GETTING STARTED IN THE FILM INDUSTRY
by Scott Trimble


written approx. 2003 and updated Feb 2019
© 2003-2019, previously posted at GFL


MOVIE ACRONYMS
P.A. Production Assistant
1st A.D. First Assistant Director
2nd A.D. Second Assistant Director
2nd 2nd A.D. Second Second Assistant Director
DGA Trainee Directors Guild of America
Assistant Director's Trainee
UPM Unit Production Manager
PC Production Coordinator
APC Assistant Production Coordinator
D.P. Director of Photography
A.C. Assistant Cameraman
SAG Screen Actors Guild
WGA Writers Guild of America
LMGI Location Managers
Guild International
What's your 20? Where are you?
Ten One Hundred in the bathroom
Note that many production jobs don't have commonly-used acronyms. For example, you would rarely call the Location Manager an L.M., or a Production Supervisor a P.S.

Also note that I listed PC and APC instead of POC and APOC, respectively. Many are dropping the word "Office" from those titles because their jobs entail not just the office, but also coordinating between all of the show's departments.

Everybody in the film industry got into it differently. Some people spent years of their lives trying to make a name for themselves, while others got in extremely quickly because of a famous relative or powerful friend. Some got in because of their intelligence and talents, and some got in just by their good looks.

Remember that, for the most part, it can be very difficult to get in and sometimes even harder to stay in. For that reason, I think the most important thing is that you be passionate about film. You should be doing this because you love it, not for the belief that you will attain so-called fortune and glory.

The road will be long and hard. You're going to have your significant other pleading for you to get a "real job" and your parents pestering you to go to graduate school in some other field. Financially, you'll most likely be struggling for a long, long time, with many months when you'll just barely be able to pay the rent. It's all worth it, though, if you truly enjoy the movie-making process.

PRODUCTION CREW

Most people in the film industry start out as P.A.s, or Production Assistants. Though they might help out with any department, the ones on set usually answer directly to the 1st A.D., 2nd A.D., 2nd 2nd A.D., and DGA Trainee. The ones in the office answer to the Production Manager, Production Supervisor, Production Coordinator, and Production Secretary.

The hours are very long in the film industry. The minimum work day is usually about 12 hours, with filming days often going up to 16 or even 20 hours (although, there are worthwhile movements that are currently trying to reduce those excessive hours). Depending on your commute, you might only get a couple hours of sleep before doing it all over again. This goes on for at least five days a week, and sometimes all seven. As a Production Assistant, you will usually get a flat daily rate, so there is rarely overtime for these long hours (though there is time-and-a-half on your sixth day worked in a row). That rate starts out at $50 a day on independent features, $100 a day on Hollywood features, and $150 a day on TV commercials. On average, you'll make $125 a day, with $250 being about the highest rate you'll make.

Before you can even start making this money, there will be a long time where you will probably have to work for free. You should consider this to be your internship or apprenticeship period in movie-making. No matter how much experience you had in theater or in making student films at college, you will not get many paid jobs until you've put in your time as a P.A. intern on independent projects. As a volunteer, you will be earning valuable experience, building your résumé, and, most importantly, making connections with other people in the industry. Though it can sometimes be worthwhile to blindly fax or email your résumé, you'll find that the majority of the jobs you ever get are from or through people with whom you've worked already.

After P.A.-interning for awhile, you'll probably have enough experience to move on to the next step, paid day-playing on bigger movies. On set, there is usually a Key Set P.A. and perhaps two additional P.A.s who are on staff for the whole shoot. On days where there are suddenly 500 background extras, the A.D.s might bring in a couple of day-players to help out. Day-playing could eventually lead to getting hired as a staff Production Assistant on future shoots.

One of the benefits of working as a P.A. is that it exposes you to all the other departments, thus helping you to decide which career path you're going to take. If you love helping out on set, you might want to work towards being an Assistant Director. If you like managing the office, then you can work your way up in the production office. Or, you might want to next start working as an Art Department Assistant or a Location Assistant and then working your way up those ranks. Whatever field you're interested in, try to get to know others already doing those jobs and don't be afraid to ask them a lot of questions.

What else? You should always know what is going on in the film industry by reading publications like Deadline, Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Watch a lot of movies and be familiar with the careers of all the major and minor players. Always keep your résumé condensed to one page, never any more than that if you want it actually read. Be sure you're listed in the Internet Movie Database. Be nice and respectful to all that you meet, especially those who are working for you, including background extras. Always remember those who have helped you on your way up, and try to help them out in some other way when you get a chance. Most importantly, never forget where you came from back home — meaning, don't develop an inflated ego or rude attitude just because you are now somebody in Hollywood. Also, enjoy life. Movies are not everything, but families, friends, and experiences are. Have fun!

ACTORS

Actors, be sure to read the previous section since a lot of it is relevant to you as well. In addition to that, my best piece of advice is that you should work as much as possible. A lot of actors have alternate jobs that they go to between auditions (the cliché is waiting tables or bartending), but, if you can manage to survive financially, it would benefit you so much more to use that time to perform in a theater production or to work as a background extra.

I know that some others will advise against that last suggestion because they're afraid of stereotyping, but it's much better for you to be on set as an extra than sitting in a corporate office, serving daiquiris, or watching TV at home. On set, you are meeting other actors, people who might share with you valuable information about an upcoming audition or casting call. Or, at the theater, you would be practicing your skills rather than letting them get forgotten.

For these reasons, I again feel that you will need to be passionate about performing in order to ever be successful. It should be something that you love to do as much as possible.

Now, in getting started, you should be sure that you're registered with the local casting companies. This is sometimes free, but there is occasionally about a $20 processing fee. When hired as a non-union extra, you are paid hourly, with overtime and even double-time late in the day, so you'll make between $60 and $120 a day. SAG actors make a bit more and get various other on-set benefits, but there are dues to pay and less union slots to fill in each film, so you'll have to talk to other experienced actors to balance out what is best for you.

At some point, you'll want to consider getting an agent since she or he is supposed to promote you and find roles for which you might be suited. Unlike the casting companies, you do not pay the agencies. They will get a percentage of the rates that you later make when actually hired. A SAG day-player with one or two lines on a Hollywood feature film makes about $600 a day, but, unfortunately, those roles can be far between.

Remember too that at each audition you go to, you should not be afraid of rejection or of making a fool of yourself. For every role you get, there could be twenty that never go anywhere at all. You just need to stay encouraged and keep trying, no matter what.

On set, always be cooperative, doing whatever you are told by the P.A.s and A.D.s. Do not push and shove past other extras in an attempt to get more time on screen. On the set of Around the Fire, I actually saw two extras' pushing turn into fighting and rolling around on the grass! Needless to say, their careers will go nowhere. The likelihood of you being remembered by the director for your cooperation is much higher than the possibility of being noticed by some other director simply for your brief appearance on screen.

Also, I definitely encourage you to send out your headshots and résumé to casting directors and productions that are currently casting, but do not send anything unsolicited. For example, if you see that a production office is requesting submissions for certain CREW positions, do not send them your headshots. It will get thrown away and you will most likely be laughed at for not being capable of following instructions. Just be patient and wait for the true casting process to begin.

My final advice is similar to that for production crew. Stay up-to-date on what's going on in the industry. Besides the national trades, most big cities have local acting trade magazines. Keep your résumé on one page and your headshots current. You should also definitely set yourself up with a professional and personalized website. Get listed in the Internet Movie Database too. Keep your ego in check and be sure to enjoy life. And have fun!