Theatre, Film and Television

1. What are the entry level positions in the Theatre, Film, and TV industry?
2. What are the skills necessary for a successful career in Theatre, Film and TV?
3. What are tips for landing your first job in the industry?
4. What Theatre, Film, and TV resources are available?

1. What are the entry level positions in the Theatre, Film, and TV industry?

Most of the creative roles—directors, writers, actors, composers, designers, cinematographers, and editors—are entry-level positions. So, if you want to become a writer or an actor, become one—writers only need a word processor and actors only need head shots and a subscription to BackStage.

Designers, composers, cinematographers, and editors should look to student and independent films to practice their craft and build up a reel. Unlike writers or actors, there are a variety of opportunities for these artisans to earn money and build contacts while “supporting their hobby.” Production designers can find work in art departments as art directors, coordinators, costumers, prop masters, set designers, and location scouts. Sound designers can work as sound transferrers, mixers, engineers, recording artists, Foley editors and so on. Cinematographers work as assistant cameramen and gaffers, and composers may work as orchestrators, conductors, music editors, and music supervisors. These positions are still competitive, but they can be acquired through standard job hunting methods: networking, informational interviews, classified ads, and working your way from one job to the next.

Between your day job and your career pursuit, you will be very busy. Unfortunately, you also need to promote yourself simultaneously. Acquiring an agent, lawyer, and manager will provide you with a stamp of legitimacy, but unless you’re extremely fortunate, these individuals will likely focus on their more prominent clients, leaving you to fend for yourself. Your next step is to cozy up to the individuals who can offer you work: producers, directors, casting agents, etc.

Examples of entry-level positions: Director, 2nd Assistant Camera/Camera Loader or Clapper, Assistant Costumer, Assistant Editor, Assistant Make-Up, Assistant On-Set Dresser, Assistant Props Master, Boom Operator, Casting Assistant, Executive Assistant, Film Laboratory Assistant, Library Manager, Page, Production Assistant, Reader, Runner, Script Supervisor, Set Painter, Sound Transfer Assistant, and Writer’s Assistant.

Script Reading: A script reader’s duties entail reading scripts that have been submitted to the studio or production company and writing coverage, which is a specialized industry template that includes a summary of the film’s plot, an evaluation that describes why you did or didn’t like it, and a breakdown of ratings – poor, fair, good, excellent – of such script components as character, dialogue, and story. The reader then decides whether or not to recommend the script and/or the writer; often a reader will recommend the script for purchase for commercial reasons, but will not recommend the writer. Similarly, there are times when a reader will pass on a writer’s script for commercial reasons, but will recommend the writer for consideration for future assignments. Finally the reader passes the scripts that fall into the recommend pile along to the next rung up the ladder.

Producer Assistant: Producer Assistants are highly competent administrators who work closely with Producers throughout the production process, from script development and pre-production through to marketing and distribution. They must be well organized, highly flexible, and possess a good overview of the film production process. Producer Assistants may be either freelancers keen to learn about the business, or long-term employees of a production company. They occupy a privileged position, which offers great insight into the film making process, and this role should not be confused with that of a Production Assistant. If they rise to the challenge, Producer Assistants may come to wield considerable influence over the production.

Writing Assistant: Serving as a writing assistant is a great way to get your foot in the door. The responsibilities of a writing assistant will based upon the writer’s preferences. Some duties may include editing, research, transcribing, or clerical duties (i.e. taking notes at studio meetings). Some writing assistants may also take on responsibilities similar to that of a personal assistant such as running errands or ordering lunch for the writer. Serving as a writing assistant can help you to learn a lot about the industry (i.e. how to create an effective pitch, how to work with producers etc.) as well as revision process. If you have a good working relationship with your supervisor, they may be willing to serve as your mentor by reading your work and referring it to producers and agents looking for new talent.

Production Runner: Production Runners are the foot soldiers of the production team, performing small but important tasks in the office, around the set and on location. Their duties may involve anything from office administration to crowd control, and from public relations to cleaning up locations. They are usually employed on a freelance basis, are not very well paid, and their hours are long and irregular. However, the work is usually extremely varied and provides a good entry-level role into the film industry.

Script Editor: Script Editors provide a critical overview of the screenwriting process, and liaise between the Producer or Development Executive and the Screenwriter. Script Editors do not offer solutions, but instead use their analytical skills to help Screenwriters identify problems, explain the potential consequences of Screenwriters’ choices, and thereby help to strengthen and develop screenplays. Script Editors are sometimes full-time employees of a Production company, but more often they are employed on a freelance basis, and their fees and levels of involvement are negotiable.

Production Assistant: The production assistant does just about anything and everything, from getting coffee, to making script copies to shuttling crew or equipment around town as needed. The PA position is a lot of grunt work, but can be extremely educational. It is a highly visible position in that just about anyone can give you an order, from the producer to a sound technician. The production assistants who do as they’re told without complaint are the ones who are remembered when it comes time to fill more important positions.

2. What are the skills necessary for a successful career in Theatre, Film, or TV?

  • Flexibility
  • Patience
  • Creativity
  • Talent
  • Determination
  • Good sense of humor
  • Thick-skinned, able to deal with rejection
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability to network and make new connections

3. What are tips for landing your first job in the industry?
As with most businesses that deal in artistic endeavors, the film and television industries don’t need to actively recruit new employees. Thousands of interested applicants clamor for jobs every year, hoping to break into the field. While blanketing production companies, networks, and studios with resumes is one way to get hired, there are other avenues of opportunity open to students looking to break into film and television:

Internships: Most major studios, networks, and production companies use interns, and those that don’t can often be easily convinced of the benefits of hiring cheap labor. State and local film commissions are a good way to find out about productions filming on location that might need some temporary (usually unpaid) interns or assistants. Although interns usually spend their time engaged in grunt work, few opportunities offer students a better chance to learn the inner workings of these industries. In addition, interning is an excellent way to make contacts and to discover unadvertised job openings.

The Trades: The trades are the daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, that report on trends and happenings in film and television production. In this business, knowledge is power, and the trades are the primary sources of information concerning projects in development, company shakeups, and other sources of new opportunities. The trades list job openings, auditions submission requests, and upcoming film productions.

Networking: Contacts are the key to doing business within the film and television industries. As part of an insular community, entertainment professionals look to one another for help in arranging financing, setting up projects, or securing creative talent. Unfortunately for applicants, they also tend to look to insiders when filling available job openings. Networking will allow you to make contacts who can assist you in breaking into the field.

Independent Productions: The success of low-budget, independent feature films has resulted in an unprecedented rise in the number of such projects. Independent productions offer those with little or no experience the chance to work on both short-subject and feature-length films. While the pay is often low, especially given the long work hours, the opportunity for recognition and advancement is far greater on these smaller, less rigid production crews than on industry sets.

Film School: Although receiving an undergraduate or graduate degree in film production won’t guarantee you a place inside the Hollywood community, it can provide you with a chance to gain contacts and educate yourself in the technical aspects of film. That said, unless you have an unquenchable passion for structured learning and enough money to cover tuition and living expenses, your time will likely be better spent interning, enrolling in a shorter training program, or looking for a job immediately upon graduating. You can always decide to go to film school, but if you find the right job, you’ll never want to.

4. What theatre, film, and TV resources are available?
Art Search/Theatre Communications Group (See Career Development office for password)
4 Entertainment Jobs
Entertainment Careers
Film & TV Connection
ShowBiz Ltd
Actors’ Equity Association
Offstage Jobs
Show Biz Jobs
Film & Television Workshops
TV and Radio Jobs
TV Jobs-Broadcast Employment Services
Screen Actor’s Guild
Playbill (there is a fee)
Twin City Stage
Piedmont Triad Film Commission

Tar Heel Films
NC Film Office
Wilmington Regional Film Commission
RiverRun Film Festival
Reynolda Film Festival
Agency Pimp

For a timeline of the job and internship search process and recruiting, click here to download information on Performing Arts and Arts Management.