So, you’re fresh out of school, you’ve got some bankable skills under your belt, and you may even have a lovingly crafted showreel that you’re just itching to share.
As tough as it may sound after years of hard work in school, now comes the hard part: how are you going to land your first job in post-production?
The first thing to say is that there isn’t one easy answer to this age-old hurdle.
Getting your first job in post-production is really more like making a cake: you’ll need a dash of this, a pinch of that, and an extra bit of je ne sais quoi to get the job of your dreams.
What we can share is a smattering of tried and tested advice, so dig in and read on.
Experience, experience, experience
Don’t be too worried about which department of a feature film you get to work in at first. Take the years straight after school and use them to get as much experience of the whole feature film process as you can – it will prove invaluable later on. The more you know about how everything and everyone works together on set, the more you can stash away in your memory banks for use at a later date.
There are practically millions of budding filmmakers out there just crying out for people to crew their films. Everyone has to start somewhere and it’s worth remembering that today’s novice is tomorrow’s auteur. Say yes, and be kind to everyone you meet along the way. You never know who is going to make it big, and when they might ask you to edit their magnum opus.
The world of feature film post production is small and tough. Kindness, positivity and a great attitude can be underrated when you’re trying to bank hard experience, but these crucial soft skills might just make the difference between having tomorrow’s Hitchcock be your biggest cheerleader, or your biggest detractor. Always remember that kindness makes the world a nicer place.
The traditional route
In the US, the traditional route into work in the feature film industry is to move to LA or NYC and take your chances in the crowded market place. This usually means saving up enough cash to be able to survive in two of the most expensive cities in America – rent, bills, gas, groceries all cost more in the big cities. Better to come prepared than have to face the trip back home with your dreams in tatters. The normal route of progression is to find a job as a PA somewhere in TV, progress to Assistant Editor, then move over to film and work for three or four years in that role before starting to apply for editor jobs. Another route might be to work your contacts until you can get an entry-level job as a post-PA, or digitizer and work hard to move your way up slowly but surely.
One incredible way to up your skills and learn crazy amounts about all things post, is to land yourself a job at a local TV station. Take advantage of every opportunity afforded you, say yes to everything (with the usual caveats!) and relish in the chance to become a dab hand with Avid, Final Cut X, and Premiere – and get paid while you do it. Another advantage of local TV is the range and variety of material you will be working with – as well as the relentless pace. Think of it as the apprenticeship period. Work like crazy, cut like crazy, and you’ll have a packed showreel full of high quality, eye-catching material that hasn’t come from school. You’ll also have the experience you need to say yes to jobs you might have shied away from in the past due to imposter syndrome (or a real lack of experience). And the final advantage? It’s always easier to find a job when you are already in employment – especially relevant employment.
Almost everyone who works in the creative industries got where they are through their ability to hustle and network. Creative opportunities come from everywhere – the school gates at pick-up, the local coffee house, even pizza delivery guys. The truth is, if you don’t talk to everyone and anyone you know, no one will know you exist.
If you see a crew out and about, or a guy with a camera just minding their own business, make it your job to go and talk to them and see if you can open up a nook of opportunity. Many editors started out logging and transferring footage, organizing material and doing rough cuts for people either paid or as favors. Remember that point about being nice earlier on? The same applies here: you just never know when Karma will come good for you.
The word ‘luck’ is in reality a euphemism for hard work meets opportunity. Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time is the break people need. There are hundreds of stories of successful feature film editors who just happened to be in the right place one day and were given the opportunity that led to further work that led to further work – you get the picture. This might sound daunting and incredibly unhelpful, but sometimes you just need Lady Luck (read: hard work meets opportunity!) on your side.
What this means in practice that the best advice is to remember everyone you work with on the way up – you never know who is going to be valuable or who might need you in an emergency. Sometimes, despite hard deadlines, life happens even to the most experienced professionals. This in turn, means that sometimes, you might be just the person required – even if your experience is a little on the light side.
And if you really want a tangible place to start, try realitystaff.com. entertainmentcareers.net, and good old (if strangely named) mandy.com for a taste of what’s on offer in the real world.
In summary, landing your first job in feature film post-production is never going to be easy. Working your way up to assistant editor before you make any further leaps will give you stability, experience, and the cash you need to keep going further. There are plenty of people out there who have editing skills, and plenty of people willing to go the extra mile to get their first job. You need to work out how to make yourself stand out from a crowded marketplace and hopefully, the advice we’ve shared here might just work for you. So get out there, make your voice heard, and get busy making a killer showreel you will be proud to call your own.
Niki Smith is a freelance writer and film academic from the UK. You can find out more about her here: www.rocketsmithcontent.com