You confidently submit your first polished script, excited for your big-screen debut…little do you know that your screenplay is buried in a stack of scripts belonging to Steven Spielberg’s niece, the weird third Franco brother and Michael Cera’s illegitimate child. The film industry’s heavy reliance on connections makes it a daunting field to enter.
Still, there are plenty of ways to network and gain experience without having a famous family member. If you’re ready for your shot at the big screen, follow these tips to build up your skills while you’re at home away from Hollywood.
1. Find Internships.
What better starting point than shadowing someone in the field? According to Hannah Getts, assistant to the co-president of production at FilmNation Entertainment, internships are valuable for more than building important connections. “I went to a film school—one of the best in the country—and I did not know 75 to 80 percent of what I know from working in the business. They don’t teach you the underbelly of actually getting a movie made,” Getts said. Film school clearly doesn’t walk you through everything.
2. Hold Movie (And Script) Marathons.
Watching movies and becoming familiar with the script format will make it easier once you do take internships or eventually need to prove yourself at a job. “If you’re not able to find internships, getting a sense of story and how a screenplay looks and how it’s written [is valuable],” Getts said. So there you go—watching Netflix can be productive.
3. Stay Up To Date
Constantly read outlets like Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Deadline to get updates on the most current happenings in film. “When you talk to people who actually work in the business and you know what’s happening on Deadline, you sound very smart and in the know,” Getts said. Always have an obscure foreign film on hand to reference and you’ll be set.
Especially if you don’t get an internship opportunity, getting as involved as possible on your own can prove your interest and commitment to the field. “Create stuff with your friends. Even with a college degree, people want to see that you’re able to work,” said Kelci Parker, the assistant to the president of original programming at Comedy Central. Funny or Die accountant clerk Olivia Aguilar agreed; if you have a great idea, make it come to life. “Do a web series. Get feedback from people. If you keep [an idea] in your head or to yourself, it’s going to dissipate,” Aguilar said. Can you imagine if any one of our greatest filmmakers didn’t write down and take a chance on their ideas?
5. Move to Los Angeles or New York City
Even if you don’t have concrete plans for your arrival, do it. This seems like a terrifying prospect to most people, but often, jobs won’t come until you’re physically near them. “You’re most likely finding a job once you move out here, versus waiting and seeing what happens,” Aguilar said. “Most of the time, [waiting] doesn’t work out because when people hire you on the spot, they want to know that you’re literally here.”
6. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others.
There is no aspect of life in which people have identical experiences. Make the most out of what you do get the opportunity to do. “I know some 27 and 28-year-olds who are running huge empires, and I know 40-year-olds who are still struggling to get that one screenplay sold,” Parker said. Work hard for your own benefit, not to be better than your snooty high school rival.
7. Be Humble.
It’s a grind breaking into the industry. “There will be times when your first job is getting lunch or coffee or maybe being talked down to a little. Don’t think to yourself, ‘I went to school for this, and they’re treating me like shit!?’ Everyone who goes through entertainment goes through this,” Aguilar said.
8. Schedule Meetings.
Once you’ve moved out to LA, be willing to reach out to any and everyone you know in the industry. Meet with people you worked with at your internships—especially the assistants that you worked directly under. Even if you didn’t have a strong connection with them when you worked together, email them and ask to get a coffee. “No one is too unimportant to connect to because you just don’t know what they’re up to, and if they know something that’s going on,” Getts said. Don’t worry about being annoying; persistence will get you opportunities.
9. Cold-Apply to Agencies.
Having connections in the industry certainly helps, but if you don’t know many people, you can always “cold-apply” to all the major agencies like CAA, UTA, WME, and Gersh without having an uncle on the board of directors. Try to find a recruiter and sell your skills, rather than tell him who you know. “If you want to do development or have an office job, be pushing for an agency,” Getts said. Working at a talent agency like UTA will put you in close company with director clients like Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers.
1o. Stick It Out.
Burning bridges is the last thing you want to do in the industry. Have a positive and passionate attitude during internships and your positive first impression will pay off. “I know there’s a lot of clichés about LA. It’s cutthroat, but you don’t have to stab people in the back or be a crazy Hollywood person to be successful,” Parker said. Genuinely being a nice hard-working person can make up for not being related to an Oscar winner.