formulate your answers silently in your mind. If you have the opportunity, vocalize your answers. What sounds smart and sassy in your head often sounds stilted when you’re playing it out in real-time. Find an interview buddy, this could be a parent, friend or lecturer. Ask them to throw you the odd curveball and see how quick you are at thinking on your feet.
The evening before your interview, you should have formalized your travel plans and chosen what you want to wear. Clothes can make all the difference; you don’t want to be overly formal, but you do want to create the right impression. Smart casual is always a safe bet. Try not to go with the jeans and t-shirt combo. Equally, you don’t need to break out the suit. Even film finance, which has the closest links to the traditional business world, will not require a full suit and tie for everyday office wear.
It’s unlikely that the DoP, gaffer, grip, production sound mixer, or production coordinator will look at your showreel; it’s your resume and location that will interest the production office most.
You may be asked for an interview but a phone conversation, zoom, or an informal meet-up will be more likely; which is why you need to demonstrate some insight into your chosen department. Ask about the equipment you will be working with; if you have experience with that particular piece of kit mention how it was used, and how you were involved. If you have a window before the job starts you could offer to visit a facilities company and familiarise yourself with the equipment before the job starts.
Positions come up and need to be filled very quickly in production, you may even get a call asking you to be at the location at 5 am the next day. In whatever area of the business you’re working in, your phone manner is going to be crucial, especially if you’re being sounded out for a potential job. Keep it light, friendly, and relaxed.
Ask them to send you an email with all the relevant information you may need (call sheet) and get them to confirm the rate in writing if it’s an offer of a day or two’s work. If you are being sounded out for a job, ask questions about the production, who you'll be working with, what should you bring with you, etc.
Whether you want to work in production or the business sector of the film industry, one thing you are going to realize quickly is the film industry thrives on personality. Interviewers will be assessing your suitability for the role; they also want to ascertain whether you can fit into an already established team.
During your interview or chat, if the company has decided to keep it informal, you are going to need to do three things.
Reinforce your aptitude for the role.
Be eloquent and insightful when discussing your experience.
Showcase your personality and pepper in your enthusiasm for the position.
In many interviews for junior roles, your resume will form the basis of your interview. You’re going to be asked to elaborate on areas of experience, be able to answer some questions about your future and how you see yourself becoming a part of the company. If you have internships under your belt and listed your involvement, practice talking about this to a friend or if you are still studying, lecturer.
Your interview will begin with a handshake. The handshake is your first impression so make it count. Head up, eye contact as you say hello and state your name, smile, a ‘please to meet you’ always goes down well, and a firm few shakes of the hand. Simple. Do not look at your shoes and mumble into the ground; employers want to see you have poise and that you mean business. If you aren't offered a seat, ask them where they would like you to sit.
Once you’re in that office or have been taken out for a coffee, think about your body language as you sit down. In these situations you can become acutely aware of your limbs, do you cross legs, keep your feet on the floor, what do you do with your hands? Relax, find a comfortable position; if you feel like the chair is far too close to your interviewers, move it back a foot or so. Despite the office being their territory you can take some control of the situation too.
If you have prepared for your interview you just need to take a deep breath and relax, take comfort in the fact that they have picked your resume from many. If you let fear get in the way, you may not do yourself justice during the interview.
Fortunately, interviews are universally regarded as potentially stressful situations, so this is a splendid time to demonstrate how unflappable you are. So, calm your mind and think about it like this; you are just talking to other people about a subject you feel passionately about. Yes, it may be your first interview in months and you desperately want the job - but the more relaxed you can be the easier it is for you to focus on the task at hand, rather than worry about the fact you are worrying.
There are a few interview no-no’s that you should be aware of which are mainly common sense, but it’s always useful to remind yourself of what not to do.
Swear. No matter how informal the conversation becomes, be polite and keep it clean.
Get cocky. Despite needing to remain relaxed, don’t be too relaxed. Remember, these guys will have been working in the industry for years; you won’t be able to pull the wool over their eyes.
Ask when you start. This can be greeted with a laugh - but it can also be an awkward laugh - so if in doubt, play it safe.
Give one-word answers to your questions. Let your personality shine, if you shrivel up like a prawn you will be doing yourself a great disservice. To survive in the film industry, you need to be confident, affable, sociable, kind - yet tough. You may find toughness is learned along the way but people want to hire junior members of the team that won’t be whining about working an hour after they were supposed to leave, or not being given enough responsibility. You also want to tick the box that says you're not too timid to cope with the hurly-burly of the set or office.
Arrive late and ill-prepared. An automatic fail.
If you are being interviewed by a senior member(s) of the team, they should give you enough scope to elaborate while also giving you a clear direction in the question. Listen very carefully to questions; you should be able to get a feel for the answers they're searching for. There is a fine line between elaborating on a reply you have given in an application, and rambling on; so try and keep your answers concise and don’t stray from the topic. An experienced interviewer will prompt you to give examples, remember, they want you to be the best version of you too. Some of the questions you may be asked are:
Tell us about your academic achievements.
What was the most enjoyable part of studying for you?
If you have listed university societies you were involved with be prepared to be asked about it.
What tasks were you assigned in your internships?
What understanding of the industry did your internship provide for you?
What were you most impressed with and what were your responsibilities when you were working as an intern?
Which area of the industry do you see yourself working in?
Would you be tempted by another area if the opportunity arose?
If you have been taken on a tour of the company, how do you think you would fit into the team and environment?
What skills do you think this position demands?
How do you think you would cope when the environment becomes stressful?
Would you say you are adept at dealing with people with big personalities?
Can you prioritize? Can you give examples of a situation where you were given multiple tasks?
What is your ultimate goal? Which job role are you aiming for and do you have a plan for how to get there?
Do you have any questions?
The last question is vital; you should have a few questions up your sleeve. If you have been asking questions throughout the interview and have genuinely had all your questions answered, then let them know. However, you may want to have some questions lines up about the company, their position in the industry, or some of the projects they are involved with.
Everyone has a different approach to the aftereffects of interviews. The most healthy thing you can do is take a deep breath and move on. If you can leave the building feeling as though you have done yourself justice, then you should be proud of yourself. If you don’t get the job don’t be disheartened, there can be numerous reasons for this, especially if you were being interviewed by a panel.
Congratulations if your interview was successful! If you have been unsuccessful one of the best things you can do is ask for feedback. MFJF will always ask recruiters for feedback, as we believe it’s vital information for job seekers to know why they were unsuccessful. If you are applying for a role outside MFJF, give the company a call and ask if you can have some feedback. It may not be what you would like to hear, but it is what you need to hear. Embrace it, and if the feedback refers to a better interview manner or lack of experience, act on it as you move forward.