So you think you want to work in video production?
By Doug Morris
Launching a career in Video Production can be as simple or difficult as you make it. That’s right, the key variable to a successful launch into the film/video production industry is standing right there in the mirror looking back at you each and every morning.
One of the primary factors that make it difficult to get started is the sheer number of talented, driven, dedicated, innovative, ambitious people out there who would love to be doing the exact same thing as you.
If that last sentence describes you, that’s terrific: Keep reading. If not, it may be time for you to move on and consider living some other type of fantasy.
BUT WHERE DO I START?
Well, by starting we mean you’ve already demonstrated your passion for the art of filmmaking by taking the initiative in creating your own stimulating visuals, sounds, or animations on your own time and dime.
Unfortunately, if you have nothing to show prospective producers that you have a passion for the work, you stand little chance of being successful. As Mahatma Ghandi so famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
But be prepared to show your work without qualifications or apologies. Nobody—especially producers—wants to hear excuses. Ever!
If you have nothing to showcase your talent or feel your work isn’t where you’d like it to be, fret not: It’s not too late. It just means the time is now for you to get busy and create something real and tangible to prove to yourself—and to the production industry at large—that you’re serious about working as a filmmaker.
If you’ve already produced an online reel or have your own Vimeo or YouTube channel, you definitely should keep reading because there’s real hope for you.
Obviously, it will be helpful in your efforts if you have a presence on all the different social media platforms as well: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Go ahead and put yourself out there.
Still with me? Good, let’s get down to what you’ll need to help make things happen for you in your new career.
After your reel, the most important element you’ll need to create is a solid resume. If you don’t have much experience in the industry it may appear rather skimpy but there are lots of tips for creating decent resumes online. Here’s a starting point, however there are many others you can check out as well.
Once you’ve got a decent resume, don’t make a mistake and skip writing a cover letter to accompany it. Each letter should be addressed to a specific individual. Be concise, creative and inform the reader of your strengths, which may not be all that apparent if your resume shows a lack of actual production experience. Use your cover letters to bridge the gaps in your resume.
WORKING FOR VIDEO PRODUCTION COMPANIES
Once you’ve got evidence in the form of a reel and a solid resume to show producers what you’re capable of, you can start calling on Video Production Companies for real.
These organizations come in all shapes and sizes: From a one-person shooter with a camera and some gear (who got lucky and landed a client) to well-established organizations with years of experience, lots of cameras gear, and a long roster of returning clients. Do your research and make a list of at least 50 prospective production companies and learn as much as you can about each one from their websites. Cull that list to the most promising 25 prospects with contact information and get to work. This will take some time but you’re not afraid of hard work, are you?
At this point in your fledgling career, beggars can’t be choosers so you may have to take whatever jobs you can find. In all likelihood your best chance of success breaking in will be working with smaller shops that produce lower budget productions for clients you probably never heard of. But even smaller shops need talented, enthusiastic crewmembers who’ll commit to spending long days, hard at work, while maintaining a positive, helpful attitude.
If you are already fairly well specialized and have the necessary skills to operate a camera, record audio or light a scene, most of this article probably won’t be of much use to you. Unless… you’re not getting much work, then feel free to stay with us to the end.
WHAT A PRODUCER NEEDS
We asked producers, directors, and production company owners what they look for when hiring new crewmembers, the feedback is pretty much the same: They’re mostly looking for people with very similar traits regardless of the specific role a crewmember plays on-set.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SET ETIQUETTE
Producers are always looking for bright, talented people who can communicate well, who listen more than they talk, who dress appropriately, who arrive on time and who are prepared to work hard all day without complaint.
They also value crewmembers that maintain an on-set presence, along with situational awareness, while not drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.
This may have little to do with the crew member’s technical skills in doing their job but more with their appreciation of set etiquette – which can vary somewhat based on each production company’s culture.
But regardless of the culture, everyone on set needs to know how they should behave when working as part of a production crew and there are a few basics that apply to all. You’ll need to demonstrate that you have a grasp of set etiquette, too: Beginning with the very first time you’re hired to work a shoot.
On your first day, you should probably begin by introducing yourself to your fellow crew members. Make a real effort to remember their names and what their respective roles are. If you have a hard time remembering them all, make some notes and put them in your contacts folder later for future reference.
It’s important to know that remembering what people tell you will be critical to accelerating your learning curve and, perhaps more importantly, to your long-term career success in the video production industry as a whole.
Remember, knowledge is power!
YOU’LL NEED TO LEARN SOME INDUSTRY TERMS
So, when a burly, gruffy gaffer asks you for a C-47 what do you do?
You may or may not know that a C-47 isn’t just a military version of a DC-3 aircraft but is also a simple wooden clothespin.
That’s right, a C-47 is often used to attach colored plastic gels to barn doors. A barn door? Yes, a barn door, the folding metal shade that attaches to a lamp restricting how much or how little light actually comes out of it and into the scene. But don’t touch one yourself without wearing heavy leather gloves. They can really burn your fingers!
KNOW YOUR PLACE
In fact, unless you’re a gaffer, don’t touch a barn door or any other lighting element until you’re told to do so by a gaffer. The lines between production roles are clear to everyone and you need to respect those boundaries as well. You can be helpful but it may be better to stick to simply being the best PA you know how to be, at least for now.
Because the scope of this article is limited – and you are serious about being the best Production Assistant possible – it might be helpful for you to pick up The Production Assistant’s Pocket Handbook to learn the real ins and outs of becoming a PA. As you can see by the promo blurb for the book, there’s quite a lot to learn.
“Think of it, to try and make movie. What a crazy idea! This popular handbook is designed to give new Production Assistants (P.A.s) an edge in the insane world of movie making. Topics include how to get your first job, the basics of lock-downs, radio communication, running talent, what to bring to a set, and driving. Written by a P.A., this handbook is full of advice and stories from the trenches.“
Cool, but let’s get back to set etiquette for a moment – because your performance in this matter will very likely determine whether or not you’ll ever be hired back, or get recommended to other producers to work on their projects.
PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS
It’s simply common sense while working on a set you should always be on your best behavior: Be as polite, considerate and thoughtful as possible. As a Production Assistant (PA) your role will be to serve the production by doing even the most menial tasks (getting coffee, picking up trash, stocking the Craft Services table, etc.) as cheerfully and with as much enthusiasm as you can muster.
Even though you may feel at times that, as a PA, you are less than fully appreciated, suck it up and stay upbeat. It’s an important part of paying your dues and over time you will understand why.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Of course, you’ll need to speak up when necessary to do your job but be mindful that needless chatter is unwelcomed by most producers and directors. Your phone can be an important production tool at times. But the last thing you want is to ruin an actor’s line when your ringtone interrupts a shot.
Don’t be that guy! Silence your phone and put it away. And don’t let other crewmembers catch you checking your phone every couple of minutes. It’s bad form and will make you appear disengaged.
It might also be worth a few minutes to watch a video that briefly explains how set etiquette works and serves the film production culture.
Unfortunately, even the best Production Assistant jobs usually pay very poorly, and the PA is often stuck doing most of the grunt work, either on set or on location. However, starting as a PA will gives you chances to size up the different Production Companies you work for while allowing you to get acquainted with the various production roles and make friends with a few of the people who perform them.
But don’t waste their time – or yours for that matter – however, during breaks it may be helpful to your career to make a few friends on each set: Especially those who don’t mind advising an upbeat newbie who is simply trying to break into the business.
The relationships you build over time working with production professionals will add up and they will call you to work more and more often…if you play your cards right. People will only recommend you to their friends and associates if you lightened their load and they actually enjoyed working with you. So go above and beyond!
SO GET OUT THERE AND HUSTLE
You need to find work so don’t wait for the phone to ring just because you sent out a few resumes and have a reel to show online. Spend your days and nights doing your homework and you will eventually find work.
We’ll close with a few industry websites to help you find jobs to get you going in your quest to become a full-fledged filmmaker: But remember, it’s the work you’ll be doing on set, working in collaboration with other crew members for the next few years that will ultimately determine whether or not you will be successful in the industry.
And if you’re really serious about starting your new career on the right foot check out this in-depth online course on how to be a SUCCESSFUL Film Production Assistant with real information on how to “get in” including where the work is, how to find it, how to get that first client and exactly what will be expected of them as a production assistant.
The very best of luck!