The film industry: What you should know before you start.

Latest posts by Liya Swift (see all)

Film Connection student Aaronn Lepperman and crew of Into the Haunt

Every year some 800 movies are released in North America. On average each of these movies spent five months in pre-production, two to three months in production and ten months in post-production before it was released. Along the way, they employed an average of almost 600 people on each film. (Iron Man 3 lists a staggering 3310 people in its credits.) 800 movies per year, each employing around 600 people means there’s a lot of employment opportunities in film.

Here are some allocations as to which departments employ the most people on a film:

  • Visual Effects…………………… 150 positions
  • Art Department……………………..55 positions
  • Camera and Lighting…………………55 positions
  • Stunts…………………………….35 positions
  • Sound……………………………..30 positions
  • Special Effects…………………….20 positions
  • Music Department……………………20 positions
  • Makeup…………………………….15 positions
  • Animation………………………….15 positions
  • Costume and Wardrobe………………..15 positions
  • Editorial………………………….10 positions
  • Transportation……………………..10 positions
  • Second Unit………………………..10 positions
  • Casting Department…………………..5 positions
  • Production Management………………..5 positions
  • Writing…………………………….3 positions

As you can see, there are a lot of job opportunities available in the film industry. However, make no mistake, it’s not all glamour and accolades. Working in the film industry is demanding, requires long hours, and is subject to tremendous deadline pressures. About the only guaranteed positive is that you will invariably be well fed.

Additionally, the majority of positions in the film industry are filled with independent contractors. Not only does this mean you are responsible for your own taxes, but you are also only guaranteed a job for the life of the project. The good news is that there are a fair amount of entry level positions on every film, so getting yourself hired as a runner or production assistant is definitely realistic. However, be prepared to work as hard as, if not harder, than you ever worked in your life—6AM crew calls are not uncommon. Twelve-hour days, or longer, are the rule, not the exception. Seven days a week can be normal. In other words, even an entry level position is going to require a 100% commitment from you.

The good news is that the film industry is largely a meritocracy and is based on who you know and who knows you. In other words, if you are willing to start at the bottom and work your way up, you have a shot. If you prove yourself reliable, good at problem solving, diplomatic, hardworking, and competent you have a chance to move up the ladder. If you can make friends easily, and figure out how to come to the attention of those higher up the ladder in the department you’d like to work in, you can go far in a relatively short period of time. Obviously, this means you want to come to those higher ups’ attention by doing something great, not by being the bonehead who delayed the shoot by doing something bonehead-like.

Do your research on what you want to do in the film industry so you can understand which department and which position does what. Realize that’s not where you are going to start (unless you dream of being a production assistant). Understand that you are going to start at the ground level, but so does just about everyone in the film industry. The most important first step is to get hired for a position, any position, on a film. That opens the door for everything else to follow—you won’t have a chance to move up the ladder until that door is opened. And once you are hired, concentrate on doing two things: 1) do your job brilliantly and observe the actual role of each position—which is undoubtably going to differ from what your research said, and 2) figure out who to network with those people who can help you move up the ladder, toward the position which you eventually want to make your career. Ideally, the people you network with are the people who can hire you on their next film for a position that’s a step up the ladder from where you are now.

Quite simply the recipe for success is this: work hard, don’t screw up, be laser-focused on where you want to go, seize opportunities as they come up, and never say no.

 
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