We call it breaking in because it can feel like a heist.
I’ve been at this game for ten years and over that decade I feel like I’ve heard every single way people have achieved success. From rich parents to luck to bumping into someone who would later represent them, I’ve collected the stories and assembled them into things you can do that don’t involve as much luck as they do the legwork.
The film industry is notoriously difficult to penetrate. But if you have the passion, talent, and determination, there are multiple ways to break into Hollywood. Whether you’re an aspiring writer, director, or actor, this comprehensive guide will provide insights and advice on how you can kickstart your career as a filmmaker.
Here are the top ten ways to break into Hollywood, with detailed information on each route and valuable tips from industry insiders (and me).
Let’s dive in.
1. Gain Experience in Low-Level Productions
Start from the bottom and work your way up!
Find Opportunities in Student Projects and Low-Budget Films
One of the best ways to start in the film industry is to gain experience in low-level productions such as student-led projects or low-budget production companies. High-end TV and major film sets often require previous work experience, making low-level projects an excellent starting point for those lacking experience.
While these projects may not pay well, they provide valuable experience and networking opportunities.
Search for jobs on online application websites like Mandy and Backstage, join Facebook groups, or rely on word of mouth to find low-budget productions seeking assistance.
Some of my first jobs were just PA’ing commercials, but I made contacts who got me hired doing lots of other things along the way.
Be Prepared for Unglamorous Roles
I have gotten coffee for so many people. At one gig, I used to carry 17 coffees from the Starbucks at the bottom of the hill to LA Center Studios. The trick was using empty Amazon boxes to keep them steady.
When starting in the film industry, expect to work in unglamorous roles such as runners or production assistants. These roles may involve making tea and coffee, administrative work, or driving actors to set. Although these tasks may not be enjoyable, they are invaluable to production and serve as a great starting point for your career.
Learn from observing others on set and use these entry-level roles as a stepping stone to climb the ladder in the industry.
Plus, you never know when the people you work with will get promoted and take you with them.
2. Focus on a Specific Area
Don’t try to be everything all at once. Focus on what you can do and for who. Build from there.
Find Your Area of Expertise
To break into Hollywood, it’s essential to specialize in a specific area within the film industry. Whether you’re interested in sound, lighting, post-production, writing, or directing, focus on developing your skills in a particular field.
This specialization will make it easier to find relevant jobs and projects, helping you stand out from the competition.
Can you be good at multiple things? Yes! But when breaking in, focus on one, and as you break down those doors, add others.
Again, this is advice, not rules!
Build Your Skill Set
Once you’ve identified your area of expertise, invest time in developing your skill set. Attend specialized courses, follow online tutorials, read books, and network with others in the industry. Continually improving your skills will increase your chances of finding work and growing your reputation within the industry.
Your reputation is everything. Protect it at all costs.
3. Network and Build Connections
Networking is the single most important way to break in. I cannot emphasize enough how much it will affect your career.
Attend Film Festivals and Industry Events
So how do you meet new people?
One of the most effective ways to break into the film industry is by networking. Attend film festivals, industry events, and workshops to meet other filmmakers, actors, producers, and agents. Building relationships with people in the industry can lead to job opportunities and collaborations.
The more people you meet, the more it pays off.
Utilize Social Media and Professional Platforms
We’re in the middle of a tech revolution, so why not use it to help yourself?
In addition to attending events, use social media and professional platforms like LinkedIn to connect with industry professionals. Reach out to individuals, share your work, and engage with others to build your network. Networking is crucial in the film industry, as many job opportunities arise through personal connections and recommendations.
4. Create a Portfolio or Showreel
I have a website, I know people who have reels on Vimeo, the point is, have your stuff available to check out.
Showcase Your Work and Skills
Building a portfolio or showreel is essential for showcasing your abilities and breaking into the film industry. Whether you’re a writer, director, cinematographer, or editor, ensure your portfolio highlights your area of expertise. Include previous work experience, independent projects, and any relevant achievements.
People want to see your work!
5. Work on Other People’s Films
Collaboration is key to making your way through Hollywood. Helping others helps yourself.
Gain Valuable Experience and Connections
Even if your ultimate goal is to direct or produce your films, working on other people’s projects is an essential step in breaking into the industry. By being involved in various productions, you’ll gain valuable experience and build connections with talented crew members and like-minded individuals.
Plus, you can learn new techniques and new approaches from your friends.
Learn from On-Set Experience
Working on other people’s films allows you to observe different roles and processes within the industry. This hands-on experience will help you develop your skills and decide which area of filmmaking you’re most passionate about. Plus, being present on set increases your chances of being noticed and recommended for future opportunities.
6. Prepare for Long Hours and Sacrifices
Time in this industry is relative. It’s all about projects you finish. Get ready to put in the hours to hone your craft.
Expect Long Hours and Limited Personal Time
Breaking into the film industry often involves working long hours and sacrificing personal time. Be prepared for early mornings, late nights, and extended periods of work. Understand that a career in the film industry may require a different lifestyle than a traditional 9-to-5 job, and be ready to adapt.
You will work weekends. You will work long days. Hopefully, you avoid toxic environments. Never let anyone treat you poorly. But understand that some gigs will last well into the night.
Determine if the Lifestyle Suits You
Some people are not going to like working in Hollywood. I have so many friends who have left for this reason. That is okay!
Before pursuing a career in the film industry, consider whether the demands and lifestyle suit your personal needs and preferences. Balancing work and personal life can be challenging, so assess your priorities and ensure you’re prepared for the potential sacrifices.
7. Create Your Own Opportunities
Stop waiting for other people to hand you things. Be the driving force behind your own opportunities.
Produce Your Own Content
Make your own things, even if you never show them around. Learn how to work and what works for you.
If you’re struggling to find opportunities in the film industry, consider creating your own projects. With the accessibility of technology and resources, producing your own content has never been easier. Write, direct, or act in your own films and share them on social media or submit them to film festivals.
Be Persistent and Adaptable
Breaking into the film industry requires persistence and adaptability. Don’t be discouraged by rejection or setbacks; instead, use them as learning experiences and motivation to improve your skills and increase your chances of success.
There is no one way to break in, try anything and be okay with failure. It happens to us all.
8. Explore Alternative Routes and Locations
Hollywood is awesome, but there are ways to break in from anywhere. I think they are harder and can limit networking, but anything is possible.
Consider Opportunities Outside of Hollywood
While Hollywood may be the epicenter of the film industry, there are numerous opportunities for filmmakers in other locations and industries.
Explore job openings in independent films, theatre, commercials, or even countries where English isn’t the native language. By broadening your horizons, you may find unique opportunities to develop your career.
And you might be able to fill jobs that other people there are not qualified to do.
Utilize Your Skills in Non-Entertainment Fields
At the end of the day, you need to make money to survive. Everyone needs a day job, so figure out what kind of day job might have overlapping skill sets.
Don’t limit yourself to traditional film industry roles. There are many jobs available in non-entertainment fields that require writing, directing, or acting skills, such as marketing, advertising, or corporate video production.
Pursuing these opportunities can help you gain valuable experience, build your network, and potentially transition into the film industry.
And they can keep you sharp for your heart’s work.
9. Stay Focused on Your Goals
Don’t let bumps in the road dissuade you from what you want in life. Buckle up and push ahead.
Set Clear and Attainable Goals
Don’t make wild claims or goals that you could never achieve.
Rather than focusing on unattainable dreams, set clear and achievable goals for your career in the film industry. Identify the steps and milestones needed to reach your goals, and work consistently towards them.
Breaking into Hollywood takes time, patience, and persistence. Stay motivated, continue to develop your skills, and seize opportunities as they arise. With dedication and perseverance, your hard work will eventually pay off, and you’ll find success in the film industry.
By following these tips, focusing on your goals, and exploring alternative routes, you can build a successful career as a filmmaker. Remember, the key to success is persistence, adaptability, and a passion for your craft.