You want to tell stories. You're pursuing a career in entertainment because you have the urge to create. Clearly, you should be a writer, actor, or director -- right?
Not necessarily. Just because you have a story to tell doesn't mean that there are only three possible job paths that will allow you to tell them. Many people make the mistake of thinking the only creative roles in entertainment are the ones that win high-profile Oscars and Emmys. They come to Hollywood hoping to be the next Spielberg and figure out the hard way that they don’t have any interest in working freelance or that the management aspects of overseeing a set detract from their artistic vision. When starting your job hunt, you should be aware that there are a ton of other creative jobs that may be easier to obtain and more up your alley than writing, acting, and directing.
So what are these other creative jobs? It would take an entire book to list all the possible careers in entertainment, but here’s a jumping off point for you to reference as you think about your long term goals. We recommend setting informational interviews with people who are in the roles you’re interested in to learn about their experiences.
PRODUCER: For some reason, film schools like to teach that producers are just the banks behind the movies. And sure, that’s often the case, that financiers get producer credits. But there are many, many other types of producer jobs in entertainment that are on the creative side. Some producers find scripts, hire cast and directors, and sell projects to studios or networks. If you're not into reading and writing, you could consider a reality TV producer job, where you may come up with show concepts, find unique characters, direct cast in the field to achieve the overall story goals, and work with editors to build the story from raw footage. Every producer job is different, but there are tons of opportunities for creative-types in this category.
DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE: Do you love coming up with story ideas and giving notes in writing workshops but hate staring at a blank screen and trying to put words on a page? You may enjoy development, where you find projects you're excited about and work closely with writers to improve their scripts.
EDITOR: Editors are the last line of storytelling before the project is complete. They often work with directors and producers as they manipulate footage to tell a story. Good editing can be the difference between a joke hitting hard or falling flat. As an editor, you play a pivotal role in shaping the film or show, including finding the best takes, setting the pace, and ensuring continuity.
MARKETING: You won’t actually be making movies or TV shows when you work in marketing, but many people find joy in the creativity behind developing campaigns, working with brands to develop and produce branded content and/or integrations, and selecting scenes for promos/trailers. Plus, there’s a lot of creative problem solving involved as you deal with executives at the studio/network and collaborate with your team.
CREW: A movie doesn’t come to life just because a director yells, "Action!" Each member of the crew participates in building the creative vision, from the DP who sets up the artistic shots to the production designer who figures out the look of the set and costumes to the sound engineer who makes the world come to life. Sometimes, people start off on movie crews hoping they’ll rise in the ranks to director but realize that they can flex their creative muscles and make a good living elsewhere in the crew.
We’re not saying don’t pursue a career as a writer, actor, or director. Dream big! But it’s always worth exploring other options -- if you can unequivocally say at the end of a good, long soul search that yes, you do want to be a writer/actor/director, you’ll be even more driven to achieve that goal, which is half the battle. And if you find happiness in other areas -- well, you can be glad you won’t have wasted your time chasing a dream you don’t truly want.
One of the toughest aspects of networking is maintaining relationships. You can schedule all the informational interviews in the world to learn more about companies and roles you’re interested in and follow up accordingly with a thank you note and some check-ins. But let's be realistic -- with time, you’ll get busy and let a few of your contacts slip away. It may feel awkward to get back in touch after you've let communication lag, but if you handle your approach gracefully, it's actually not that a big of a deal to reconnect. Here's how to go about it:
As uncomfortable as this may seem, you're going to need to reintroduce yourself. Especially when it comes to informational interviews, you must remember that you are not the only person your contact has met with to conduct an informational interview. In fact, an informational is likely the least memorable meeting a person will have in a given day. So when you’re reaching back out to these contacts after a month or more has passed, you’ll need to help jog their memories a bit. One great way to do this is to reply to the original email chain from when you scheduled the meeting or sent a thank you note (this is the reason that an emailed thank you note is much more important than a handwritten one). If for some reason you have to start a new email chain, you should give the person a little recap of who you are. For example, “I’m the NYU student studying documentary film that you met with last July while I was interning at NBC.” It might sound weird to do this, but it helps the person on the other end by not forcing them to dig back through emails to figure out who you are.
Starting your email this way gives you the opportunity to transition into explaining what you're currently doing. "Since we last met, I've been working as a development assistant at Imagine Entertainment." You can share a tidbit or two about your current position -- something as simple as how much you've learned, or if you think they'll appreciate it, a little nugget about how something they mentioned back when you met helped you. Don't kiss up too much, but if there's something simple and true, it's worth sharing.
Then, you can get to the impetus for your outreach. It's probably best to avoid asking for a favor for yourself after too much time has passed (unless it's particularly timely, like their department is actively hiring for your dream job), but it's within bounds to ask on behalf of someone else -- passing along a friend's resume or trying to set up an informational for a colleague shows you're willing to pay it forward. You can also reach out when there's nothing you need -- just reconnecting for the sake of it, or because you read something interesting about your contact in the news.
The new year is actually the perfect time to renew these connections. There's a good energy in the air to meet up for drinks and re-establish a relationship. And you never know how you may be able to help your contact with their 2019 career goals! That said, this advice does work year-round as well. It's not ideal to lose touch, but life happens, and it's good to know there's a fail safe way to maintain your network when you get too busy.
We're kicking off our fourth year of business with a brand new series called "Industry Spotlight." Once a month, we'll be interviewing professionals from across the entertainment industry about their current jobs and career trajectories. Our hope is that you will learn more about the positions you're already interested in, discover new roles you may not have considered, and utilize the wisdom of those who've paved the way before you to forge your own path for success.
For our first Industry Spotlight, we sat down with Crystal Holt, Director of Scripted Programming at AMC.
In one sentence, how would you define your job?
I get paid to read.
What is your day-to-day like?
There’s always some sort of staff meeting, followed by writer or director generals, lunch with agents or managers, a pitch of some sort, notes on a current TV show, and/or trolling the interwebs for new material.
What do you like most about your job?
I like discovering new talent, hearing a well thought out pitch, reading scripts with great dialogue, and doing cut notes on episodes.
How did you get your current job?
I was minding my own business when I got scouted by a recruiter on LinkedIn. Always keep your profile up to date and a fresh resume, just in case. :)
What was your first job in Hollywood?
My first job was as an intern at Mandate Pictures. They were making Juno at the time. Well, you know how that turned out.
What are the skills someone would need to succeed in your position?
Love to read, qualified opinion, organization, charisma, outgoingness, team player, self-starter, ambitious, accountable, results-oriented.
If you don’t like __________, you won’t like my job.
What’s something you do in your job that an outsider wouldn’t expect (and maybe you didn’t expect before you took the job!)?
So much socializing. It can be exhausting.
What’s a mistake you made early on in your career?
Thinking that I would get promoted from doing the job I was hired to do. You have to do that and do it well, but if you want to get promoted, start taking on some of the responsibilities of the next level up. You get good at that, and they won’t want you for the former, only the latter.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to break in/move up in the industry, what would it be?
Network, network, network. Always have an updated, easy-to-read resume with your contact info on it, be vocal about exactly what you want to do, and only apply for jobs you want.