Choosing A Career Path In The Entertainment Industry After College
Written by: Luc Saber - Sep 26, 2022
A recent film graduate reached out to me, asking if I'd be willing to share my filmmaking experiences and how I got started in the entertainment industry. He was searching for inspiration and advice on jumpstarting his career after graduation.
It reminded me of the years I taught screenwriting at UCLA Extension, specifically how the students needed help understanding what to do and how to get started in the business after obtaining a degree in this field.
It occurred to me that although a lot has changed in how we tell stories and produce them, just as much remained the same. Graduates still need help navigating through this maze.
That's why I decided to write this article, realizing that perhaps other graduates who don't have access to someone already established in the field may have the same questions.
There are two popular paths a film or media student can take to enjoy a rewarding career. One is going the studio and network route. The other path is to produce independent projects. Let's take a quick look at the difference between the two career paths.
The studio and network route is a corporate career path where starting as an executive's assistant would be the first step. Typically you'd work on a desk for a year or two. Think of that time as your residency. This time period is an opportunity to learn and perhaps hit a brick wall occasionally. Ask for help, and overcome obstacles. Analyze and dissect your boss's job. Understand it, and get familiar with the big picture. Why is your boss's contribution to the development or production process essential, and how does it fit in to ultimately obtain a finished product?
That's the goal, folks. Whether corporate or independent, the goal is to obtain a well-developed product executed properly while always keeping the end consumer in mind.
During your work at a desk, make a few contacts and impress your superiors while you look for promotion opportunities. Those gem jobs may not necessarily be in your department, so look in other areas.
To choose the right project for development, you must also understand the physical production challenges and limitations based on story details and the talent attached. For example, if you're currently an assistant for a physical production executive, look for an opportunity in development. Since you already know the mechanics of physical production, your skill set might serve the development department well. Similarly, you should know the challenges and elements needed for distribution, collecting, reporting revenue, etc.
Repeat these steps as you climb the ladder of success. From assistant, move up to a junior position to mid-management and senior management while zigzagging through the various storytelling departments such as development, production, post-production, and distribution.
Easier said than done, you say? Yup. You're right. However, if you're determined, educated, talented, a hard worker, a decent human, and a good diplomat, you should be able to accomplish that goal. Remember, a studio or network job is a corporate position, so if your personality does better in a free-form environment without too much structure, consider a career in indie filmmaking.
The indie career path is different but the same in many respects. As an independent filmmaker, you'll need to have a good sense of story because you'll be your own development and acquisitions department. You'll have to get caught up on intellectual property acquisition practices, copyright law, labor union agreements, scheduling and budgeting, agency negotiations, and develop healthy business habits. You'll have to understand the production world very well since you'll act as the studio or production entity. You'll need solid relationships in the distribution and marketing arena. It would help if you established relationships with an entertainment law firm or individual attorney and CPA. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of independent filmmaking is financing your project. There are ways to raise capital successfully, but there's no magical method to it. Read books on the subject, talk with producers that have done it, shop your project at established production companies, or shoot a shoestring budget to get your feet wet and gain experience.
Get well acquainted with film festivals, publicists, marketing execs, etc. Be prepared to use the left and right sides of your brain. It's not an easy task to be a one-person operation, especially in an industry where you must be creative, practical, and analytical. I tried it, I did it, and with many prayers and luck, I was modestly successful for over two decades. If I did it, I believe anyone can do it, but be ready for some rough patches from time to time.
What do rough patches mean? Unforeseen and unpredictable road bumps throughout your journey. Some possible road bumps are labor union strikes, significant delays in financing projects, contractual disputes, delays in finding the right project, poor market performance, acts of God, such as the pandemic we experienced recently, and so on.
Be prepared to take on odd jobs during these dry spells, and don't give up. Continue your craft even if you have to shoot on a smartphone. Write, direct, produce and let your creativity grow.
Don't be discouraged in the face of adversity. Learn from challenging times and let criticism be a source of motivation to be successful.
Besides constructive feedback, criticism can harm anyone's self-confidence, esteem, and ultimate success. There are multiple forms of criticism to include internal and external. As an indie filmmaker, there may be times when you hear that voice in your head that you're not good enough. DON'T BELIEVE IT. You earned a college degree, meaning you can learn anything and everything. A bit of talent is always a plus, but if there's an area of the entertainment business with which you struggle, don't sweat it. Learn it, practice it, and you'll become good at it.
You may also experience criticism from people close to you who may tell you that your talents may be more suitable in areas other than those you're interested in pursuing. You may hear that your passion, the one thing that you can not breathe without, is not your strongest talent.
Let me tell you, these people, regardless of their good intentions, are much too involved in their own grief and troubles to have the time to review your work carefully, get educated in the discipline and world in which you operate, and understand your life experiences and the point of view from which you tell a story. Remember that the disciplines within the entertainment industry are very subjective, so don't worry about criticism. Others may not respond well to the story you tell and how you tell the story because you may come from different backgrounds, but it doesn't mean you're not good at what you do.
Follow your heart, live the dream, and pursue your passion. If it makes you happy, don't worry about what other people think. Those voices are harmful despite good intentions and can throw you off course. By the way, if they want to help you, instead of saying you're not talented enough at something, they should offer to help you get better at it and be part of your journey to success rather than suggesting you go in a different direction.
Regardless of which path you decide to take, studio/network or indie route, make sure that when you go to work, it feels like you're going to the playground. Remember the saying, choose to work in a profession you're passionate about, and you'll never work a day in your life.
Congratulations on getting that diploma. Now go out there, create, tell incredible stories, and make a difference.