So you want to work in the glamorous world of the British film industry. You want to work alongside great Directors, Actors, D.O.P’s (Director of Photography), Producers etc. and of course you want to be paid well to do it. Firstly let me start this off by saying that the British film industry is usually anything but glamorous; 4am call times, 19 hour days in the rain, wind, snow or baking heat while getting paid less per hour then you did at the age of 16.
Note – This info applies to the UK film industry as this is where I have experience. However, much of what I will discuss is applicable globally. This is also a little off topic for this blog but I really wanted to pass on this advice.
Having now told you a few harsh realities of the so called “glamorous” British film industry I assume that you must have an irrational love for film which will allow you to endure the hard times. If that is the case then I’d like to pass on some knowledge to help you take that first step.
But why listen to me? In 2009 I graduated from university and was most likely in a very similar position to you. I desperately wanted to get into the British Film industry but had no contacts. I was stuck in that catch 22 of needing experience to get jobs but being unable to get jobs with no experience. I wasted a lot of time as I didn’t know what to do but eventually I clawed my way in.
In that year I worked on over 40 different productions ranging from the no-budget to the ultra-high-budget. I began working as a Runner but quickly identified the camera department as where I wanted to be. Within 7 months I had stopped Running altogether and worked exclusively as a 2nd AC (assistant cameraman). Sadly I then suffered from a fairly serious back problem which meant I could no longer cope with the physical aspect of the job. I’m now trying to carve out a career within photography but would love to pass on some of my knowledge to help others.
Do you need formal education to work in the Film industry?
Of course not! I studied Television and Video Production at university but was once told by a D.O.P to take it off my CV. It was that un-important. I actually kept it in as that one line cost me roughly £25,000 and I wasn’t ready to part with it.
Know what you are worth
The short answer to this is…nothing. I’m not talking financially here as even a runner should be getting paid something. What I mean is that there is a tendency for people to enter the industry believing they are above whatever role they are doing. The only thing you should do when you are hired for a job is the best you can in that role. If your ego gets in the way then you will not be hired again. As a runner that means working harder, longer and for less pay then everyone else without complaining. Perform well in your role and you will get hired again. You will work with the same people over and over. They will eventually become interested in you, perhaps even friends. Finally you will get a shot doing what you want.
Getting yourself onto the books at a reputable and well known diary service is my biggest tip for anyone trying to enter the industry. Diary services are used by production companies, producers, production assistants etc. to either help them crew up for their project or to quickly replace a member of the team. As a member of a diary service you pay a fee, this could be monthly or yearly and will range in cost depending on the level of that particular diary service. You then appear on their books and they put you forward for work. A diary service essentially acts as a bookings agent. It’s worth noting that simply being a member does not guarantee work. Although from my experience you usually get a few jobs which can provide that much needed step in the right direction.
This is a list of diary services which I know of. Read up about them and decide realistically based on your experience where you fit in. Then pick up the phone and speak to them. Emails are great but people can get a far better feel for who you are over the phone. Be prepared to answer questions!
That was by no means an exhaustive list but now you know they exist you can search and find some more. Most will reject you if you have no experience but some may be willing to hire you or may invite you in for an interview.
Don’t just stop there, contact everyone!
If you want to get into the British film industry as fast as possible, and maintain a high level of work, then I would definitely advise a multi-pronged approach. Diary services are great but as I said before they do not necessarily guarantee work. So who else do you contact? If you’re starting at the bottom then you’re aiming for Running jobs. Contact production companies, aiming for production assistants and producers. I’m talking small production companies here. Don’t try to contact Jerry Bruckheimer asking to be a runner. Not gonna happen. Start small, gain experience and always be aiming higher.
Write a ONE PAGE CV and a short captivating cover letter. Send this out to every company you can find tailoring the covering letter to each. Once you’ve mailed, not emailed, your CV and covering letter call them. Call and ask if they received it. Then call again in two weeks, then again two weeks later. People in the film industry are so busy that even though you had a ten minute conversation with someone a week ago and “really connected” they will forget you.
I could go on and on here but I’ve got to stop somewhere. There are definitely other ways to break into the British film industry and I’d love to hear your opinions and tips below. Maybe you’ve found a job using social media? It’s really blown up in recent years so may be a viable option.
If you have any questions feel free to send me an email. I’m more than happy to help.