Know How To Work A Walkie-Talkie
The walkie-talkie has made modern filmmaking incredibly efficient, allowing the 1st Assistant Director to communicate the day’s ever-changing schedule to the entire crew while allowing individual departments to coordinate on logistics for upcoming shots. One department head said, “You need to know how to use a walkie-talkie – I almost hired my Starbucks barista because they can work under pressure and know how to use a walkie-talkie. The last three people I’ve hired were in the union but didn’t know how to use the radio.”
Literally. You should keep a little note pad and a pen or pencil with you at all times. This advice works for any department because you never know when your boss may give you complicated instructions. Don’t find yourself in the unenviable position of going back to them to ask them to repeat their instructions later.
Put Your Phone In Your Pocket And Leave It There
One of the department heads I interviewed spoke toward the wired generation, “You should spend more time watching what’s going on right there on set than looking at your phone. Until you’re a department head you shouldn’t be looking at your phone during setups or during filming. There’s always something to learn and you ain’t going to learn it on Instagram.”
Union Membership Does Not Include Placement
In Atlanta there are new people who join IATSE Local 600 and IATSE Local 479 all the time. In Local 600 new members can enter as Digital Utility, an assistant position. In Local 479 new members can select from a variety of departments in which they want to work. It’s important for potential new members to know that neither of these unions arrange employment for their members, they simply represent them in contract negotiations with studios and in instances where there is a dispute with an active production.
Have Realistic Expectations About Getting Work
I often mention that it’s important to have realistic expectations about how long it may take to establish yourself as part of a department key’s regular crew. Factors that may be involved in your adoption by a department key include: your work ethic, your sense of humor, your attention to detail, your rapport with the rest of their crew, your ability to react to changing conditions with flexibility, your physical stamina, your organization skills, your ability to anticipate potential problems, your ability to work safely, and many more. You may have to take a second job to meet bills as you work toward getting consistent work from the movie business.
Landing Your Next Job Will Always Be Your Greatest Accomplishment
As an absolute beginner it’s going to take some hustle for you to find your first job and the project you end up working on may not be the best, but by the end of it you will be so proud that you’ll want to bask in the accomplishment forever. What you don’t know yet is that the job you just finished was absolute crap and you didn’t know a damn thing the whole time you were doing it. You won’t fully understand this fact until you secure your second job and ride it to completion because that second job will have made you question many of the things you believed about that first job. This pattern will continue throughout your career, but the one underlying truth you’ll discover is that you will always sweat getting hired again.
Everyone Has A Dry Spell
Just wait until the phone stops ringing. Or the Instagram stops dinging. Or whatever the hell it is you kids are using these days. Just wait until people stop contacting you for work, because it will happen. How you react to this dry spell will teach you a lot about yourself as a person. Don’t forget that I told you so.
Not Everyone Is Excited To See You
It has become a common occurrence to see online posts by people who are brand new to Georgia’s film industry introducing themselves and declaring their readiness to be hired. It’s necessary to get your name out there if you want to work, but be prepared to encounter pushback from some who feel there are already enough people working in the market and perceive you as competition.
Don’t Let Your Dreams Interfere With Today’s Work
Put your ego in your back pocket and do the work you’ve signed on to do. The most important job of your movie career is the one that is currently paying you. It may be your desire to work on big budget feature films, but until that day arrives you’d darn better well take the work you can get, whether it’s a TV show, a commercial, or a music video, and be happy to have it. Do an excellent job. Work!
Your Resume Will Get You Hired
Department heads will be looking to see the size of the shows you’ve worked on, your role on the project, your references and the duration of time you spent on each project. But they’ll also be looking to see if you can make your resume legible and worth a damn. A nice resume will do a lot toward getting you an interview.
Be Patient. Your Resume May Have Time-Delayed Results
Several department heads I spoke with said that they always accept resumes and keep them in a file because there are inevitably times when they need to hire someone at the drop of a hat and that they do in fact reach into the resume file on those occasions.
Try To Get Work As A Dayplayer
Department heads occasionally find it necessary to hire additional people on days that are particularly busy for their department. One friend refers to some dayplayers as “two arms and a back”, as they’re often needed simply to help move a lot of stuff around and don’t need to have any special skills. Do what they ask you to do. Offer to do more if you see where you can help. Don’t try to out-think the regular crew or upstage them. Be a team player and you might get asked back.
Dayplaying Can Lead To Being A Part Of A Regular Crew
If you hit it off with the department head and their crew it’s more likely that they’ll ask you back, and may one day lead to you being considered for hiring as part of that department head’s crew on a future project.
Dayplaying For One Department Head Is NOT A Career
One of the department heads I spoke with said that some of the people they had in rotation had not worked for anyone else in a six-month period, a fact they found surprising and somewhat disappointing. The movie business is for the bold, so use those dayplaying credits to get more work with different shows!
You Are Only As Good As Your Last Job
If the person you sent a resume to knows your references there’s a strong chance that they’ll get in touch with those people to ask about you so always give the project you’re working on right now your very best effort.
Be Reliable. Honor Your Commitments
One of the biggest sins that newcomers commit is abandoning one project for the greener pastures of a different project, often with very little warning and no attempt made to replace themselves. Repeat offenders develop a reputation of being unreliable, which can come back to haunt them later. Department heads and producers have long memories and people who honor their commitments are held in high esteem.
Department Heads Talk To Each Other
Sure, they may be competitors, but department heads dip from the same pool of workers and it’s to their benefit to know which people to avoid hiring. When you work for one department head behave as if you’re working for them all.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Some of the most successful people I know have bluffed themselves into a job at some point in their careers. These have all been highly motivated individuals; the sort of people who will move heaven and earth to get the job done. Some people lack the confidence to pull off this maneuver, while others deceive themselves into believing their own hype. If you plan to pull off the big bluff be prepared to pay the consequences when your hand is called.
Don’t Suck Up.
The best advice I ever received was: if you plan to work in the Atlanta market you should learn to know the locals and not suck up to the people from out of town, because those out-of-towners are not going to take you back home with them at the end of the show. You really shouldn’t suck up to anybody – just be cool.
Say YES To Everything
I don’t mean this literally – it’s just a funny saying that Dwight Benjamin- Creel, one of my former prop masters, used to say to me in the early days when he was stepping away from set. But I took it to mean that I should have a positive attitude on set and always be looking for solutions instead of reasons why things couldn’t work.
Film Crews Have Provincial Attitudes
Despite his obvious talent in sports, Deion Sanders encountered a lot of flak for playing professional baseball for the Atlanta Braves AND professional football for the Atlanta Falcons. In a similar fashion, producers and crew alike find it difficult to respect crewmembers who choose to work between multiple departments. They don’t like to see you working as a prop assistant on one movie and a greensman on the next. You may find this kind of judgment limiting, but it’s important to understand how it can be to your advantage to settle on one single department and give it your all.
Don’t Waste Your Time In The Wrong Department
I recall dayplayers who couldn’t take their eyes off the camera the entire time they worked for us in the prop department. It became a problem over the course of the day and we had to speak to that person several times to remind them why we’d hired them for the day. If you already know what department you want to work in then don’t waste a minute working in a different department – you’re wasting your time and theirs.
Aim For Shows That Fit Your Level Of Experience
Be realistic about the level of experience you currently possess. The biggest resumes usually win in a fight because department heads want to hire people who have a lot of experience since they don’t have the spare time to train someone. If you don’t have any movie experience it’s unlikely that you’re going to get hired on a Tom Cruise movie, but a low budget horror movie may be willing to hire you. Movies are often described according by their budget level, with anything over $12M being considered a standard project, followed by Tier 3 ($8.5M to $12M), Tier 2 ($5M to $8.5M), and Tier 1 ($2.2M to $5M). Tier 1 projects (and smaller) are often unable to afford experienced crew who boast big resumes and as a result are more willing to serve as a training ground for those who are still establishing themselves in the business. The low pay rate of these smaller projects is balanced by the opportunity they provide to the crewperson toward gaining experience and adding a new project to their resume.
How Do People Get Hired?
Producers tend to line up department heads months in advance of arriving in Georgia to set up an office. They do this to ensure that they have established the very best crew possible. Department heads typically have an established crew of people that they hire regularly, and a crew of dayplayers on the next tier down. Like most people, producers typically want to hire crews that they already know and like, and can depend on. If that fails, they will rely on friends and colleagues for recommendations when hiring unfamiliar crews, basing their decisions on any number of factors, including resume and interview.
The majority of people are seeking work in assistant positions, so it’s important for them to develop a good relationship with the department keys who will be doing the hiring. As in any profession, our reputations precede us, and to be hired on a consistent basis you must prove valuable and reliable within your department. Department heads share notes on the strengths and weaknesses of their crews and of the pool of available dayplayers. In a competitive market it may take years to establish a good reputation and a solid relationship with department keys, so be patient in your quest to become someone who is hired as part of the main crew on a regular basis. Some dayplayers may never develop the skills or the reputation to find themselves in that position.
Some People Simply Aren’t Worth Hiring
This is something that nobody is willing to talk about because nobody wants to be the bad guy. If music producer Simon Cowell was to write an article about getting hired in the movie business he would unabashedly announce something along the lines of “If you’ve been in the business for more than four years and still have trouble getting hired then you’re probably not very good at it and should consider pursuing a trade in animal husbandry instead…” and would go on to make a nasty comment about your haircut and your buck teeth. I personally find it kind of craven when department heads can’t be up front with undesirable hires and tell them why they won’t be hiring them again, but the film business isn’t about confrontation and it’s kind of expected that you’ll eventually pick up the hint, like that girl who won’t return your phone call after that really great date where you talked about her . . . attributes . . . all night.*