first hollywood job

Break into Hollywood: 4 Secret Weapons to Get Interviews, Jobs, and Representation

I completed my internship and one of the executives asked me, “What do you want to do next?”

I told him I was thinking about going to an agency.

He picked up a phone. He said to someone on the other side, “Have I ever asked you to meet anyone? Okay, well, I got someone I want you to meet.”

He hung up the phone. “You’re all set, you’re going to interview at WME.”

I interviewed with Carole Katz — not her assistant or her junior executive. Her. You’ve never heard of her, but she’s been head of HR for WME since 2001.

She told me (like they tell everyone) all the reasons I’d hate the job. Minimum wage. 12-hour days and weekends. No life. Think carefully, she said.

I said I’d let her know first thing tomorrow.

I emailed her the next day: I’m in. She said she’d put me on the consideration list.

I never heard back.

And it’s 100% my fault. Because I never followed up. Instead, I was waiting for her to “give me my chance.”

All the mistakes I’ve made in my career have come from waiting for my chance.

Fortunately, if you’ve moved to Los Angeles and you’re building your career (or even if you’re still working on getting out to LA) there are dozens of things you can do to create your own chances — even if you don’t have experience or connections.

I call these your “secret weapons” for breaking into Hollywood.

So let’s talk these secret weapons. (Btw, yes, you’ve got to have skills, too. If you’re a writer, actor, director, whatever, I’m assuming you got chops and every day you’re working to get better.)

Secret Weapon #1: Prepare Like You’re Going to War

With basic preparation, you’ll outshine 90% of your peers competing for the same attention, meetings, and jobs.

Because you know what preparation looks like for most people? 10 minutes of Googling on their phones 15 minutes beforehand. And it shows.

That’s why most people ask terrible questions, like, “Uh, so what advice do you have?”

Or when they’re asked to talk about themselves, they launch into a 10-minute rant about how she’s loved film ever since her parents took her to the $3 budget cinema next to Lechmere’s.

You’re different. Here’s are your rules of thumb: [click to continue…]

Would you help him?

Here’s a note my friend received recently, via LinkedIn:

Hey Jeff,

Glad to link with you on this thing. Pun intended.

I’m really trying to push my television pilot. I know you’re not looking but could you possibly lead me to some places (or folks) that are? I promise I won’t make you look bad. 🙂

Or you can hit me on the personal tip: [HIS EMAIL]

Any advice at all would be appreciated.

One love.

Let’s analyze all the things wrong here, then commit them to memory. Because if you’re going to make it in Los Angeles, you will have to ask for help.

But you have to do it the right way.

Here we go: [click to continue…]

Should I get some work experience before moving to LA?

Lauren asks,

I got an AMAZING job in December in my current city. It’s in the entertainment business and we do a lot of corporate parties and weddings. I am sure there is a good market for this out in LA, so I was concerned about moving before I had 2-3 years of experience. Do you think this wise?

I obviously want to move ASAP (I’m 23, this is my first non-cocktail waitressing job out of college) but I’m eager to move young because my connections out there encourage me to take classes at UCB (also possible with a day job like I have now). I currently love the job I have and it’s good for helping me save.

While I’m just ITCHING to get out there, my savings are minimal as I had to get a LOT of work on my car. Won’t have to buy a new one at all to drive out there. But, along with wanting at least two years experience in the entertainment/ special event field, I’m not sure how much I’ll need to save .

Maybe 25 isn’t such a bad age to move.

Do you have a recommendation on how much to save, or a goal for roughly two years? I make a decent living but need to cut back and save more. I’m also slightly worried two years experience won’t be enough to help me get a job.

You’re in an awesome position. Great work.

On one hand, you have the allure of security: [click to continue…]

What entry-level Hollywood jobs pay $35K starting?

Jose asks:

How can I break in as a producer’s assistant? Do you know what the trajectory is to become a full-fledged film producer? I’ve been trying to figure out what other careers are out there with my skill set and want to do something in TV or film (TV might be more steady). I’m also looking for an entry level career that pays more than 35k starting salary. What do you think?

When I first joined the rank & file of Hollywood employees, I couldn’t tell the difference between an agent and a producer. Nevermind what the trajectory of either looked like.

One time, I asked, “what’s a mensch?”

“Wow. You’re green,” was someone’s response.

But if you genuinely don’t know, you have to start somewhere.

(My series, How Hollywood Works: TV, is a great place to start.)

But your questions trigger the Spidey-sense of anyone who’s worked in Hollywood for longer than a week. We’re seeing so many red flags it’s like red panty night came early.

I asked how other Hollywood assistants would respond to your question. Here’s what some had to say:

35K2

35K3

35K1

I’m going to answer your question, but first, I want to show you:

  • What’s wrong with this question?
  • The problem with this question?
  • What questions should you ask

How to get help and guidance from experts for free

Your questions reveal you’re too focused on goals:

  • How do I break-in as a producer’s assistant? (Goal: job)
  • How do I become a producer? (Goal: title)
  • Where can I earn $35K to start? (Goal: salary)

Goals are important. But at this stage, your focus — and, therefore, your questions — should be 100% centered on “How do I break in?”

In other words, you should focus on the process, not the goal.

It’s like, you’re standing atop a mountain, ready to ski for the first time. And you ask “what whiskey do they serve down at the lodge” when you should ask, “how do I turn in these things?”

Here’s what 3 questions could look like:

  • I’m interested in becoming X. I’ve read The Mailroom and the Producer’s Handbook, and it seems the best places to start might be A, B, and C. I’m leaning towards B. What do you think?
  • What skills can I work on now, that’d make me a no-brainer hire when I got to Hollywood?
  • I know I gotta work hard to make the big bucks in Hollywood. However, I’m curious because well, a girl’s has to eat: How much should I expect to earn at an entry-level job? Is $35K/year unreasonable?

Dude, if someone asked me these questions, I’d think: “Wow — you’re ready.”

These questions show:

  • They’ve done their research
  • They have the right expectations
  • They have the drive

And I’d do everything I could to help them.

What entry level careers pay more than $35K starting salary?

Time to get off my soapbox. Let’s tackle the biggest question:

“What entry level careers pay more than $35K starting?”

Three things to tackle to understand the answer to this question:

1. Think about your compensation as weekly salary, NOT yearly salary

Here’s a chart I created to help other assistants negotiate their salaries:

Hollywood Assistant Salary

You see that to earn $35K (gross, in other words, pre-tax) you need to make $675 per week.

2. Jobs that pay $675 starting are rare

Thus, these jobs are very competitive.

We’re talking about jobs like:

  • Well-paid production assistant jobs
  • Jobs at the big studios (e.g. Disney, Paramount, NBC-Universal, Sony, Warner Bros)

Most places will start you at either:

  • $10 – $12.75 per hour OR
  • $600 – $650 per week

3. It’s your job to fast track increases to your salary and earnings

Nobody’s gonna hand you a 3% annual raise. Here’s how you earn it:

Is this still what you want?

It’s OK to be uncertain about whether or not this path is for you. It’s okay to ask about the money or to find out if there’s a specific trajectory that most people go through. Like I said, you have to start asking questions.

Now you know that you can’t expect job security or a minimum salary of $35K a year when you’re breaking into Hollywood. So, my question is: Is this still what you want?

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Photo Credit: Andrew Quentin

How To Apply for a Hollywood Internship (When You Don’t Live in LA)

Here’s a question about applying to summer internships:

“Do you know how I would apply to any summer internships? And where I can get more information on what a summer term internship entails?

My entertainment interests include filmmaking in general and more specifically, screenwriting. Of course, I haven’t yet been involved in the industry so my interests might change! Right now, I am studying English and Creative Writing, and I’m a sophomore.”

This is a packed question, so I’ll break it down into three separate posts:  

  • How do you apply for summer internships?
  • How do you land an internship?
  • What’s the day to day of an internship entail?

Part 1: How do you apply for summer internships?

The summer internship. A rite of passage for many students, but you decided you didn’t want any old internship. You want one in HOLLYWOOD, in the film and television industry.

We’ll cover how to apply and land an internship over these next few days (and these tactics and strategies work even if you’re not a student.)

First: Unless you’re coming in through your university, you NEED to be in LA to get an internship in the film and television industry.

Yes, you can intern at a local affiliate TV station. Yes, there are productions happening all over the United States of ‘Merica (Baton Rouge, Detroit, New York City, etc.)

BUT…

If you want to work at the center of the film and television industry, live in Los Angeles. No telecommuting. No remote work. No excuses.

3 Ways To Become an Irresistible, Must-Hire Candidate Before You Move

Hollywood is a machine that churns 11 out of 12 months a year, so there are always internship opportunities (save for the end of December and start of January. The agencies close for an extended break, and in turn, the studios and production companies close).

If you’re specifically looking for a summer internship, those start circulating in late April.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do if you’re eager to get started:

#1: Research What Companies Want

Start with getting the widely circulated UTA job list.

With this list, you’ll build up access to dozens of companies and job descriptions. Start researching these companies — you already know they hire and what they’re looking for:

  • Has the CEO been interviewed?
  • What films or television shows did they produce in the past?
  • What’s on their slate currently?

Armed with your research, start querying these companies and pointedly ask about summer internships. Incorporate your research so they know you did your homework, and DON’T mention you don’t live in Los Angeles yet unless they directly ask.

You don’t want to disqualify yourself before your foot is in the door.

#2: Make Your Resume Powerful

That means you:

  • Have a narrative. Craft your story around the position and company you’re applying for. Use your research and include relevant experience only (which means leaving out the summer you spent at Starbucks). Your resume is not your job history, it’s the narrative of how and why you can help the person reading it.
  • Show, don’t tell. Which is more powerful: “Excellent communicator with extraordinary interpersonal skills, willing to take on any challenge” or “Coordinated publication of 63-page magazine between Editorial, Advertising, and Business Affairs teams in a one-month timeline to a circulation of 150,000 readers”? Which one is telling and which one is showing?
  • Keep the language simple. There’s a temptation to be overly verbose in your resume (“Acquired stimulants at accelerated timelines to ensure delivery of product within deadline.”) Don’t. Hiring managers know how to read between the lines (“Delivered coffee.”) If it’s compelling in normal language, leave it in. If it’s not, take it out.
  • Don’t waste time fussing over format. Yes, the resume must look presentable and there can’t be any typos. Beyond that, don’t spend time fussing over the format. It doesn’t matter.
  • Don’t worry about the “weight” of the paper. Same as above. No one cares if you used card stock or 75% recycled from OfficeMax — what matters is the value you bring to the company.
  • Don’t skimp on the cover letter. Think of your cover letter as the “tip of your spear”: A cover letter gets your resume read… which gets you an interview… which gets you a second interview… which gets you the job. But if you clumsily hack through a cover letter (or worse, copy and paste from a template) you can’t advance to the next stage.

#3: Start saving that cash money

About 90 percent of the internships out here in LaLa land are unpaid.

The other 10 percent pay minimum wage, which may put a dent on the rent of your one-bedroom apartment (a small dent. Let’s just say you won’t be ordering bottle service at Hakasan anytime soon).

Start saving that cash money now. There’s nothing more demoralizing than watching your bank account plummet closer and closer to zero while working for free.

You can find posts on how to earn more and save more here.

Plus, if you subscribe to the blog, you can download the Moving to Los Angeles calculator, which calculates exactly how much you should save before moving to LA.

Don’t Count On It — Any Of It

I’ll be totally candid with you:

Don’t bank on landing any of these internship opportunities in your first go-around.

Definitely not any from the UTA job list.

A friend explained to me how difficult it was to pick candidates for two internship spots at his company:

“For a job post on UTA, we got about 50 replies from students around the nation for one or two spots.  Unpaid.  I had to pick out 5 resumes to send to the CE, who chose 3 to interview.  That means, cold applying, statistically, you might have to apply to 25-50 of these to get an internship!

Yes, you really do spend about 10 seconds per resume.  There are some atrocious resumes.  But there are enough good ones, too, that I decided who to pass up with admittedly biased metrics: who studied abroad in the same place I did?  Who goes to a school I like?  Who studied the major I did?” 

No idea if his math is right (I know: Worst Asian ever). But you get the idea: Your chances of landing an internship when you come in through the front door on a cold application is low.

So how can you improve those chances?

You’ll learn more about how to land the internship and what it might entail in parts 2 and 3. Coming soon — subscribe so you don’t miss it.

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Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker