Entertainment is one of the most alluring industries in the world. It attracts people of all colors, creeds, races and religions; young and old, male and female; from the well-educated to the uninitiated and everyone in between. The usual trappings include the promise of lifelong dreams fulfilled – most often fame, fortune and power – where, as the old song goes, any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic. Yes, entertainment truly boasts a universal appeal in nearly every corner of the globe.
But how does one get in the door? Where does one start? Surely there are ways to circumnavigate the heavy barriers to access that the Hollywood elite have constructed, you ask. And yes, there are. But for most, it will take good old fashioned hard work, as pipe dreams of being discovered while pumping gas or shopping at the supermarket rarely pan out. Those willing to pay their dues by starting at the bottom and working their way up are most likely to find stable work in the business while simultaneously developing desirable skills. Below are a few such entry level jobs specific to the industry.
An internship is ideal for college students seeking course credit or any individual unencumbered by the need to earn daily income. While a small handful of internships might pay, the majority do not. This, however, makes them more plentiful, and thus more accessible. Interns can be found in nearly every facet of the industry, from production companies and movie studios to entertainment law offices, casting agencies and publicity firms. As a result, they have a great deal of choice when deciding what area to focus on. However, basic duties are relatively similar regardless, and will include menial tasks such as fetching coffee, copying documents and organizing files.
Once upon a time, reception was thought of as a dead-end road, geared mostly to older women or those without any marketable skills. Now, the receptionist position has become a solid way for men and women of all ages to gain access to a company, learn the players there and study the organization’s operational philosophy. Since the industry has a certain image-driven fickleness, many firms may require a pretty face in addition to a stellar phone manner; but those who make it in quickly gain knowledge to all areas of the company, allowing them to focus their career path in the direction they find most attractive. A few lucky ones in smaller firms may even get bestowed with the more resume-friendly title of office manager.
These are the folks who pick-up and deliver various sundries throughout the industry, from scripts to tapes to executive lunches. More often than not, the job requires a reliable automobile and a solid working knowledge of the local area. In addition, pay is usually minimal. However, high turnover rates among runners mean they aren’t expected to last long, so sticking with the position for a few months can often lead to advancement. The nature of the position also affords the runner a chance to get brief face time with people at other potential employers.
Those seeking a career in development, producing or client representation should focus on finding a relevant assistant position. Studio executives, producers, agents and managers rely heavily on their assistants, and many top level players have more than one. Assistants are often treated poorly and pay rates may only average $500 per week, but the opportunity for advancement is higher than many other entry level positions in the industry. Also, most positions come with perks such as health benefits and paid vacations. Common duties include reviewing scripts, rolling and conferencing calls, overseeing the office intern pool, scheduling and attending meetings, placing lunch orders and greeting visitors.
This is the executive assistant’s on-set fraternal twin. Instead of helping one particular producer or executive, however, they assist an entire production, typically at the behest of the line producer, production manager or assistant directors. This is perfect for individuals who want to learn the ins and outs of a movie or TV set. Production assistants (affectionately referred to as PA’s) are tasked with supporting a variety of departments, giving them a broad overview of many higher level jobs that may interest them. While pay is comparable to executive assistants, and can even be higher on larger productions, job security is lower since the position ends when the production does.
Some people simply crave a place in front of the camera. “Extra work” in film, television and commercials provides an easy avenue to satiate that appetite for the spotlight, and requires no skills or prior experience. In addition, background casting agencies seek people of every physical type, age, sex and ethnicity. Work is irregular and inconsistent, but more easily accessible than just about any other in the business and is a great place to network with like-minded peers. Pay for non-union extras is minimum wage, so most will also need a supplemental form of income.