Few other industries hold the allure of Hollywood, with its powerful and influential A-list. But while big-name actors will always steal the spotlight (pun intended), entertainment jobs range from the creative to the practical to the commercial.
Where there’s an actor, there’s an agent. Where there’s a set, there’s a director. And a PA. And a location scout. And on and on. Saying you work in Hollywood can mean you work in any number of fields, from production to management to publicity.
So we asked industry insiders across the board for their best advice on how to break into the business.* As you’ll see, it requires a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and a whole lot of knowing the right people.
Create your own work and don’t be afraid to cast yourself
“My best advice for anyone trying to break into the industry is to create your own opportunities, especially when you’re just starting out and employers want to see you have the necessary experience. These days with the quality of cellphone cameras, it doesn’t take a budget to create something. So, get creative!
As a bonus, submit your work to festivals. There are a lot of great, free festivals on Film Freeway if budget is a consideration. They’ll help you with networking and proof of your skill for your resume.”
—Jackie Jorgenson, actor, writer, filmmaker
“It’s very difficult to land a solid role, so cast yourself. Start producing your own content and build a following for it. Every casting director I’ve heard from these days is saying the same thing. If you aren’t producing your own content, they want to know why.
For crew, film school is great if you can afford it, but start getting on to real, working sets as an intern or volunteer as a production assistant. Learn by doing. Apprentice with someone. I’ve seen a million film school graduates who have no idea how to function on a real set. Earn the respect of filmmakers in the real environment and build a reputation as a solid, reliable filmmaker who’s a joy to work with and you’ll have paid work soon.”
—Eric Schumacher, actor and filmmaker
Being a production assistant is a great entry-level job
“Just about everyone in the film industry starts out as a production assistant i.e. blocking doors, grabbing coffees, and keeping track of the actors. Getting that first PA job all boils down to networking. Nobody cares about your degrees or formal training.
Most film industry jobs are obtained through word of mouth. Connect with people through your local Facebook groups and casting websites. Volunteer your time for free at first whileyou’re learning the ropes. Do a good job and your new friends will definitely recommend you in the future.”
—Sean Baran, lead writer at FilmToolKit
“Get in the door as a production assistant, learning everything you can about how different departments operate. That way, you can soak in the different areas of production and see which one you like best. Keep a ‘can-do’ attitude and be willing to go the extra mile with a smile on your face. Your superiors will respect you for being proactive and adaptable and want to keep you around for future series.”
—Alana Blaylock, multimedia producer
Stay focused, no matter what
“The best advice I received was to be consistent. When receiving a no, don’t take it personally and stay focused on your goal.”
—Altimese N. Curry, associate director, publicist
“The industry is a tough one, so your confidence is the key that opens continuous doors. There were times when I was so nervous when going live; in the T.V. industry, there’s no room for mistakes. I didn’t sweat it, though, nor show others that I was feeling a bit unsettled on the inside. Instead, I prepared and dug deep to excel and handle each topic with grace and flair. I also ensured I listened and took cues from the floor director and from the producers in the control room. In this business, it’s imperative to keep your head up, don’t fret, and don’t sweat because you’ve got this!”
—Ashleigh Demi, media personality
Above all, build a network
“So many opportunities in this industry are by chance and who you know. Most of my jobs have come from almost random connections and good timing, but I’ve kept jobs and built referrals by working hard the second I started. Be somebody people like to be around who works hard, owns mistakes, doesn’t place blame on others, is humble, and keeps your environment full of energy, optimism, and passion.
Try to network with as many people as you can and ask mentors/people you look up to for coffee. Show up at events, help your friends on projects, don’t turn down work. One thing will always lead to the next.”
—Pat Lambert, talent executive
“The film industry is a tight-knit community based on past experience, trust, and a skillset. All of these things take time to develop. It starts with networking—and a lot of it. You need to get your face in front of as many casting directors or stunt coordinators as possible. To break in, start small with extra appearances or precision-driving jobs until you get to know your way around set and learn the pecking order.
There are many unsaid rules when it comes to on-set courtesies and properly navigating these rules is a skill on its own. Above all, you must build relationships and consistently provide high-quality work. Through this, you’ll develop your core group.”
—Robert Dillman, owner of Dillman Driving School and stunt-driver trainer
“Develop a marketable skill set and volunteer for short films. Work your butt off and network on the shoot, then use those contacts to find paid work. For example, a production assistant just needs to be positive at first. But, by being helpful, you may open areas in lighting, sound, or other fields. Once you have experience, find others who can recommend you for more work until you get paid.”
—Brennan Smith, screenwriter, script consultant
*Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.