The Movie Business Résumé
ProTips for Standing Out & Landing Your Next Job
There are a lot of old Hollywood myths that persist in the regular world, one of which is that people who work in the movie business are full-time employees of the big name studios, when in truth they are temporary employees whose Employers of Record are payroll companies that are virtually unknown outside of the entertainment industry.
A motion picture crew can boast upwards of 20 different specialty departments, each of which features its own department head (or “key”). These people are freelancers just like yourself, who are vetted and hired by the producers, and are then expected to staff their own crew from the available workforce, both local and distant (if necessary). By the time a department head’s services are in constant demand they will have developed a pool of people that they hire from frequently, this group being thought of as that department head’s “main crew”.
Regardless of your experience level, it’s practically impossible to become part of a department head’s main crew until you’ve established yourself with them and so to get the ball rolling you’ll need to provide them with a resume. And, even if you do manage to find a group of people you work with frequently, it’s important that you maintain a top-notch resume because you should never assume that you’ll stay together as a team indefinitely. That department head who has hired you for the last 5 years might be suddenly be presented with the opportunity of a lifetime to work on a show in a faraway exotic location and the next thing you know you’ll be back on the market for a job as an untested stranger for a brand new group of potential employers. So what makes a resume “good” for the movie business?
A good resume relies on two things: honesty and brevity.
Be honest about your role on any job that you list on your resume. Do not inflate your previous position or responsibilities in an attempt to skip a few rungs ahead on the career ladder because your inexperience will eventually be discovered, making it more difficult for you to get hired again. Department heads may be in frequent competition to win jobs, but they talk to each other regularly about the available pool of employees they share and you can bet your bottom dollar that they quickly identify those people who fib on their resume.
The “word of mouth” network is the thing that gets people hired 99.9% of the time in this business, yet the person who hires you based on the recommendation of their peers will still be very interested in looking at your resume, as a resume will say a lot about a person, from the way that information is organized on the page to the selection of fonts and styles.
It’s important for a busy department head to be able to quickly determine your skill level and job history, so don’t spend a lot of time on fancy fonts or photographs. And unless you’ve been specifically requested to provide an exhaustive record of your entire filmography, leave off the older and smaller projects. You’re only as good as your last job and the sooner you can remove those less impressive projects you’re doing good.
And speaking of “page”, it’s important for you to know that you should (almost) always aim to make your resume fit onto a letter size piece of paper, and only onto one single side at that! You only need to demonstrate that you have relevant experience, so don’t hand over a 5-page novella about your life and times.
Be sure to include your contact information, including:
Provide a list of relevant experience, featuring these salient data points:
Your position on the show
The name of your immediate supervisor and their job title (note that listing the producer and/or director as references is typically reserved for department heads.)
The year of the project
The type of project (television series, feature film, reality show, etc)
If there’s room left you may also want to include any relevant specialties you possess which might specifically prove useful for the show to which you’re applying. For instance, if you have applied for a position on a football-themed movie and you’ve previously worked on two football-themed movies you make sure to mark those jobs with a highlighter or move to them to the top of the list to make sure that they’ve been noted.
Prepare the Final Product
The way that you share your resume with potential employers requires the same attention to detail that went into preparing the document. Use high quality paper if you plan to hand off a hardcopy to a production office or directly to a department head. If you are going to send it via email make sure to send a PDF, not your original Word file, and be sure to title the file with your name instead of the imminently forgettable “resume.pdf”.
Note that the sample resume shown on this page is just one variation of the sort of layouts being used by professionals in the business this very minute, and that the most important thing for you to realize that your resume is rarely going to fall onto the right desk and get you a job all by itself. It’s up to you to find out where the jobs are and who’s potentially hiring. It’s up to you to be the right person for the job, to make it known that you’re available without being perceived as a pest. Department heads don’t react well to schmoozing, but they do appreciate people who approach them with a professional attitude and well presented materials. Get out there and build your own movie resume today then put it to work for you!