Lights, Camera, Action: From Film School Networks to Creating Shorts: Four Ways to Break into the Filmmaking Industry
Filmmakers sometimes arrive in Hollywood through various, winding paths. The 2015 Academy Award winner for Best Director, Revenant director Alejandro González Iñárritu, majored in communications and worked as a rock music radio DJ before breaking into the film industry by writing movie scores.
Then there's Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who both took home this year's Sundance directing award and began their careers directing music videos. But taking a detour into the music industry isn't the only way to break into filmmaking. Here are a few ways aspiring filmmakers can get their foot in the film industry door.
Leverage Film School Networks
Merely graduating from film school won't guarantee you a job in the industry — and many directors break in without attending whatsoever. But if you choose to attend film school, one way to leverage your education to your advantage is using that experience to create long-lasting connections. Get to know your professors and fellow students, become involved in film-related school activities, and look for internship opportunities.
Production internship jobs opportunities are often available at film schools. While they can be particularly competitive at premier institutions like UCLA and USC, don't rule out opportunities at other top-ranked film schools, including Wesleyan University, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Texas-Austin, Syracuse University and Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts, among others, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Again, you may not land an internship of your dreams with a big-budget production, says Terry Linehan, internship director at UNC-Wilmington's Department of Film Studies. But, according to Linehan, you may be able to get placed assisting paid production assistants for smaller, independent movies or TV shows in areas like script development, editing, post-production, costume design, or stunt coordination.
Gain Commercial Directing Experience
Successful directors like Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino are virtually unanimous in advising aspiring filmmakers to focus less on film school and more on gaining experience shooting films. Spielberg says shooting short-film footage can be a surefire way to get yourself noticed and hired for shooting a music video or TV commercial, which can be a step toward directing a TV show or feature-length film.
Shooting commercials for local advertising agencies or small businesses wanting to advertise on TV or YouTube can be a way to gain directing experience, while building up a body of work for your portfolio. LAvideoFilmmaker.com recommends shooting fake TV spots, known as spec TV commercials, to start building a portfolio that can earn you some commercial work.
Create Short, Independent Work
Another way to build up your body of work to ultimately get noticed is shooting your own independent videos and films. These can be anything from short videos, as brief as 10 minutes, to full-length features if you're ambitious and have a good financing strategy. Of course, the longer your film, the more challenging it will be to finance and produce. Producer Jennifer Westin provides some tips for creating a micro-budget feature.
Work as a Production Assistant
One of the best ways to break into the film industry is getting an entry-level job as a production assistant, also known as a gofer in the U.S. or a runner in the U.K.. Production assistants help film and TV production crews with odd jobs, ranging from delivering scripts and equipment to getting coffee and lunch. Being a PA puts you in a position to start networking and learning about the film industry from the inside. These underlings don't need a film school degree, and jobs aren't unionized. So, as long as you have or are able to get your driver's license, you should be able to find work.
Some methods of landing PA jobs include:
- Film-school internships
- Searching Craigslist
- Networking on job boards focused on film
- Scouring social media
- Asking industry veterans for advice
- Cold calling companies where you have an interest in working
Last-minute PA job openings are often posted on Twitter, so be sure to follow tweets from production coordinators, who are responsible and involved in hiring.