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How to land your first job in film

August Laska
August 15, 2016 by August Laska Plus

The film industry can be difficult to navigate. And the prospect of breaking into it without any formal film experience may seem daunting. As Vimeo’s marketing intern and a senior at Middlebury College majoring in Film and Media Culture, I know how it feels. But as with every other industry, there are many ways to market yourself and make meaningful connections that can help you snag that first film gig. Here are six steps to get you started.

Here’s a painfully awkward GIF from the first day of Vimeo’s internship program. I’m on the right.

Step 1: Watch the classics

It sounds obvious. But if you want to work in film, you have to know your history and understand the trajectory of film trends. When was the last time you watched Casablanca or All in the Family? For a great list of must-watch classics, you can visit AMC’s “The Greatest 100 Movies of All Time” or TIME’s “All-TIME 100 TV Shows.” Within the quickly changing media landscape, it’s important to be familiar with the foundations of this industry and learn where the conventions of film and television come from.

But it’s not just about the classics: independent artists are crucial as well — and it just so happens that Vimeo is home to the world’s greatest indie filmmakers. You should peruse through Staff Picks to keep your pulse on what’s happening, browse through categories to find genres you admire, and comment on videos you love. Keep an eye out for filmmakers and crew names in the credits as well, so you can build your own log of favorites. You’ll be glad you have this personal resource in the future.

Watching films is one of those super enjoyable steps, and it will further anchor your desires to work in film in the first place.

Step 2: Get coffee (with other people)

Odds are, your great aunt Martha has told you about her college roommate’s cousin who works for the accounting firm for the producers of a film in New York City. Point being, take every opportunity to track down that email and grab coffee. Be proactive when you’ve got a chance to meet anyone who might be remotely connected to film in some way. You never know who’s in contact with someone who just happens to need an extra body for the crew of an upcoming film shoot. That’s called networking, and though it may seem intimidating, we’ve broken it down so you can do so in a way that feels organic and lets you make genuine connections.

You don’t need to be desperate or pushy, but let the people you reach out to know your genuine intentions: you admire their work, you’re seeking to break into the industry, and would love to pick their brain. Then, shoot them a thoughtful thank you, and if it feels appropriate, gently reiterate that you’re looking for your next step and ask if they have thoughts on resources you can turn to.

Step 3: Follow up

We all get a lot of emails. From dental appointment reminders to email chains (are those still a thing?) to marketing emails from every company we’ve ever bought anything from, our inboxes fill up quickly. So if that person you emailed hasn’t responded to you in four days, send a friendly follow up. Chances are, your contact read it but didn’t have time to respond. Following up shows that you are serious, punctual, and on top of your correspondence. All good things.

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Step 4: Get coffee (for other people)

Before getting a job in the film industry, many people try to land an internship/ apprenticeship/ temp job first. You could even volunteer on a production — whatever it takes to get that first foot in, see how things actually work, and meet more people in the industry. 

But when you get there, don’t be discouraged if (and when) you are asked to do the not-so-exciting work. Like getting coffee. Or holding up a light diffuser. Or hauling equipment. I started in theater and was consistently told the line, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” The same thing holds true here –– every cog in the wheel of a film crew is vital, and you decide for yourself how seriously you will take your job. If you have a “no job is too big or too small” attitude, and get that coffee without hesitation, the person you give it to will take note. Your excitement will bring a positive energy to the set that won’t go unnoticed.

Step 5: Follow up (again!)

Probably more important than a pre-meeting follow up is a post-shoot follow up. After production wraps, send a follow-up email to the director (or the person that you worked under), expressing your gratitude for the experience and respectfully reiterating that you are ready, willing, and able to work on any new projects. I can’t stress enough that you can never get too much experience! Every shoot is different, and working on different types of shoots will make you prepared for larger ones with bigger crews that require more time and effort. Following up reinforces your interest and reminds that person that you are ready to work. This is vital to maintaining your presence and reputation within the industry.

Step 6: Read up

If you’re doing your movie-watching homework, networking, and bringing a bright attitude along, you’re doing it right. But there’s always more you can do to prep. Vimeo Video School is an amazing resource for budding filmmakers and people who want useful information about the film industry. Get Variety’s breaking news in your inbox every day. Read articles from IndieWire. Dig into the NY Times Media section. 

Essentially, the key is to stay informed. It’ll help you make conversation on coffee dates, when you’re on set, and on social media.

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It’s important to remember that you are your own brand when marketing yourself to producers and directors with whom you want to work. As you begin to make a name for yourself within the micro-community of filmmakers, you’re on the path to making films and hiring a crew of your own.

Have a question or your own tips for prospective film peeps? Let us know in the comments. Good luck!

9 Comments

Felice Stolzberg

Great advice! Thanks for the positive guidance in what can be a tough industry!

hamad el-neil

Thank you! These few connected advices push me to the limit as firt article i read. :-)

Matei-Alexandru Mocanu Plus

you can skip the 'get coffee for other people'. i never worked as a 1st AD, or runner, or anything. went from film school straight to directing. networking does play an important part, though

t1

I love these articles. Thank you!

Kafa

great!

Prakash Kalapala

First of all, Thank you to acknowledging the sentiment behind the questions. I at the moment can't say that I am filmmaker of any sort. Yet, it had given an brief outlook of what it takes to be one if I somehow make that fortunate choice. Its the small-small things that counts.
❤️ you Guys (& ladies) at the VIMEO.

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