Guest post from Ani Akpan.
What does it mean to be in film? What are some of the different paths people take?
To be in film means a life filled with job instability, long hours (10-14), and the assumption that you’re an artsy auteur with deep knowledge of hollywood cinema. It also means that people will automatically think you’re super cool for working in a non-traditional industry, one that is notoriously hard to break into.
There’s really two different tracks when it comes to film: on set or in the office. If you want to be on set, you can be a set designer, director, producer, actor/actress, production assistant, truck driver, meal caterer, a construction worker, you name it.
If you want to be in the office, you can become an executive producer, film financier, agent, network/studio executive, executive assistant/receptionist, entertainment lawyer, payroll accountant, anything that would be miserable without the comfort of an AC, restroom, and a coffee machine in close proximity.
How did you get into it? Why do you enjoy it?
I began by freelancing during my college years as a local NYC videographer as a way to make money. At that point I wouldn’t say I was in the film/tv industry officially, as many freelancers work on client videos but for content that may not always air on TV, or in the movie theater, but online on YouTube, company pages, and instagram etc.
Fast forward a few years and I became a PA on HBO’s new comedy series Mrs. Fletcher and now work in LA at a top talent agency. I enjoy it because when it comes down to it, the film industry is about people and meaningful relationships FIRST, then the movie, the scene, the edit come second is what I’ve witnessed. Trust is a major factor in getting things done, which is why things are so exclusive and tight knit, but once you’re part of it the perks most times outweigh the negatives of working in this industry.
What would you do differently if you repeated the last 5 years in film? Is there anything you could’ve done to accelerate your path?
There’s no one formula for success as some people are PA’s for years before moving onto anything more prestigious, while others get associate producer credits based on family ties and preference, more often than based on merit.
That being said I would’ve spent more time collaborating on projects with people in the right places, rather than for a quick buck. There’s a difference between asking for a job/gig, versus working with someone on something meaningful to them in order to prove your ability and build trust. That usually leads to more work in the future.
What advice would you give someone interested in transitioning to film or entertainment now?
Develop a competitive edge. This industry is painfully oversupplied with hopefuls (many of whom are very VERY talented). So it’s not a question of being talented because presumably most people are, it’s a question of who cares?
So develop a competitive edge/valuable skill set such as VR video production that is relatively new and in demand. Second, put yourself out there via film contests or call for entries etc. that will give you a marketable platform beyond your vimeo, youtube or instagram account. When someone googles your name, your reel should be the top 5 in search results, so change it from “John Smith Productions” to JSP Films.
Any different advice for new grads with no prior experience?
BE CREATIVE. No one will seriously consider you because even if they know of people who need someone to deliver flowers or drive a car during a film shoot, they won’t trust you off the bat to pull off something as menial or as crazy as that. Again it’s all about trust, and being genuine, so no fake “hey let’s get coffee” texts.
I once heard a new college grad get hired by delivering pizza to set (no one ordered pizza) and put her resume in one or all of the pizza boxes. Risky, but that’s how you catch someone’s attention, by taking calculated risks. Sending an email to an “@gmail.com” address for a production office won’t get anywhere. It was my job to delete those emails.
Any other thoughts or comments? Can you share any useful links or resources?
Craigslist for the NY and LA markets has several legitimate entry level gigs and jobs, but please be sure to do proper due diligence so you don’t get scammed. Also, dig through your LinkedIn 1st and 2nd connections for anyone who you can get introduced to. Also try your college career counselor to help you peruse the alumni directory. Those first introductions while it may get repetitive, usually amount to something in the long run.
Ani Akpan, Author of TV Killed the Internet Star. See more on his LinkedIn post.
Today TV Networks Viacom & CBS merged in what would be just another mega merger to hit the television industry. Take a look at my deep dive on this hot topic from my book: TV Killed The Internet Star. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing excerpts and stories from my book in this blog series. #television #streaming #digital