If you’re actively searching for a job, you will find one. The key is to find a job that will lead you down a career path you desire. Not all entry-level positions lead to the same future. While all jobs are great for networking, most entry-level positions in film and video are building blocks for specific industry careers.
Internships: The first stop to the top
A common misconception about internships is that they are strictly for students who are fulfilling college degree requirements. While this is often the case, there are also internship programs available to postgraduates looking for experience in their field.
Like any job, finding the right internship program takes time and research. Most major studios have internship programs available. These positions are usually highly sought after and the competition is fierce. But if you’re up for the challenge you can usually find the requirements for application on their company website. If you don’t have a specific company in mind, or you’re looking for an immediately available internship, sites like WayUp.com list available internships with companies located across the U.S.
It’s important to note that a great number of companies will not monetarily compensate you for your time as an intern. These programs are generally considered an exchange of services – you work for the company; they give you real-world experience and training. However, the knowledge that is imparted to you and the connections that you will make during your internship are priceless when looking for future employment in the film industry.
Production assistant: The bottom rung
When it comes to entry-level jobs, a production assistant (PA) or runner position is one of the lowest on the totem pole. Unfortunately, it is almost always a necessary rite of passage.
Though the job responsibilities of a PA are not entirely desirable, they are not difficult either. Depending on the size of the production and whether you are working on a set or in a production office, your responsibilities as a PA will vary. However, you can expect them to revolve around the miscellaneous tasks that are paramount for the overall success of each project … like getting people their coffee (which should never be taken lightly, rather with two sugars, please).
If working in an office, a PA may be responsible for running a slew of errands, answering phones, and helping with the day-to-day tasks that arise. On set, a production assistant’s responsibilities may include helping with the extras, taking lunch to the second unit, and making copies of the script, among many other tasks.
At the end of the day, there is no glory in being a PA. You can expect long hours in a seemingly thankless position. The key is to work hard, pay attention to detail, and don’t complain. A good attitude and enthusiasm for every assignment can go a long way when you’re a PA. If you’ve done your job well you’ll be on your way to a mid-level production position in no time.
Assistant editor: Your path to post-production
If you’re interested in a career in video editing, an assistant editing position is a great place to start. While this position is sometimes considered entry-level, it does require a firm understanding of film and digital technology as well as skill with editing software. (The two most common programs are Avid and Final Cut Pro systems.)
Unfortunately, in this position, there is no way to “fake it until you make it.” And while a good smile and some charm can get you far in life, potential employers may want to see your editing abilities up front. You should be prepared to submit a demo reel with your résumé and cover letter.
Once you land the position, your job will generally consist of digitizing footage, compiling footage for multi-camera shots, monitoring continuity, providing technical support, keeping detailed logs and maintaining an organized file structure, among many other tasks. Ideally, you will be preparing everything related to editing so that the editor can simply sit down and begin cutting.
If you want to become an editor for feature films, TV, post-production houses or news stations, an assistant editor position is almost always the first step to advancing to a higher title. Learn as much as you can and make your ambitions known. Be sure to pay your dues and one day you will be the one simply cutting.
Master control operator: The first steps into broadcasting
If a career in broadcast TV is more your speed, then a master control operator or broadcast technician position is where you want to set your entry-level sights. While this position doesn’t always require a college degree, it does require knowledge of broadcast technology and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations.
Master control is an around-the-clock job. Since broadcast TV never stops, master control operators must take shifts to monitor the quality and accuracy of the outgoing signal. This can mean working weekends, holidays, late hours or even a graveyard shift should you accept the position. In addition to ensuring the transmission meets FCC regulation both technically and in regards to content, responsibilities may include inserting the station’s identification, controlling volume, and ensuring that programs air as scheduled.
Freelance videographer: Do it yourself
There are many ways to get into video without having to submit to hours of gofer work and years of apprenticeship. One of those ways is to become a freelance videographer.
The only requirement for this in an entry-level position is to have access to the video gear needed to do the job. In addition to the essential gear and video knowledge, a freelance videographer needs to possess a “go get it” attitude. You alone, will be responsible for finding and booking your jobs. These jobs can vary depending on whether you are answering “videographer wanted” ads such as those found on sites like mandy.com, or whether you’re promoting your own services.
A great way to start gaining experience and building your portfolio is in wedding and event videography, as well as real estate and commercial videos. Since established freelance videographers will charge a premium for their service, offering discounted services can help secure jobs until you’ve built a network of clients and an impressive portfolio.
Remember, when it comes to freelance videography, every job is more than the task at hand; it’s the future of your business and livelihood. Treat every job with the utmost importance; it could be the difference between getting referrals and looking for a new line of work.
Independent filmmaker: Making movies on your own terms
Being an independent filmmaker has plenty of appeal. However, it takes a special breed to be successful. Not only does it require a dedication to the art of video production and post-production, but you must also have a strong business sense if your goal is to make money. Fortunately, with sites like YouTube and Vimeo, independent filmmakers can easily promote, distribute and turn their videos into a healthy source of revenue.
As an independent filmmaker, there are many ways to rake in the dough. The key is to possess an entrepreneurial attitude that just won’t quit. Then, find the avenues that work best for you. If you’re successful, it can be quite lucrative, even at the entry-level.
Nothing good ever came easy
Entry-level positions are not typically glamorous. You will work hard. You won’t be appreciated at times, and more than likely, you will have to do things that you’re over-qualified to do. However, don’t let this discourage you. Work harder. Be polite and grateful for every opportunity that is bestowed upon you. After all, this entry-level position will be the foundation of your budding career. Do well at this level and there’s no telling the places you’ll go.
Julie Babcock has worked her way out of the entry-level trenches and now sits comfortably at an entertainment ad agency in Hollywood.