It’s no secret that the entertainment industry has had its fair share of gatekeepers, and many folks with a passion for storytelling may not have considered entertainment as a viable career path earlier in their professional lives. We work with many clients who, for one reason or another, start pursuing their entertainment careers later in life. It’s not an easy path, but it is doable, if you approach your transition thoughtfully and strategically.
First, be very honest and clear with yourself about what you want to do within the industry. If you want to be a writer or director, you may not need to spend time “paying your dues” on the assistant track. You can certainly try applying for entry-level assistant jobs, but the reality is that many hiring managers are looking for younger candidates fresh out of school, and there are no guarantees that being a great assistant (whether on a desk or in a writers’ room) will lead to a creative role. Be realistic about your financial needs and how much time you can devote to dues-paying. If being an assistant doesn’t work for your life, consider the many other ways to obtain these creative positions – applying for fellowships, submitting your work to contests and film festivals, writing other forms of media (short fiction, novels, newsletters, personal essays, humor blogs), directing independent projects in other formats (web series, spec commercials, short films, plays), etc. Prioritize attending workshops and networking events and collaborating with other creatives. You might also consider getting a full-time role within the industry that aligns with skills from your previous work that will allow you to integrate into Hollywood while honing your craft – for example, if you worked in sales, you might apply for jobs in the ad sales department of a network. Your day job will still be somewhat siloed from the creatives, but you will likely meet more people who can introduce you to folks who can check out your work.
If you’re hoping to get on the producer, executive, or agent/manager track, starting as an assistant is more important. It’s unlikely that you can move laterally from your previous field into a mid-level or senior-level role in these coveted areas, unless you’re coming from a similarly creative role that involved storytelling (think: video games, publishing). Hiring managers want to make sure you understand the nuances of the industry and have a strong network of contacts before they’ll hand you a multi-million dollar production to oversee. Applying for Hollywood assistant jobs is a pretty unique process – you’ll want to highlight your administrative acumen and have a resume that focuses on your ability to answer phones, handle heavy scheduling, maintain organization, provide customer service, and process various types of paperwork. It’s okay to show some achievements, and you definitely want to highlight how your unique perspective will make you an asset to the organization, but make sure your resume clearly indicates that you understand the role of an assistant, and that your cover letter expresses your humility. You may still find some ageist hiring managers -- this is an unfortunate reality of the business that is hopefully changing but not yet changed -- but all you need is one to take a chance on you.
Breaking into Hollywood later in life is difficult, but not impossible. And as the industry opens up to include more historically marginalized perspectives, we hope it will also make room for people who didn’t have the opportunity to pursue their entertainment dreams at 23. If you’re a storyteller, you’ll find a way to tell your story – and we’re here, excited to help however we can!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
A lot of Hollywood professionals find themselves building a personal website as one of their career branding tools. But do you need one? When are websites most helpful? Is there ever a time when a personal website would harm you?
Generally speaking, personal websites tend to make the most sense for artists -- those who work in areas of the industry where a portfolio is really important. Directors, editors, DPs, set decorators, costumers, hair and makeup artists – these are all roles where your work product is more important than words on a resume, and people will want to see if your aesthetic matches theirs. You don’t have to have a complicated website – in fact, simpler can be better, so it’s easier to update. Think about having a bio, a link to your resume or credits (but be careful about including too much personal information on this publicly available document!), and a reel, clips, or portfolio. Make sure to update your website every few months, or whenever you complete an important, brag-worthy project.
Some writers may choose to have a website, too, but this is a little trickier. A website where you list the scripts you’ve written that have never been sold or produced will make you seem like an amateur. If there’s nothing to add to your website that someone couldn’t find on IMDB, that’s another cue to skip it. But if you write in a variety of mediums, you may want a website where you can link to any articles or books you’ve published. If you offer script reading, script doctoring, or other consulting services, you can put these offerings on your personal website as well.
However, if you are on the executive track, we don't recommend a personal website. It could confuse a recruiter who may think you are trying to start your own business or find work as a freelance consultant. And if you work for a big corporation, their PR team probably wouldn't like you publicly representing the company in your own words. In these cases, LinkedIn is better for communicating your personal brand to the world.
One important thing to keep in mind when creating a personal website is to brand yourself in a way that aligns with the jobs you’re looking for. We often see recent MFA grads who host their work on a website where they brand themselves as a director/producer, but they’re applying for assistant roles at a talent agency. Employers will google you, and they will match your resume and interview answers with the content they see online, so tread carefully. If you tell the recruiter at CAA that you’re super excited about the agent trainee program because your dream is be a talent agent, but she sees that you have a website dedicated to the short film you’ve directed, she’ll be less inclined to hire you. This isn’t only true for entry-level candidates, either – any time you’re pursuing multiple career paths, looking for a day job, or making a career transition, you should re-evaluate how well your website matches your application story.
If you do decide to have a website, in addition to updating it regularly, make sure it’s a reflection of your best work. That low-budget commercial you directed with mediocre sound isn’t going to wow potential clients, even if the brand was impressive. Early projects from your career might not reflect your current aesthetic, or they may age you. When in doubt, avoid putting it all out there for the world to see – you can always send clips or work samples privately that you can tailor to the employer or client who requests it.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
With two strikes and a slew of recent layoffs, Hollywood is about as slow as it has ever been. We know the job market is tough right now, and are hearing stories of hundreds more applicants than usual for open roles. If you're looking for a new job, it might take a little longer than expected to find a new one, so you'll want to find ways to make yourself stand out. And if you're on strike and can't work, now is a good time to focus on yourself. If you haven't already, consider exploring various professional development opportunities, like taking an online course to build your skills. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
If you're hoping to make a career transition, online courses can help boost your resume. Coursera and edX offer a ton of free college courses, where you can learn about topics like marketing, negotiation, computer science, and other fields. LinkedIn Learning offers a range of courses and suggests classes that may interest you based on your profile. The platform even has software training courses, so you can learn Adobe Creative Suite and other industry-prominent programs. Local libraries, including the Los Angeles Public Library, also have resources for free courses, including language courses -- we're often told by clients that they wish they could include foreign language proficiency on their resumes, so now's a great time to learn those skills! And if you're willing to spend a bit of money, you could try platforms like Udemy, where you can learn about pretty much everything under the sun. Even if you're not trying to make a career move, it doesn't hurt to try something new!
For entertainment-focused learning opportunities, professional organizations and guilds can be great resources. If you're a member of any of these organizations, keep an eye on their newsletters and social feeds -- many host webinars and online workshops for entertainment professionals. You could also consider joining Stage 32, an entertainment industry social networking platform that offers webinars on a range of topics, like screenwriting, independent filmmaking, and production. MasterClass is another online resource that offers a few entertainment-related classes. The HiveMind Unified offers many free resources to boost your entertainment career, too.
In addition to taking courses, you can focus on building skills and knowledge on your own. Read the trades and watch buzzy films or TV shows to stay on top of industry happenings and trends. Or hone in on your story evaluation skills by reading scripts -- try catching up on the end-of-year lists like The Black List or The Blood List.
Any of these options are good ways to grow your career during this difficult time. But if you're feeling stressed out, there's also nothing wrong with kicking back with a good book, movie, TV show, or podcast to rest and relax. As we've said many times, consuming content is a big part of being in this industry because it allows you to develop your taste. Lean into your interests and take a mental note of what brings you satisfaction on screen -- when you're ready to look for a new job, you'll want to tap back into that and target companies that create content you enjoy. And for now, you'll have some quality screen time.
Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
"ASK HR" is our advice column where we answer readers' questions about pressing work dilemmas, job search queries, resumes, and navigating Hollywood. If you have a career-related question, email us, and the answer could appear in a future newsletter! All submissions will remain anonymous.
Dear Hollywood Resumes,
I’ve been running into a consistent problem during job interviews. After I tell the interviewer about my role and all the things I’m doing in my position, they say, “Wow! Sounds like a lot of interesting work! Why are you looking for a new job?” I never know what to say. The truth is, I am doing interesting work, but I’m severely underpaid, and the culture of my workplace isn’t great. I’m leaving because I have to GTFO! Obviously, I can’t say that. But I get thrown off every time I answer, and I can feel the interviewers hesitating that something is off. I need a new job, yesterday. How can I answer this question next time?
Inept at Interviewing
Dear Inept at Interviewing,
First of all, good for you for realizing you deserve to work somewhere that pays you fairly and treats you well. It’s hard to escape an abusive or toxic work situation, and we’re glad you are actively hunting for a new job. There are a lot of toxic workplaces like yours in Hollywood, so this is a very common conundrum, and one we’ve faced ourselves.
The key is to remember that the interviewer is trying to ascertain whether you’d be a fit for the role they are hiring for. This includes whether you’ll be happy in the role, and if your expectations will be met. With this question, they’re trying to figure out what you hope to gain from this new position. If you’re applying for lower-level jobs out of desperation (which is very common!), you’re more likely to get that moment of surprise. In that situation, the interviewer is expressing concern that you may be bored in this role. Before you try to convince them otherwise, consider what it really means to leave a toxic role only to land in a place where you’re totally stagnant. If there’s no room for growth, and your work is below your level, you may feel just as taken advantage of as you do now. You don’t want to wake up in five years and realize you spent the first half of your career in the wrong jobs. If you really need to leave your current situation that badly, you may be better off quitting and taking a short-term gig to pay the bills while you focus your job search on appropriate roles. If you can handle your current situation a little longer, let them pay your bills while you phone it in at work and focus on applying for roles that are more appropriate.
That said, if you’re applying for roles you’re qualified for (not underqualified for) and still flubbing this question, you’ll want to reframe it when you answer. Instead of thinking about why you want to leave an old job, think about what you hope to gain from this new job. What does this specific company offer that interests you? Maybe they work on a different style of content you’re excited about. Maybe they have a larger slate of projects, or a more focused one. Maybe they work with different types of clients than you’re used to. As you do your pre-interview research, consider what excites you about the prospect of the position, and answer positively about that. “Why are you looking for a new job?” becomes “Why are you looking for this new job?” Avoid talking negatively about your current employer or sharing gossip. Stay focused on the future, and you’ll have a much more confident and convincing answer!
-- Angela & Cindy