Kevin B. writes:
I have had a few internships, but no long term employment other than waiting tables. I’m currently looking for my first job as an assistant, but everywhere I look (entertainmentcareers, UTA, etc.) is asking for at least a year of experience if not more. How do I get experience if even the most entry level positions require it?
In other words:
How do I get my first Hollywood job?
First, I know how frustrating this is. It’s unfair: You want to build experience — you’d even work for free to get your foot in the door! — but you need 1 to 2 years of experience first.
Plus, you have no network. (Actually, you do, but we’ll cover that in another post.)
So how do you get that first Hollywood job?
First, let me say:
Don’t Bother With Low-Hanging Fruit
You could apply through public job boards like EntertainmentCareers, the UTA Job list, etc. But that’s like dumping a box of your headshots in front of Chris Andrews’s desk and expecting him to sign you.
Not gonna happen.
Another example of low-hanging fruit: company career pages. If you’re pushing your resume and cover letter through the company’s standard application process, and you don’t have a contact on the other side pulling it through, you’re wasting your time.
I realize how depressing this sounds.
You did everything you were told to do.
You did well in school.
You got your degree.
These companies were supposed to fling over their doors the moment you arrived in Hollywood.
Is it impossible to find opportunities through these channels? No, not impossible. I landed my first internship through the UTA job list. I’m grateful for that.
However, that channel is oversaturated. Below, I cover 7 tactics you can use in another, less crowded channel.
This Is the Cost of Admission
Before we move forward, here’s a quick reframe: If landing your first Hollywood job is challenging for you — talented, determined, intelligent YOU — that means it’s gotta be really tough for the average Joe out there.
Don’t think of the system as unfair.
Be grateful the channels are overcrowded and that gatekeepers exist: how else would they filter those with the grit to become a Hollywood power player from the average masses?
Consider the rigors of getting your first Hollywood the cost of admission into the industry.
How To Use Podcasts to Create Value and Job Opportunities
If I were starting over today, I’d skip all the low-hanging fruit. I’d use a number of less crowded channels to add value, get noticed, and create job opportunities.
Podcasts are one of those channels.
These tactics worked for me, at different stages of my career.
Here’s how I’d go about it, step-by-step:
1. Subscribe to 4 or 5 podcasts about the entertainment industry
Here are the qualities you’re looking for:
- The show frequently features guests
- The hosts and guests feel “approachable”
Obviously “approachable” is subjective, but listen for clues on how to approach them. For example, if the host says, “I love it when we hear from fans, email me anytime,” why not send them an email? If instead they say, “I get WAY too much email right now, best way to get my attention is Twitter,” try that.
They are telling you how to connect with them!
2. Listen to 2 or 3 podcasts a day
Start listening from most recent and work backwards.
3. Listen for opportunities to create value
Create value for others, and opportunities will trickle in. You’ll build traction. People will notice your work. And this fear that you’ll never find a job — which can be paralyzing — will fade into a distant memory.
Or: Blast out your resume to another 100 companies. Your choice.
What do I mean by create value? I’ll explain in the examples below.
Notice however there isn’t an exact formula. Don’t expect if you do A and B, then add a bit of C, that you can expect 3 job offers in your email inbox by lunch. That’s not how it works. This takes time and work.
It’s more like: You add SO MUCH value over the course of your relationship, you’re “top of mind” when opportunities present themselves. Then, you’re forwarded email after email about job openings. Your contacts write: “hey is this of interest to you? I can recommend you.”
You’ve just skipped the entire application process.
Every job offer I’ve received in Hollywood has been the direct result of adding value and being top of mind when an opportunity came up.
Here are 7 ways to create value:
4. Ways to create value in the podcasts channel:
- The host or their guest says they’re in the middle of researching for a project. You happen to have a contact who is an expert in that area: a professor, a cousin, a reporter. Offer to make an introduction.
- The host mentions she’s looking for a teaching assistant for her class on the weekends. Or she’s looking for a producer for the show. Volunteer.
- A guest announces he’s throwing an event next week. Realize you may look like that creepy Internet guy. Go anyway, and tell him how much you appreciate his work.
- Think, “Man, I wish these podcasts were transcribed.” Realize other people — and the host — probably wish the same thing. Offer to do it for them. (Then spend $20 on a yearly license for Transcribe that makes transcribing much easier.)
- Think, “Man, I wish these podcasts had show notes” (notes on everything covered in the interview, with links). See above.
- The guest is working on a no-budget feature and could use extras and set PA’s. Email her and ask where and when you should arrive on set.
- Send them valuable material – Let’s say a podcast host is talking about great heist stories. She LOVES heist stories: film, television, books, whatever.Now, you happened to have read an amazing heist story recently. So you send her a quick email with the article linked. The email might look something like this:
Hey Jen, listened to your interview with Jamie today, and thought it was great. Especially [one specific topic you loved].
You mentioned heist movies. Just read this great article in Medium yesterday you’ll love. It’s called Pipino: Gentleman Thief.
No response necessary, just hope you find it interesting!
The Art of the Cold Email
I’ve done more than half of these. The rest I wanted to do because I knew they’d work, but never executed. I couldn’t handle the additional workload.
There’s an art to many of these tactics. Cold emailing is an art:
- Be professional. No, you’re not writing to the POTUS, but you’re not writing to your college bros either
- Don’t ask for a job or an internship. Don’t ask if it “this might lead to full-time work”
- All you’re doing is trying to get a foot in the door
- This takes time. Remember: You’re building relationships, not shot-gunning resumes and hoping for the best
When in doubt, err on the side of action. You’re not going to break anything. If you send a less than stellar email, it’s not going to tarnish your reputation. The worst that can happen is they don’t respond.
Here’s an email I sent when I first started out. What do you notice?
Here’s what I notice:
- I sound green — like Oscar the Grouch green. Very cringe
- I’m self-deprecating when there’s no reason for it
- I could have been more specific
Ultimately it didn’t matter.
This led to a 14-hour work day, where I got my first PA experience under my belt. Before that, I’d never been on set, never moved a C-stand, or slated a scene.
Most importantly, I realized I never wanted to work in physical production…
Which is AWESOME. That experienced saved me years by not going down the wrong path. If on the other hand I loved physical production, it could have easily led to another opportunity, then another, and finally, a paying gig.
Where Should You Start?
What podcasts should you listen to? Use Google and iTunes Store to find a podcast that interests you. Again, my guidelines are only:
- The show frequently features guests
- The hosts and guests feel “approachable”
If I had to pick specific recommendations, here are 3 wonderful podcasts to start you off:
Pilar’s hosted 370+(!) fun episodes with hundreds of writers, directors, producers, and actors as guests. That’s 370+ opportunities to LISTEN first, then add value to others. (Look closely at the picture above — whose podcast do you think gave me my first opportunity to work on set?)
Besides her podcast and consulting work, Jen also co-sponsors a Friday Night Social networking event, which meets the first Friday of every month. Communicating through a screen is nice, but one meeting IRL can be worth a dozen emails and tweets.
A podcast hosted by Jose Molina and Javier Grillo-Marxuach. These gentlemen have broken down the experience of being a working TV writer from end-to-end. After 13-episodes, they’re currently on hiatus… and maybe when they’re ready, they could use some help to get the show on air again?
After you’ve given these tactics a try, please let me know how it went!