Getting work on a film set can seem like a big industry secret – it can boil down to many factors luck, who you know, birth-right, education or timing. There is no set path but there are loads of jobs in production.
Begin by understanding that there are different departments, some on the floor (on set) and others behind the scenes. Crafts that are purely based in and around the set include Assistant Directors, Camera, Lighting and Sound; Crafts that are both on set and off set are make up, costume, art department; off set departments comprise production, editorial and location.
There are some realities to working on a sets to be aware of before you embark on this career path. Most are discovered through trial, error and embarrassment – but remember we told you so first.
- Freelancers (which is what we are) don't know where the next job is coming from and are not guaranteed work.
- Rare as it is, jobs do fall through at the last minute for creative as well as financial reasons.
- Prepare for little sleep and long working hours.
- Forget about a social life. Should the 4-week schedule clash with Glastonbury - you may face the possibility of having to choose one over the other.
- Develop thick skin and toughen up because a lack of gratitude or appreciation comes with the territory.
ROCLIFFE NOTES ON BREAKING INTO PRODUCTION:
One year courses give practical experience like working with equipment and the making of films, they give an advantage, over the next guy who doesn’t. You won’t go straight into the role of head of department but you will learn how to handle equipment responsibly and create a reel showing what you are capable of. It teaches you about the different crafts. You need to equip yourself in the best way possible for a role in the industry and that’s what ostensibly the educational route offers. AIDAN ALCOCK, PULSE COLLEGE.
Working on student films is a great way in. Many student films take non-student people on shoots. You get experience and a show reel. It is also a place to nurture relationships, get the contact details of the crew and stay in touch. Use social media to maintain that relationship – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. However, don’t be offended if someone rejects your facebook request as that may be for personal use.
People in life do need luck, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sometimes you just don’t realise the luck you have around you. One of my pieces of luck was in the village I grew up in was a guy, Richard Branson who became my best friend. Most people get into groups because they like each other but at film school you meet people who have something to offer you that's different to you. They bring something else to the table and that’s what can give you the advantage. NIK POWELL, DIRECTOR NATIONAL FILM AND TV SCHOOL
Prepare to work for free as work experience, on shorts and student films – it is the most likely way in. It’s all about creating contacts and a community. Search for work on mandy.com, Shooting People, forums.
Contact diary services and agencies like Gems Agency, Sara Putt or Production Guild – they often have listings of low-budget or start up projects, where you can gain experience. JAYNE GREGORY at GEMS AGENCY, says their motto is 'today’s runners tomorrow’s directors'. They encourage newbies to get in touch or join their Facebook page, which lists entry-level roles. Her advice to anyone who gets on a job is to commit the whole day and don’t even think out going out that night!
If someone asks me what skills would I advise them to acquire, I will always say First Aid training and being able to drive. These are invaluable. I have known runners to be chosen not because of their experience but because of an up-to-date first aid certificate as one is needed someone on a splinter unit.
Write to production companies, facility companies (camera, lighting, grip equipment companies), line producers, production managers and ask what entry level jobs they have. The Knowledge is a great directory for sourcing this information. Remember you have to bide your time and the work may seem menial but you will be rewarded eventually.
You will notice at some point that not everyone has got there through hard work. The reality of the industry is that nepotism exists and is accepted. Life isn’t fair but before you give off these guys still have to learn their craft. General rule about unfairness on set – avoid sulking and back-biting. Leave that for drinks or after the shoot. Most people want to keep working and so keep their heads down.
Take your responsibility seriously. When asked to block off (stopping people walking through areas or keeping noise down) - don’t let people through and make the T signal with your hands. They will stop knowing the production is turning over. If you are sent to make tea and didn’t ask whether people want sugar and milk – bring some back in a cup with stirrers. Carry a note book - write things down. Take the job seriously whatever the task - you’ll stand out if you don’t.
Develop skills and learn. Hurry up and wait! It takes one single job to climb the ladder and it can also take years to do so too - there are no hard and fast rules. Being organised and taking direction are key skills, these can be acquired. Watch how those around you do it. Show willing. It's all about attitude and a bad one smells.
A way to impress is to arrive early and see if you can help set up, stay behind and help to put things away. Utilise the chances in front of you – most technical guys are only too happy to share knowledge with you once you’ve shown willing and competence. One 1st AD I worked with, used say 10 minutes before unit call is 30 minutes late.
After a shoot has ended thank people individually, go and shake their hand, even if it is several days later it is never too late. Tom Harper, one of my favourite directors, thanked everyone at the end of each week. It really made a difference. I've always been impressed by runners or work experience who seek you out to thank you at the end of a job. I write a hand-written card to most heads of department and crew after a shoot because without them we wouldn't have a film. When openings come in, people remember those who were personable and hard-working.
Every job is an opportunity to meet people who may take you with them so give yourself every fighting chance.
Keep persisting, you will get work on a set, if you want it.