The trials and tribulations of starting out in the film industry
It’s the question everyone starting out wants to know and probably the question I get asked the most. How do you get in to film and TV?
It’s the question everyone starting out wants to know and probably the question I get asked the most. How do you get in to film and TV? It’s a notoriously difficult industry to get in to and once you’re in you will question yourself many times whether you want to do it or not. Is it worth doing all these crazy hours and sacrificing your weekend and your life? Is it worth buying a car? Because you do need one if you’re starting out and it gives you an advantage over other people. Is it worth working for free or “interning”? Well I thought I’d give you my end of the story and tell you how I got in to the industry.
So where to begin? I guess It started in college – I picked film as one of my A-level subjects and I enjoyed it enough for me to take it at university. The three years consisted of me mainly falling asleep at morning screenings of German silent films and analysing horror films through Freudian theories (I did do a bit of work). I graduated one summer but soon after I was already questioning what kind of career my degree would give me. I even spoke to my flat mate’s mum about becoming a social worker…after all it’s a proper job.
I delayed becoming a grown up for a while by taking a gap year, I spent six months slaving away at a warehouse and the other six having the best time of my life traveling abroad. So when I got back from my travels, reality hits. Besides my shoddy film degree, I had no experience of working on a film or TV show. I literally had no idea who to contact or what website to go on to get a job, yet by a small stroke of luck I’d gotten a call from some guys who were about to shoot a horror film and they asked if I could intern with them for a few weeks.
It was a great insight in to the inner workings of a film and I did gain a very memorable experience of being on a film set for the first time. I still remember it like it was yesterday. The producer of the horror film had a little side project and asked me to help out as a runner, I obviously jumped at the opportunity. So I turn up to Basingstoke forest, eager and ready for anything. Unfortunately, one of the extras was a no show which meant that I had to step in “no worries, what do I need to do?” I chirped enthusiastically. The next three hours after that was perhaps the strangest of my life.
A guy poured fake blood over my t-shirt, put a line of Cumberland sausages on top of me to look like my guts were spilling out (I was playing a corpse) and a fully naked girl proceeded to drag me around the forest for about three hours…it’s safe to say that it was one of the most awkward moments of my life.
It wasn’t all just about the physicality of shooting a film, I learnt about the mental side of things, the stress, the constant deadlines, being set tasks which seemed impossible to achieve and the constant worrying of if you’ve done a good job or not.
I managed to get film job after this again, interning for free but I really didn’t have a good time. I had to work closely with the exec producer who to put it mildly was a bit of an arsehole and someone who I would never want to work for again. This particular experience put me off working in film and TV and I ended up working in a accounting firm for the best part of two years…. I knew I didn’t belong there so I wrote up my resignation letter one day in order to give the film and TV industry one more chance. If this didn’t work I would have resigned myself to the grinder and my worst nightmare… a 9-5 job in the city wearing a suit, entering data onto a spreadsheet and the soul sucked out of me.
I left my accounting job without having anything lined up, but this time it felt different. I was just that little bit more experienced in life and I had a couple of film credits to boast about. I again interned, this time for a budding film maker looking to make it big his heart and soul was in the right place and we put a lot great of content together but he could only pay me on somewhat empty promises – “once this show goes big, I’ll have money to pay you” etc etc. A couple of months went by and I felt like I’d made a bad choice quitting my well paid accounting job but out of the blue (as it always is) I get a phone call from a friend asking if I was interested in working on a big Hollywood film as a runner. I didn’t have a car or a laptop at the time and these are two essential tools you need to work in film. I used what little money I had left to buy a computer and asked my mum if I could borrow her car for a few weeks.
My job interview consisted of my boss asking me if I had ever worked on a film set before, I replied yes and he hired me on the spot…and that’s how I got my first real break. On this particular film I spent four weeks clicking people in and out of the catering tent (you have to start somewhere) but I obviously proved my worth as my boss took me on to his next film (and gave me a lot more responsibility) and through various connections and networking I ‘ve spent the past 4 years freelancing in film and TV.
The hours are long …I’ve had to leave the house at 4am and not get back home until 9pm for one particular job. I’ve worked 20 days in a row without a day off.
I’ve had to spend days and nights in the cold and wet in some godforsaken location. I’ve been let go from jobs without any real explanations and I’ve seen colleagues get fired for the smallest of mistakes. I’ve contemplated leaving the industry all together on numerous occasions and I’ve questioned my own abilities to do a good job. Yet for every bad experience there’s a good one, the amazing locations I’ve been to, the brilliant cast and crew I’ve worked with on each shoot, the amazing stunts and SFX and seeing my own name on the end credit is the most satisfying feeling you can get, a finished product which you’ve been part of watched by millions of people around the world.
Whatever route you take in to the industry, grit and determination is something you need in abundance, we’ve all failed at some point, it took me long enough to get to where I ‘am now but eventually you will succeed. As you can tell it’s never really that glamorous but you work for those special moments, the days when you turn up to work and find out that you’re blowing up 30 cars, or watching some guy hang off a plane in mid-air, or watch 500 extras ride around in horses and chariots…. it’s worth the struggle.