About once a week we get a phone call from someone who is a recent college graduate with a degree in media production asking us if we have any media industry jobs opening. For many, working in video production looks like a great career choice. After all, we've all been told that you should do what you love and if you love TV and movies then the entertainment industry sounds like a great career choice. Here are some realities about the field and some tips to help you jumpstart a promising career.
1. The Hours Are Long!
A career in media (TV, movies, commercials, anything video) production is the farthest thing from a nine to five job, especially when you're working the entry-level job of a production assistant. Ideally shoot days are scheduled to be either 10 or 12 hours for the crew but the reality is that the shoot day is over when all of the shots needed for the edit are captured perfectly.
This can easily be fourteen hours, sixteen hours, or more. And a PA works for the production on a flat day rate, unlike the crew who are hourly in the media industry jobs pool.
That means that the PAs usually start working an hour before the crew arrives and they stay about an hour after the crew leaves. So if the crew worked 18 hours then the PAs worked for 20 hours. And keep in mind PAs usually work on a flat day rate. Some companies will pay the PAs extra for very long days but not all companies do.
Steady employment in this industry means that you do not have time for TV, movies, or anything else in normal life. Episodic TV has the longest hours. You are pretty much just working, commuting to and from work, and sleeping Monday morning thru Saturday Morning.
2. Traditional Media Industry Jobs Are Rare
It is very, very rare to find a job at a company where you will work five days a week with benefits. Most media companies are small businesses that maybe have one or two full-time employees (the owners) while everyone else works on a freelance basis and rise your communication network.
This happens because these companies don't have shoots or productions happening all the time. They might be busy for a few months and then have one quiet month.
Almost everyone who works in production is freelance and they get hired when the production companies have work for them. If there the job is done then the company releases you and you move on to the next one. Now there are definite exceptions to this, big companies like MTV and NBC have full-time staff jobs with benefits. But there is a lot of competition to get them.
3. Freelancing Does Not Mean You Work All the Time
When you work freelance you're working on a day to day basis. You might have a week where you work all seven days, a week where you work for two days, or a week when you don't work at all. You might want to work, but all of your contacts don't have anything for you. Sometimes you might even go a month without working. For example, you could make $6,000 in one month and then $600 in another. Still, sounds like a good career choice?
4. It's Who You Know
When we produce videos for our clients they need to be very happy with how we work and how the shoot went so that they either hire us again or refer us to someone else in media industry jobs.
For this to happen we need to hire the right people for our team. People who are good at their job and are easy to work with. You don't want to have an audio engineer who did a very poor job recording the sound or a gaffer who complains the entire day.
We've been around for a while and have a team of people who are our first calls when we need them. It's just easier to work with people we know, but sometimes they're not available because they are on another job and then we need to find someone to replace them.
When that happens there are two things we do: we ask them if they know someone good they can recommend and if they answer is no we call up our other producer friends for a recommendation. Because we want someone good who has proven themselves to work for us and do the job right rather than hire someone completely new and worry if they'll do a good job.
The same goes for PAs although the process is a bit more relaxed because being a good PA requires more common sense than technical skills. We have PAs that have worked for us before that we like a lot and call first. If they're not available we ask if they know someone and if that's a dead-end we call other people we know for a recommendation.
5. Get Out and Meet People
So by now you're thinking you're in a catch 22. You can't work without knowing someone to give you the job and you can't know someone until you get the chance to work with them. But you are very wrong. Because there is a way to get your foot in the door but it usually requires an unpaid internship. As far as I know, there are not any paid internships in media industry jobs field because there is such a huge amount of people wanting internships.
My advice when looking for an internship is to contact as many companies as possible. Send your cover letter and resume to MTV and also send it to the small commercial production company. The more you put yourself out there, the better your chances are of getting hired. Each internship has its benefits, you might have a light workload at MTV and do the intern stuff like making copies and getting coffee but you have a good chance of getting media industry jobs with them once you graduate.
Meanwhile, at the small company, you will probably do more intense stuff where you can learn a lot if you have the right attitude, but once the internship is done there is little chance of employment except for maybe the occasional freelance PA job.
6. Alternatives to the Traditional Internship
Maybe you want a technician job and don't want to do the production. There's a lot of crew directories online you can look at to get contact info for the non-union folks who do it. Call or email them and tell them that you want to eventually work in their department. Tell them that you want to be their intern and ask if you can tag along on a shoot with them. If they say yes then show up 15 minutes before call time and stay for the entire day.
Do this a couple of days a week if you can so you can learn and make friends. And if the department head is a decent human being they will recognize that you've been coming there for free to learn and they will hire you to be paid on days when an additional crew member is needed in media industry jobs.
7. Watch How You Present Yourself
I only want to hire good people to work for me and I generally form my first impression for the initial contact email whether it's someone cold contacting me or in response to a job posting. Put effort into your resume and cover letter so it looks professional. Try something to make it stand out, say something personal about yourself and mention something specific about the company.
There are about 100 resumes for one PA position on a one day shoot. And please use proper grammar in your written communication and when we have a phone interview. Likewise, you don't need to get dressed up when you work in this field, but please don't come to work wearing rags.
8. At the Media Industry You Should Work Hard
Intern work and PA work can be tedious and suck. I was at a client's office this week and their interns where putting together furniture. And ninety percent of a PA's workload entails standing on a street corner asking pissed off people if they could waiting a minute because a movie is shooting a scene right now.
It's a crappy job but you better do it well because people are watching you and if you come off as lazy and not caring you will not get hired again. If you work hard people will notice and that will lead to more gigs along with opportunities to do higher-level jobs.
9. Directors Direct
This occupation is kinda dream among media Industry Jobs. So if you're like me you didn't study video production in school and get a job in this field because you want to someday be a key grip, post-production supervisor, or production manager. You want to direct and you want to make a living out of it. But you just don't know-how. Well, here's a tip to get you started.
Director doesn't sit on their asses watching TV and playing video games. Directors direct. A director gets a video camera and creates a story to tell. Write a movie and get your friends to act in it or find something that interests you can create a documentary.
Do something because doing something will help you create and sharpen the skill sets needed to be a director. And as you get better you can get more ambitious with your shoots by casting professional actors and hiring a professional crew with equipment.
That brings me to another point, if you want to be a professional director then you need to invest your own money to create a portfolio that looks professional. In other words, your video work needs to have production values that look just as good as what you see on broadcast TV (HD cameras, great lighting, production design). Otherwise, your work will be dismissed as amateur in the media industry jobs field.
There are a lot of different paths to becoming a professional director; you could partner with a production company and do commercials, you could make a kick-ass short film that gets into a festival and happened to be seen by an agent or tv producer who hires you to direct an episode for a tv show, or you could raise the funds for an indie movie that becomes a huge hit. All these scenarios begin with picking up a camera and building skills that later translate into building a reel.
10. Real Example, How to Start Your Career
Everyone's career path is different but I wanted to share mine. During my second year in Media Studies, I started worrying about how I will find work with my degree once I graduated. I had been working in restaurants for almost minimum wage since I was 14 and did not want to be doing that once I had a college degree.
So I looked online for internships among some available media industry jobs. And I didn't want one that was one or two days a week for a few hours at a time, I wanted something that was five days a week where I can get my hands dirty, make personal relationships, and be able to work in video production once I graduated so that I could make enough money to support myself.
I found an unpaid internship with a very small production company that summer and I think that what I learned about the video business and myself was a major turning point in my life. The first half of the internship was spent writing treatments for reality shows and documentaries that the company would pitch to major networks. I don't think they ever did pitch anything but it did show me the importance of being proactive when there is downtime to create projects rather than wait for projects to come to you.
The second half of my internship was spent being a location scout for a car commercial they were shooting. I volunteered to travel the city during the day looking for potential locations so that I could get out of the office for a few hours a day. It taught me about the location logistics needed for a shoot. Permits, parking, local businesses that would allow us to take over their place for holding, etc.
Anyway, I did more work than a normal intern should do but I learned a lot about the business, dealing with clients, and I became more motivated in my personal life and with my goals. I think the experience helped me grow into a better person. Oh, and the freelance producer hired for the commercial was pretty impressed at how I work (for being just an intern who was messed up in media industry jobs) and he told me to call him on his next summer break for work rather than take another internship.
The guy brought me on to a music video shoot he did (as an office intern while being paid for the shoot days). This introduced me to a production manager who liked me and hired me for all the other shoots they did that summer (as her office intern making $50/day and then as a regular PA on the shoot days). I got to meet more people through her who liked me because I was a hard-working PA and then I went back to school and applied the skills I learned for production to producing and directing a very low budget feature film.
Before I started my internship I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find work in video production after graduating. But the opposite happened. When I was driving from Toronto one of the production coordinators I worked for calling me up to see if I graduated yet because she needed a PA for the next day. And at this point my research in media industry jobs sphere was finished.