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getting onto a film set


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#1 Benjamin Smith

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Posted 20 January 2009 - 10:36 PM

Ok so we here it a lot. "the way to make your way up to the top of the film food chain is to start at the bottom." Well my question is how does someone get into the bottom. People who have not gone to filmschool and have no help from the contacts there. How do they get on a set as a pa or grip or even a janitor. It is not like films are readily listed in the yellow pages (or are they? :huh: ) . And when you do find a film is it as simple as showing up and saying I want to work on this?

I guess I am just asking the question for everyone out there who may be asking. Just looking for a little insight. thanks
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 04:04 AM

I was in your situation - absolutely no contacts whatsoever. It's for these sorts of reasons that the film industry is so intensely nepotistic. You (as was I) are almost completely reliant on getting lucky, mainly via doing very small, very low-budget short films and hoping someone working on one of those would hire me on a bigger shoot. There is no guarantee this will ever happen, especially outside of major markets like LA, and you will most certainly be extensively abused in terms of hours and rates of pay in the meantime.

Also bear in mind that outside of major markets, film sets are not necessarily, or even often, very pleasant places to work. Employment is thin on the ground, because the sort of issues you mention apply to everyone, and it can become very backbiting and self-centred, with everyone horribly aware of how replaceable they are and how close they are to having no work. It's nothing more than a stress reaction, really, but this can lead otherwise reasonable people to the most appalling levels of selfishness and arrogance. It comes down in the end to how a director or first-assistant director wants to run his or her set, but at the end of the day it's not like the "making of" videos which only tend to show material in which everyone is smiling.

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#3 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 04:25 AM

a good idea would be ,at first ,not to compare a grip or a PA to a janitor. (if you care for your nose)
then it's to have an idea of who does what on a film set.
then where to meet "film workers", maybe go to a short film festival where you can meet people with projects, or try to meet filmstudents and help them in theire exercices.
a small film crew is around 10 to 15 people
a middle size one is around 30
there is no room for tourists on a film set and you'll find it verry boring anyway, the best aproach is to find something helpfull to offer.
if you know nothing you'll be seen as useless. But maybe you have a driving licence and can do transportation, shopping, go to rental houses to pick up stuff, go to the lab to deliver film......
then at lunch tell the chief electricien you'd love to learn about his craft, or the camera assistant or production, sound.
and last advise, never ask the grips how to become janitors ;)
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#4 Benjamin Smith

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 01:48 PM

Sorry, I did not mean to compare grips to pas or both to janitors all three jobs are important and I do not want to belittle anyone with that statement. It was meant as a joke. My apologies if anyone was offended.

Thanks for the input guys. I honestly don't know why I posted that I know I already knew the answer. I think it was written out of frustration. I am doing decently well in my profession. I do mostly commercial stuff and that is nothing to be sad about. I have even directed two shorts, so I really have no room to vent. I guess I just get a lot of pressure from my family. You know the old statement "either start making good money doing this or get a real job." I saw on one of the posts Adrian Sierkowski stated simply

"to be a DP, one day you just say you're a DP."

Although I am a director I believe it still has the same meaning. I am still pretty young and I have a lot of scripts in the works maybe one of them I can get made.
Thanks for the input.
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#5 David Rakoczy

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 02:24 PM

never ask the grips how to become janitors ;)



Janitors aside, comparing Grips to pa.s is an insult! :lol:
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#6 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 08:47 AM

It is not like films are readily listed in the yellow pages (or are they? :huh: ) .


In a way they are. It is called the Hollywood Reporter. Films in Pre Production, Production and Post-Production are listed with the office contact info. I believe it is the Tuesday Issue that has the Listings. There is also the Dramalogue which does the same thing for smaller productions including Short Films.

Here is another example: I saw a listing on Craiglist (of all places) from a Film student who said they just want to work on a Set for experience... will work for free. So I called them and they will be working with us in Orlando as a PA. That is how that person got on a Set... a Set that will be shooting Film.

Mr. Rhodes is absolutely correct about luck, but luck rarely knocks on your door.. you usually have to be out there somewhere where you'll have a better chance of bumping into her. Luck is usually more like when preparation meets opportunity. For me, I pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on me.
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#7 Will Earl

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 11:41 AM

Local film offices are often a good source of information and will often have a directory listing of local crew and production companies.

If you don't have any friends or family with even minor connections to someone working in the industry then it'll be up to you to make those connections. Working on projects such as shorts and music videos is a good way to get contacts. Even with those contacts in place it can still be difficult, so in the meantime keep yourself busy even if your not getting paid - it makes for a much better impression if you do get interview if your able to say you've been doing something and not sitting around wasting time.

One option which you can try is to send a polite email to the production companies, production managers, gaffers or cinematographers in your area - production companies and production managers are probably best for PA and Runner type roles while grip or camera type roles should best be targeted to their respective head of department.

Try a brief email first stating your looking to get a start in the industry, stating any relevant experience or education you do have and if they can offer you any advice, help or the upcoming need for a PA or Runner (or whatever your going for). If a contact email isn't available then try a phone call. If they don't get back to you then take it as read that they are currently busy and are unable to help or unwilling to help - either way do not badger them.
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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 12:03 PM

I've always taken a very dim view of cold-calling. These people are badgered regardless of how many emails you send, because you're one of dozens and dozens of people doing it. It's even happened to me, for crying out loud, and I'm a complete nobody.

That said, I also think it's appallingly bad form not to reply because you're "too busy". It takes seconds to send out at least a formletter reply, and failing to do even that is impolite.

It's a balance of politenesses to which I suspect neither side commonly adheres.

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#9 Serge Teulon

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 12:15 PM

Cold calling is only good for one thing. Skin thickening.
I've never got a job from cold calling but I still do it these days.

Getting a "No thanks" is an achievement in itself.
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#10 David Rakoczy

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 03:37 PM

Getting a "No thanks" is an achievement in itself.


Ain't that the Truth!
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#11 Will Earl

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Posted 23 January 2009 - 01:31 PM

I've never got a job from cold calling but I still do it these days.


Oh I'd agree it's not the best option, but it is an option (even if the success rate is about the same as doing nothing). I've gotten one job through cold-calling which was very early on in my career (the first paying tv job I had), but when I had to do it recently (last year) the best I got were expressions of interest - out of 30 or so places/people around the world that I tried, 8 replied.
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#12 Benjamin Smith

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Posted 23 January 2009 - 02:58 PM

I think a cold call is subject to quite a few variables. If you happen to call the day someone is looking for crew. You probably get a decent chance at work, but how often does that really happen. So I guess cold calling definitely can't hurt your chances.
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#13 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 23 January 2009 - 03:16 PM

My first job in LA for pay came after working for free on two UCLA student films.

One of the Script Supervisors had worked with me and got hired on a non-union Corman flick. Somehow (I don't know how), the Production Coordinator had my name ..... and by pure chance, that Script Supervisor just happened to be walking past the Coordinator's office when she mentioned my name out loud....the Script Supervisor backed up, poked her head in the door and said something like, "Oh, I know him, he's good!" I was hired. They had another guy in mind (to load film/Second AC), but they didn't like him apparently. But they were going to use him over me initially because they at least knew him and didn't know me at all. But all it took was a positive recommendation from someone else they knew to get me "in."

They'd rather take the "curse" they know over the "unknown" quantity. So this business works almost exclusively on word-of-mouth. NEVER in my career has a cold-call worked. All of my work so far (knock on wood) has come as a result of recommendations from others.

It's all about just going out there and starting. "Real money" may not come right away, but if you are good at the job and your personality is easy-going enough that others can spend 14 hour days with you, then your chances are probably decent at continuing a career. We're all in a perpetual cycle of unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment/unemployment/employment....

If you can string enough of those together, then you'll have enough income to sustain a life (food, shelter, education, vacations, hobbies, etc..) This is what most filmschools do NOT explain well enough or at all. It's great to learn about shots and editing and Eisenstein and Kubrick.... but those things are "theory." And you can't practice the "art" if you can't sustain a real career.

Edited by Brian Dzyak, 23 January 2009 - 03:17 PM.

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#14 Lauren Wolfe

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Posted 03 February 2009 - 11:49 PM

Good info here, folks!

I have very limited experience. I worked on a music video once back in '04 for two days. It was one of the best non-paid 12hr days of my life! I was attending the Art Institute of LA back then but I left the school a quarter later due to financial reasons and I still wasn't absolutely sure what my calling was though I KNOW it has something to do with the ent. industry. Anyway, my concern is, how can I write up a resume with such limited exp? Here's what I've done and tell me if I have enough going on here:

-High school video production class (I graduated hs in 01)
-I attended a production workshop at the Museum of Television and Radio during high school
-Some video production classes in college (about 2 quaters worth)
-One weekend of working as a P.A. on a music video (they liked me but it was so long ago and I know longer have that contact info)
-And....that's it!

The last thing I did was in 04, which is a painfully long time ago and still, I think so much of being on set again. I've been stuck in a retail rut the past 5 years and it's killing me. This spring, I'm taking some production and broadcasting classes. How can I build a decent resume with such a hodgepodge of experience? You'd think I'd have more insight since I live in LA but I veered so far off path, I got lost. And yes, I have a driver's liscence, just no insurance (I'm currently not working at all). I'm not looking for someone to hold my hand, just some advice and insight on getting started again. I'm 25, time to get my butt off the ground! 30 is around the corner! Thanks everyone! You're the bestest!
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