How Not to Get a Job on a Movie

Part of my job is sifting through the resumes. As soon as Hollywood Reporter, Variety or Production Weekly report that a studio has opened a production office, calls and resumes begin pouring in by the hundreds from people of all backgrounds looking for film work of all sorts.

Like book queries and American Idol, the vast majority of applicants are rejected. Resumes are glanced across furtively by a department head with barely a second to interpret the characters on the page, or worse, they never land before the eyes of someone empowered to hire crew at all.

The following is for people trying to get a toe hold in the industry. It's partly a list of "Don'ts" for people trying to get past gatekeepers like me and partly a list of gripes that will be appreciated by other such gatekeepers. Please understand that this is not advice for getting hired but rather advice for not being summarily rejected.

First and foremost, make sure we know what job you're after and make sure we know this by reading the resume, itself, not by reading the cover letter. Resumes tend to come through a general queue; they are then sorted and forwarded to the person responsible for hiring for a given department. If we don't know what department to forward to, you end up in a slush pile. The slush pile in my office is a binder labeled "IDKWYW," which stands for "I Don't Know What You Want" and no one ever looks at it. This binder contains nearly half of all the resumes we receive. Don't be coy. By simply stating what job you want in the first line of the resume, you vastly increase your chances of being noticed.

Related to the above, don't call up and say you'll do "whatever is needed," or ask "what jobs do you have available?" A motion picture is not an Applebees. We don't have positions that can be filled by any warm body. If you are right out of film school or are trying to break into the industry, you want to be a Production Assistant. If you know what area you want to go into, costumes, for instance, say that you want to be a wardrobe PA. If you don't know what you ultimately want to do, then you want to be a Set PA. If you get the Set PA job, you will have ample opportunity to observe how a movie gets made and make contacts with the people in the department you ultimately decide to join.

Also related to the above, don't submit for several unrelated jobs. Earlier this week I had someone say that they wanted to do our publicity stills but if that wasn't available they'd like to work in Set Dec and if that wasn't available they can do Craft Service. This person won't get hired because no department key is going to have faith that they are dedicated to or meaningfully experienced in any one craft.

Don't fish for gigs that you know you're not going to get. We're not going to travel a prop maker or a Locations PA in from Seattle if we're doing a job in Miami, for instance. You waste your own time by pursuing this.

Once a production office is open, a number of major positions have already been filled. The production manager (UPM), production coordinator (POC), art director and locations manager were all hired long before the office opened. You waste your time and mine by chasing after these jobs. You have to be offered one of these positions before production begins.

Related to the above, do not put in for a technical job and send a resume that clearly indicates that that is not really the job you want. The most common incarnation of this is from people asking for entry level jobs and sending in a head shot or that ask to be a rigging electrician and list all the short films they DP'd on in college. People who do this are clearly more interested in making it in Hollywood than than they are in working on the movie and they don't get hired for fear that they're going to embarrass themselves, and by extension the person that hired them, by trying to buddy up to the director of producer.

Worse, though, are people who call up asking if we've hired our director, our director of photography or our writers, as if a studio would begin production on a multi-million dollar project without choosing those people in advance. Mincing no words, when someone calls up asking for one of these positions and, after finding out that the job's filled, insists on emailing in a resume anyway, we presume that person is an idiot and simply throw the resume away.

I don't mean to harp on formatting, but you need to make sure that we can actually read your resume. Don't do it in a font that's illegible. Don't do it in a font that's not readable by all computers. Don't set the margins so narrow that we can't print it. Do not try to spice it up with all sorts of graphics that will make it impossible to read. Don't print and mail it on triple-thick card stock that we can't punch binding holes in.

Also, the only thing we really care about is your experience in the industry. If you speak Russian, know advanced first aid and have mastered origami, that's great. You're not applying for college, though and your extracurricular activities don't count nearly as much as your actual grades, so to speak. All those kind of things are going to do is make you more memorable, not more hire-able. If we're not already impressed with your credits, memorable might be a bad thing. Sure, you can list additional skills or interesting tidbits, but do so at the bottom.

Finally, do not try to talk up the person who answers the phone. They're someone like me, hell, it might actually be me. I'm not empowered to hire anyone. In fact, out of a crew of several hundred people, only a dozen or so do any of the hiring and they're not the ones that answer the production office phone. My day is packed from the minute I arrive at work until the moment I leave, thirteen or fourteen hours later. When you try and impress me, all you do is waste my time. Moreover, you waste your own time because I cannot help you get the job.

I know that some of the people that read this are going to accuse me of being an elitist or of trying to crush people's dreams. That's not what I'm trying to do at all. What I am trying to do is inform everyone about the realities of an industry that manufactures dreams. The truth is that it is very hard to get a foot hold in this business. The competition for work is very stiff and department heads tend to work with people they already know and trust. There is virtually no learning curve and money and prestige ride on almost every decision. The best way in is to come across as confident, competent and willing to learn. Once you have the tip of a toenail in the door, the goal is to learn as much as possible and make friends the people who can hire you in the future.

At least that's my $0.02

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Rusty said...

Interesting read.

I've found myself in the interviewer's seat a lot more the past couple of years. A lot of this is applicable to any industry.

I also just want resumes that tell me 1) the exact position the person wants, and 2) what relevant experience the person has.

Everything else is a waste of both of our time.

Everything else is a waste of mine and the applicant's time.

Rusty said...

The sentence so nice I wrote it twice. Worth repeating, so I'm not correcting it.

nursemyra said...

... just don't make that mistake in your resume Rusty :-)

Tom Harper said...

Interesting advice; applies to job searching/interviewing in general.

A lot of times the most valuable advice is not "what to do" but rather what NOT to do, like you pointed out.

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Anthony said...

I have to chalk it up the Marine Corps for this one. In my current job I help with staffing issues for our Civil Affairs position across the Corps. I get email all the time with attached resumes set in a civilian format. When that happens I just send the correct format link and basically a "try again" email. It is amazing how I have to DQ people for things I tell them about, must be deployable, must have two years left in the Corps,....etc. But as it is in the above posting people still send me resumes that do not fit the job. My favorite phone calls started out "I heard about Civil Affairs and wanted an easy mission" Really!!! Do me a favor and read up a bit about who is out doing the talking while the Grunts pulling security around you. Tom-I owe you a penny.