internships

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

The Playing Field is More Level Than You Think

The process to become a trial lawyer in Ireland (a “barrister”) is different than in the states.

Instead of completing undergrad then going to law school, you declare you’re studying law upon entering University, at 17- or 18-years old.

After you have your law degree, you must pass an entrance exam into the King’s Inn, where after one more year of study, you get your JD equivalent.

Afterwards, you must go through a process called devilling. It’s like an extended, mandatory internship. For at least one year (sometimes two) you work on your “Master’s” cases, unpaid.

When you’re done, your Master may refer some business to you, unless he takes on another Devil (student).

Traditional marketing goes out the window. It’s against the law for barristers to advertise their services.

A barrister generates 100% of her business off relationships alone.

A current Devil explained this to me. She was frustrated by these notoriously archaic set of rules, and how they slowed down career growth. And the whole “working for free” part:

“Pretty much I’m not going to make any money for another 2 years.”

Of course, all barristers play by the same rules. Her competitors encounter the same frustrations.

When we get stuck, it’s easy to forget that — for the most part — we all play by the same rules.

For example, if I were in her position, this is what I’d do:

  • Find underrepresented niches in the market and make a point of addressing those areas in my research, work, and network

  • Differentiate myself by choosing areas or skillsets away from the core competencies of my master. She’s more likely to send me business (even if she takes on another Devil) if she knows my specialty and it’s different from hers

  • Begin to network with young solicitors (transactional lawyers) who need to build their own networks

This is a gross simplification. I know nothing about practicing law.

And I’m not trying to be glib, or suggest her frustrations aren’t real. It’s a problem we all face.

All the fields I’ve tried my hand at (and continue to work at), I still struggle to extract the simple strategies from my frustrations:

  • Poker (“play the person, not the cards”; “play premium hands”; “follow the fundamental theorem of poker”)

  • Stock market (“diversify”; “invest for the long run”; “buy low, sell high”)

  • Blogging (“content is king”; “post on a regular schedule”; “use social media”)

And of course:

  • Hollywood (“it’s not what you know, but who you know”; “pay your dues and someday it’ll be worth it”; “read the trades everyday”)

Incredibly simplified strategies. Doesn’t make them not true.

Executing the tactics that drive strategy can feel excruciating.

When you work insane hours… and no one appreciates it.

When you’re barely making rent… and all your friends are putting down payments on houses.

When you’re doing “everything right”… but your career has stalled.

When we’re in the thick of it, all we see are the frustrations. We lose sight of the overall strategy. That’s when it’s a worthy exercise to step back and observe the following from an outside perspective:

  • What are the rules everyone plays by?

  • What are 3 strategies that maximize the work you do given these rules?

  • Do my everyday tactics drive at least one of these strategies?

How NOT to Help New Hollywood Transplants

Someone’s just moved to Los Angeles to break into the entertainment business.

They’re working for free and don’t know anyone.

They have writing chops (or acting chops, or are just really smart) but no income and no experience.

How do you help them?

And how do you NOT help them?

This post is about how it didn’t work out for a recent intern of mine…

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The 4 Steps to Turn an Internship into a Paying Job (no, it’s not about attitude)

Last week I mentioned that “blindly paying your dues” is the wrong approach to internships. I’ll go over why that is here:

You’ve fine-tuned your resume and honed your cover letter. You’re blasting out to every posting on EntertainmentCareers and the UTA Job list. But after you land your first internship, are you making the most of it?

This isn’t a post filled with 100 tactics to land your first internship, or 50 places to find your first job in Hollywood. I’m not going to remind you “it’s all about attitude.” It’s not. There’s more to it than attitude — there’s a strategy to getting the most out of the free work you’re doing.

After reading this post, you’ll understand the 4 strategies that you can use to:

  1. Add immense value to a company with free work
  2. Leverage the work into new connections and (paying) opportunities

Here are the 4 strategies that make the cream of interns (that’s you) rise to the top:

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