How do I get a job in the media industry? Network, Network & Network
When I teach video workshops I constantly interact with enthusiastic students who want to dive headfirst into a filmmaking career. And by “career” I mean they want to direct their first feature film. I blame the ubiquitousness of video on mobile technology; nowadays the tools of the trade have never been more accessible. The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone from dreaming big, but I always try to set my student’s expectations when deciding if film and media is truly the correct career choice.
After I graduated from the University at Buffalo in the summer of 2000 with my bachelors in Media Studies, I had to choose where to start my journey. Because I knew relatively few people in the industry, I walked the streets and avenues of NYC dressed in a button up shirt, slacks, my best pair of shoes, handing out a resumes to polite yet disinterested receptionists at media companies whose addresses I copied out of a guide book I purchased online that listed production houses (yes, that was seriously a thing). It was the equivalent to applying for jobs on Indeed, LinkedIn or ZipRecruiter but with more sweat stains and blisters.
I ended each day at the waiting room of Solarium, a post house in midtown where Dave, one of my best friends from college, was hired as a junior editor. We would grab a cheap beer after he finished his workday before jumping on the LIRR back to our respective houses. The receptionist was a cute African-American woman named Francis who I would banter with while waiting for Dave to show up. I must have been in that waiting room on and off for a couple of weeks before she asked me why I was always there. Didn’t I have a job? Well no, I was on the job hunt, actually. Solarium had a number of shooters who worked on projects for the post house. Francis was kind enough to give me the phone number of Ron MaCarty, a local legend in news and documentary. I cold-called Ron and he didn’t have any need for a production assistant, so he passed my number to another shooter who worked frequently with MTV, Comedy Central & VH-1: Michael Stodden. Michael said I came “highly recommended”. And that’s how I got my first gig as a PA for a small video crew making $150/day.
The lesson I learned is still valuable today: jobs come from your network. I bet every one of the dozens of receptionist I handed a resume to had some connection to the industry, but I was just some schlub who wandered in from the street. My resume ended up in the trash bin as soon as I left. Francis knew Dave as a colleague and a friend. Francis liked Dave. Francis got along well with me. She got to know me as a fun, charming guy. So she didn’t mind connecting me with her network. That’s a thousand times better than a cold resume. It’s how most industries work. People can bemoan nepotism but I think it’s mostly the path of least resistance. People are busy and overwhelmed. It’s hard finding good employees. Putting a face to a resume is a huge first step.
A year later, I was tired of working 12 hour days and still barely being able to pay my rent in Astoria, Queens. I decided a career change was in order. I asked Michael Stodden how a young buck like me could make some money in the industry. He said, “there are a thousand shooters. And everyone needs a good sound guy.” So how did I become a professional sound recordist? I bought myself a four-channel mixer, a Sennheiser shotgun mic with boom pole and two wireless lavaliers, then most importantly, I reached out to my growing network of professional video crews in NYC for job opportunities. I worked as a professional sound mixer on shows like MSNBC’s The Hot List, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and many more. From that network, I received a call about a new job with Rockstar Games. They were recording Motion Capture at a studio in Long Island and wanted to record reference audio for their games to streamline the post production process. It was too big and complicated of a job just for me, so did I say “no”? Of course not. I reached out to my network of sound engineers and brought on board my friend and colleague Michael Frank who helped design and run the two-man operation with me for years. Do you see the trend? Each step in my career was possible because of my network.
If you want to start your career but don’t have any network yet, what can you do? Start building it. It’s easier than you think. In my editing class, as an assignment, I would have the students use Source Oregon (Oregon’s media directory) to look up and contact a professional editor and request an interview. The assignment contained a few basic questions they needed to have answered; how did you get started as an editor? What applications do you use to edit? Any advice for young editors? The goal was two-fold; to showcase the alternative ways to break into the industry with real life examples and to give my students a connection to the industry. If they completed the assignment, they had a potential mentor or advocate. As my mom always said, “if you want someone to do you a favor, ask for their advice.” Almost everyone wants to see themselves as an expert and by asking for their wisdom, you flatter their ego a little. You are also a reminder of where they started, and most people feel a compulsion to give back to their community. Not every editor will have an opportunity for someone starting out, but a casual check-in and request can go a long way to finding opportunities. I often have producers, shooters and editors in my network ask me for Production Assistants or Assistant Editors that I can recommend. The good ones don’t stay long in entry level positions and if we hire someone on a project we want at least some accountability in case she/he doesn’t work out.
Besides looking up working professionals and writing them, what else can you do? Visit trade shows, attend film festivals, and join local filmmaking groups. Another assignment I would give my students is to attend an OMPA event and bring me back five business cards. Make that your goal, to meet at least five new people in the industry at each event you attend. Most importantly, write them back when you get home and request a meeting over coffee. Will this get you a job? Probably not. But opportunities come from the most unexpected places. It’s similar to dating. You may have to go on 100 coffee meetings before you get “the one” opportunity. Did you waste the other 99 cups of coffee? Absolutely not. You were sharpening your communications skills, you were practicing how to tell your story and market yourself, and you were growing that vital network with each meeting.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, film shoots, meetups, festivals and gatherings have all gone online. What should you do until the industry comes back? Follow your local industry on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Retweet, comment, DM. Don’t use the pandemic as an excuse to cut yourself off from the world. Now more than ever you have an opportunity to get access to potential mentors or employers.
Originally published at https://lucaslongacre.com on May 27, 2020.