How to get a job in the film business in 9 steps
You’re not really in the “film business” until you have a job. “So how do I get a job in the film business?” That’s the question that I get asked the most at seminars, schools and social events.
There is no magic formula for how to get a job in the film business. Getting a job as Production Assistant, a Craft Service person, or an Extra Hammer in the grip department will be based on your experience, good word of mouth about you abilities, and your resume.
But what about jobs that we all really want… the creative power jobs in the business… The Director, the Director of Photography, the Art Director, the Costume Designer, ect… How do we get these jobs?
Well, again, your experience, good word of mouth about you abilities, and your resume will be important, but without a “Showreel,” we are not really even contenders.
Step 1: The showreel is your prime sales tool
It’s a concrete demonstration of your abilities. You can talk a good game, and believe me you still have to however good your reel is. You have to be able to pitch your vision of any given project. But without the all-important showreel, you have no way to prove that you can actually do the job.
And don’t underestimate how specific your reel needs to be for the particular job you are going up for. I remember a Creative Director saying to me… “We see ice-cream on you reel, Mr. Logan, but we’re selling frozen yoghurt… so we’re not sure you’re right for the job.”
The only way you are going to get a showreel is to have material that you have created, in your possession, which you then need to cut into a compelling composition.
Step 2: Keep your work close
So never do any job or project without getting a high quality copy of the work. Do this the moment the project is finished. You’ll find that trying to get footage a few month after the job is complete will be much more difficult, if not impossible. You may not be putting a reel together right now, but if you wait until you are… you’ll spend weeks trying to get the footage from all the different producer’s that you have worked for.
Step 3: We can’t all be Spielberg
So what if you don’t have any work to show? Well sometimes some people are so silver-tongued that that they can talk themselves into a job with no qualifications or any work to show. I think Steven Spielberg is an example of this. He snuck onto the lot at Universal Studios, found an empty office and moved in. He then infiltrated various productions, made friends and turned it into his first directing job. At least, that how the legend goes. But for us mere mortals, we need to show our wares to get a paid job.
If you want to direct commercials, you need to have commercials on your reel. So if you can’t talk someone into paying you to shoot some, you need to do some Spec Spots.
Step 4: The spec spot
Spec spots have turned into a whole art form. Here’s Vimeos channel dedicated to spec spots. https://vimeo.com/channels/specspots They even air spec spots on the Superbowl. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Doritos spots over the last few years. Here are a few they didn’t play.
If you want to make narrative film, make your own short film. I get in a lot of trouble for my opinion that $100k of film school is sometimes better spent making a one or two really good short films or even a feature. And you might even be able to sell it and get your money back. They teach a lot of great stuff at film school, but you can also learn a lot at the school of hard knocks. I did.
So let’s say you have enough material to put a reel together. In fact lets say you have too much material… a good problem to have. You need to structure the reel for maximum impact.
Step 5: You need an opener.
Usually your best spot because they may only watch the first one. Then pick your closing spot. You need to go out with a bang, because if they get through the whole reel, they’ll only remember the last spot.
Step 6: Keep your reel short
…and don’t repeat types of spot that show a particular skill set. If you’ve shown them that you can light a large night exterior, you don’t need to show them again. Show them sweeping daytime landscapes, or a beautiful interior. If you have shown a comedy food spot with kids, you don’t need to show them another. Unless of course that your specialty. Then every spot will be funny kids with food.
Step 7: To specialize or not?
This is a decision you are going to have to make as a commercial filmmaker. Everyone you work for, and with… agency producers, creatives, your reps, and the production companies that represent your work… are going to try to cram you into a little box. And that’s fine if you are passionate about the direction they want you to take.
The need to specialize is primarily to make it easy for people to remember you. Because you shoot cars, or you direct emotional performances, or you shoot beautiful food and product shots… they think that is all you can do.
I have fought against this specialization my whole career. I don’t like to wake up in the morning and do the same this day after day, however much they want to pay you.
The first real filmmaker I worked with was Stanley Kubrick and I had been a fan long before I worked for him. And one of the things I liked about him was that he never made the same kind of film twice. I suppose I’ve used that as a model for my own career. So I’ve always been a generalist. But a lot of potential clients get confused: “I see actors giving great performances… I see cars… I see visual effects… I see beautiful pictures. I just don’t get it!”
I suppose when you see a Quentin Tarantino movie you know pretty much what you are in for. So you will have to decide which way you want to take your career.
Step 8: Make custom reels
These are useful for bidding on specific storyboards. If your Rep or your production company is lucky enough to get hold of the creative content for which you are being considered, then you can put together a specialty reel targeting the kind of material you think they are looking for.
In a perfect world, the agency creatives would love to see their spot that they are going to make already on your reel.
That’s worked for me many times, but sometimes it backfires… they see the spot and however good it is… they say: “Noooo! Our spot is nothing like that.”
Here’s my custom reel for commercials.
Step 9: Keep your chin up!
So you can’t win? But sometimes you do… and that been enough for me to have a good career.
It looks like I’m out of space, but I still wanted to talk to you about where to send your reel and how to promote your commercial career. So I’ll do that soon, I promise.
Drop me an email if you want me to cover a particular topic. firstname.lastname@example.org
You can start editing here.