Chances are, if you’re anything like I was a couple years ago, you’re having a really tough time trying to get just an ounce of industry experience. Meanwhile, you’re convincing others around you that you’re doing great, getting to where you want to be, wherever that may be.
We’ve all been there.
To make matters worse, you’ve got bills to pay. As much as you’d love to cash in those exposure dollars you’ve been enthusiastically paid by the bucketload, they’re not legal tender. Your landlord‘s not going to give a shit about your artistic integrity when you can’t pay the rent, and your parents just dropped the bomb that they aren’t going to let you doss at home for the next year. The bastards!
You need results, and you need them yesterday.
Stop panicking. It’s gonna happen for you!
I remember being sat deep in thought after a really shitty day at uni.
“Why am I applying for jobs and not getting anywhere? Why am I even bothering?…”
Uni wasn’t even over for me at this point. I had 6 months left of my course but I was flapping hard. I found myself frustratedly gazing through teary eyes at my CV, crying about how pea-sized I felt in relation to the world and yearning for all the experience I was supposedly lacking.
After some lightbulb moments, a few bits of trial and error and some bloody hard work, I found ways to make myself useful to others and developed in ways that would ultimately result in reaching my goal of “getting in”.
It’s not easy, but your time to shine will arrive if you work for it. Whether it’s your first bit of work experience, an internship placement or a lucky break as a runner on a busy production, you need to be prepared!
How Did You Do It?
A recurring question I get asked by peers, friends and family is “How did you get in?”
“It wasn’t fucking easy” is my usual response, because unfortunately, there’s no easy-to-read handbook on how to get into the industry.
“There are more film students coming out of UK film courses each year than there are jobs in the whole of the UK film industry.”—Geoff Boyle, DOP
So if one experienced sod hangs on to their job, that means there’s one less for a student to take. And trust me, none of these old codgers like retiring. Basically, no one is going to appear from the heavens and hand you work experience and most definitely not a job.
Network. Network. Network.
This is bloody hard for some people, but it’s super vital. People love to talk about themselves, so why not practice asking people questions about themselves? I’d been told by one of my lecturers that asking people about what they do and why they do it not only shows interest in them, but most of all boosts their ego. For them, they’ll be more likely to entertain a conversation with an inexperienced person because they feel you’re genuinely interested in them. Use this to your advantage!
I also found that it’s very easy for more experienced people to see through your bullshit. It’s a lot better to admit that you’re green but be genuinely interested than to fake being a know-it-all and embarrass yourself. I’ve heard stories of people being caught out. Not the best impression, and believe me, stories spread.
The First Time
So, you’re attending uni and surviving. That’s a bloody good start, but most of your chances of getting in will come as a result of making something for yourself. Make stuff, learn things, do more, repeat.
I found that the key to getting somewhere is actually doing something outside of uni. Hard work trumps talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
Spending two years producing and presenting a radio show alongside my Media Production degree really helped, especially when it came to developing communication skills. I put together a show that would purposely connect with people. I interviewed local, upcoming and new bands from across the UK and chucked in some organisations that meant something to the area I was broadcasting to. It meant that I was personally connecting with the outside world and developing my skillset whilst doing something fun. I managed to get lucky and grabbed an interview the Stereophonics’ drummer Jamie Morrison, which was a big deal for me at the time—a great confidence boost!
The first runner job I had was on Britain’s Got Talent. Wowwie! That was fun. This was when I realised I loved organising stuff. At the time, I couldn’t believe that I’d applied for something and actually got it. It wasn’t easy to grab that opportunity, though. I found myself fighting to prove why I was the perfect runner. They’d replied to my application (which I’d done within two hours of them posting the job on Facebook) and they said: “You seem really ideal for this role, but we’ve hired too many people for that day already”.
Oh my, I felt more than defeated. Not the ideal response. But, I grew a pair and got over it. I thought to myself “How can I convince them that I can do this better than the others?” I called the production coordinator that had replied to me earlier and let her know exactly why she should hire me. My God, being brave is so hard! But guess what? She hired me! The chain of getting nowhere had been broken. Hallelujah!
The job was bloody fabulous. As soon as it was done, I rushed to update my CV. That one wee bit of experience meant that I had 100% more credibility and meant that it opened me up to a lot of opportunities where before, I likely wouldn’t have been considered for.
Trying to differentiate myself from others competing for jobs in the industry was a pretty tricky one. Ultimately, I knew I had to be different. I had to try to get in there better than anyone else around me. I used different things in my e-mail subject line to make the application exciting. I used a pair of socks to surprise a company owner with my originality (don’t ask). I guess it’s really about demonstrating firstly how you offer something different, as well as how much you want that job. GO WILD. (But not desperate. Desperate is bad.)
A couple of things:
1. Get to know people in the industry
So, this is definitely the hardest part. How the hell are you supposed to connect with people 1) without feeling like a melon and 2) even getting the chance to talk to them in the first place? You’re probably not surprised to hear that humans can be real mean when they want to be. You may approach someone with a beaming smile from ear to ear, and before you’ve had the chance to open your gob, their face has that look of “please leave me the fuck alone because I am not interested in what you want”. Nevertheless, give it a good ol’ go. This is something I’m still working on, but I’ve found that the more you put yourself out of your comfort zone—like going to random networking events—the more your confidence builds. Give it a practise with people that may not be in your immediate network and make it a bit of fun. Remember to try to make them feel like you’re genuinely interested!
2. Do you need a university degree to work in the media?
Ah yeah, this old chestnut. It pains me to say (as I’ve got loads of student debt myself) that the answer is no. Yes, it does help…sometimes. Whilst a degree can be really helpful, the truth is, I learnt half of my degree from YouTube and the other half from networking, learning from people who know their stuff. The really juicy and ultimately more useful stuff came from working on sets like Show Dogs, Stella and working at Pinewood Studios. That’s where it’s like, “Holy shit. This is cool.” Just get out there and start learning from real experiences.
3. Be damn passionate
Be smiley and passionate. Throughout my short journey of applying for media jobs, getting interviews, winning interviews and landing the jobs, I’ve been a bit different than the ‘norm’. I’ve been the ‘super smiley weirdo’. Raja Gosnell, the Director of Show Dogs, nicknamed me that. If you’re not brave enough to chat, just smile. Works a treat. Ideally, when applying for that job you want, turn up at the office of the place you’re applying for or do something different when applying via e-mail. Show some fucking passion. Another big one: don’t ever send out a template e-mail to anyone important or to a person you’d wanna impress. Never. Don’t even consider it. Make a well-crafted piece per individual. Ultimately, people are excited by passionate people.
4. Research Stuff
You’ve been lucky enough to get your first break. Now what? You find yourself trying to talk to someone that’s actually willing to listen to what you have to say.
You start to stutter something like “oh I…I….yeah…ummm…”
WHAT THE HELL DO YOU TALK ABOUT? This person has 20 years experience and could actually hire you, but you can’t talk about anything because you can’t converse with them about anything relevant!
From personal experience, this is not the position you want to be in, trust me. It’s embarrassing. I’ve found myself choking on my own saliva trying to get out of an awkward situation where I didn’t know what the hell I was on about. Of course, no one knows everything, but keeping up to date with the latest trends and having some opinions on stuff will help that industry person think “well they’re brave enough to have an opinion, at least”. Here’s a couple of sources for you that I find really helpful:
- feedly.com This site is sick. You can choose what type of stuff you’re interested in, then it pulls the content from a number of blogs and aggregates it all for you in one place. It’s cool as hell.
- YouTube. We all know this bad boy. Use it to your advantage. Search the hell out of it. I found things like Protools tutorials, Adobe walkthroughs etc. You’ll have so many videos to line up and go through. Learn, learn, learn.
5. Read about how people work
Some people are assholes. But you may think that way because you don’t know how they work. It’s pretty tricky to suss people out as soon as you’ve met them. But, follow the principles from “How To Win Friends And Influence People”, and you’ll kill it! Honestly, read this book and you won’t know what hit you. I‘d recently been recommended the book by Nick, our Production Director. It’s got some cool stuff in there in terms of how to deal with people and understand their viewpoints (even if they don’t line up with your own!) It’s also put into really easy to follow scenarios. A top hit for me. I’ve been trying to rock the principles of the book lately and it works.
6. Find your happy place
Learn to be thick-skinned. When it comes to applications for jobs, it’s very likely you’ll be rejected many times. Each time, it seems to get easier. Make yourself a process to help you deal with that personal feeling of rejection. It can also happen when in a job too if something maybe doesn’t go the way you planned. Giving up is never an option, but it’s easy to slip into an ‘I give up’ mode. Take a break, read a book, party and have fun! Then, you can get back to it when you’re pumped and ready to go. If I’m having a particularly bad day, I’ll go home and write down all my negative thoughts and then throw the paper in the bin. Always feels good.
7. Keep going and go the extra mile
If you find you’re e-mailing something that’s generally dry or boring to someone, then go the extra mile and make it fun. Chuck a meme on there! Put yourself in the shoes of the person that’ll be receiving it and think about how it may cheer up their day and make the email reading a bit less boring for them too.
Hey, you’ll get there.
Believe in yourself, keep going and persist. Don’t take no for an answer, but definitely don’t be desperate. Learn stuff, enjoy yourself and apply for everything you can. Ask people you respect for improvements in your CV. Practise interviews with your friends. Read stuff.
Just. Don’t. Stop.
Over to you, then. Good luck!