I'm not a fluffer, thanks for asking.
September 26, 2012 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Help me, a 30 year old TV production assistant, make a career switch. Special snowflake details inside.

I graduated four years ago with my degree in English. Got married. Had two lovely boys. While being jobless in college, I somehow wound up doing PA work part time for a local television station.

The only problem is I hate being in TV. There's no real pay, even for highly specialized positions. There's no chance of ever having a normal life for my family. My wife and I are always going to be on opposite schedules. And I don't find any particular fulfillment in the work.

So I'd like to transition careers. But I don't know what my skills would suit me for. It seems like the more I'm in TV the harder it is to get out of it. Relocation away from the Louisville metro area is not possible because of my wife's work.

I had considered Law school, but was scared away by the financial burden and poor job market.

Anyone have any advice?
posted by tylerfulltilt to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You really haven't given us enough info to provide any meaningful advice. We know you don't like TV and don't want to go to law school, which is probably a wide decision. What do you want to do?
posted by COD at 7:09 AM on September 26, 2012

What kind of TV? What kind of production assistant?

Working in the corporate offices of a network affiliate is a hugely different thing from, for example, being a set PA on a narrative TV show. Which is a hugely different thing from being the casting PA on a reality show.

I'm a production secretary in TV and film, which is a step or two above PA work.

I've been approached by recruiters in a general "here's my card if you ever want to leave the film industry" sort of sense. I've never followed through with that, because I'm mostly happy with my job and have a feeling I wouldn't like the sorts of gigs they could get me. But I somewhat trust the ability that a headhunter could find me work in some other area. Maybe look into meeting with recruiters in your area?

In general, it's been my resourcefulness, social skills, and "taking care of business" attitude that has impressed these people. All of which are baseline skillsets for longtime production assistants.

Other paths I've considered, on bad days when I'm tired of working from noon to 2 AM, are web production, marketing, and PR type careers. But then I remember that I would hate that. Maybe you wouldn't?

It also occurs to me that it might be valuable to create the career you want rather than wondering what jobs you would be qualified for.

A lot of people who work in film and TV in New York eventually branch out into starting a business that fulfills a need locally within the industry. For example I know someone who started a "green" prop house. I know someone else who owns a lot of specialized printing equipment and does printing work for half the scenic shops in town. I've also heard of people who developed industry-specific software, started catering companies, etc etc etc.

Another avenue might be to take a skill you've developed working in TV and apply it to the outside world. I know a number of people who've left the industry to become professional organizers and interior decorators. A lot of art directors moonlight in corporate event design. Is there some special skill you've picked up that people in the outside world might be interested in?
posted by Sara C. at 7:12 AM on September 26, 2012

Depends on what you are good at, and what you enjoy doing.
Find a job which utilises both, get some relevant training and you will be motivated to work hard, and will have the innate skills to do well.

Ask friends, make lists, find websites, think about it. It takes time but you'll end up in a good place.

It worked for me.
posted by BadMiker at 7:13 AM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: You really haven't given us enough info to provide any meaningful advice. We know you don't like TV and don't want to go to law school, which is probably a wide decision. What do you want to do?

I'd be okay with anything that had a decent 8-5 monday-friday schedule and made anywhere between 28-35k a year. I mean I hate TV that much that I'd do anything else if it had a good schedule and decent pay.

In an ideal world I'd like to transition to working for an ad agency. I almost majored in advertising as opposed to english. But I listened to some bad advice that told me my English degree would be more versatile.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2012

Assuming you're a ways out of college and have some strong work experience under your belt, whether you majored in advertising isn't going to matter.

Why not start reading craigslist or the local want-ads, meeting with recruiters, maybe having a few informational interviews with people who do things you can see yourself doing?

It also occurs to me that your problem is that you live in Louisville. There's not a lot of ad agencies in Louisville. I know you said you can't relocate, so maybe this is another reason to think more about where your strengths lie and what you can bring to your community.
posted by Sara C. at 7:29 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've been submitting resumes wherever I can. The roadblock I keep hitting, in seeking any sort of work with an agency, is that I don't have relevant experience.

I was recently turned down for a media assistant position because I didn't have "media experience or internships."

What does that mean? Is TV not media to ad agencies?
posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:39 AM on September 26, 2012

Yeah, you don't need to major in advertising to work in it. A lot of creatives now are going to ad school, but even that isn't necessary. But again, what would you want to do in advertising? I think you could transition to a traffic coordinator type position in advertising easily, creative or account management less easily, but as Sara C. says there aren't a lot of agencies in Louisville.

An option though is a smaller web shop where you could be an assistant project manager or something, helping organize production schedules and estimating design and development time.

You could work up to being an online video production manager or similar -- but I might be explaining things a bit beyond your understanding. Online video is pretty big right now and people who really get it are in demand. But location matters.

Also, I was an English major and think it's plenty versatile - -and I work in advertising.
posted by sweetkid at 7:44 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What does that mean? Is TV not media to ad agencies?

Media in an ad agency is usually media strategy and planning, not production. I do digital production in an ad agency and can read a media plan, but I have no idea how the buying and the selling of media works, what creative should run on which publisher on which day, etc...no clue.

What did the media assistant job description say?
posted by sweetkid at 7:46 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Again, this depends on exactly where your experience lies. "Production Assistant in TV" is not a job description the way that Tax Preparer or Podiatrist are job descriptions. I have no idea if you are the assistant to the producer of Real Housewives Of Louisville, or if you do light filing for the accounting department of the local news affiliate.

It's very possible that you don't have a specific kind of experience they're looking for.

It's also very possible that your resume doesn't highlight your skills in that area. Is your job in any way similar to jobs in advertising that you're applying for? Can you rewrite your resume to make it sound more similar, without outright lying? Is there a keyword mismatch?

On the other hand, it could be that they got 500 applicants for that media assistant position, and ten of them were recent grads who just did internships with big Madison Avenue agencies. Sometimes it's not really about you. Sometimes you just don't get the job. This would be yet another reason to honestly evaluate where your skills are and what you're truly qualified to do. Because there are probably a lot more accounting jobs for regular old boring companies in Louisville than there are media jobs in Louisville.
posted by Sara C. at 7:48 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Again, this depends on exactly where your experience lies. "Production Assistant in TV" is not a job description the way that Tax Preparer or Podiatrist are job descriptions. I have no idea if you are the assistant to the producer of Real Housewives Of Louisville, or if you do light filing for the accounting department of the local news affiliate.

I should clarify exactly what my experience is. I've been doing lighting, camera operator, both in the field and the studio, audio, Editing promos using Media Composer and Final Cut pro 7, I've also written and produced some short segments that aired for special events like Thunder Over Louisville and I've written and produced a couple of pitches and sizzle reels for documentary shorts.

I've been doing all of the above since about 2008
posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:52 AM on September 26, 2012

I think you could do some video post production at a creative shop with those skills, but again not sure how in demand they are in Louisville. I found a few shops just now in a Google search.

What I'm confused by is what you were looking for in applying for the media assistant job, since that doesn't match your experience at all. Are you interested in media planning? Or just anything at an ad agency?
posted by sweetkid at 8:00 AM on September 26, 2012

Oh. That experience doesn't correlate to something like "media assistant" at all.

You definitely have the kind of job where, if you save some money and buy some sought-after equipment, you could ultimately go into business for yourself.

In the meantime, have you considered something like wedding videography? Does Louisville have a post-production house? Can you freelance farm yourself out as a shooter or video playback dude or the like for visiting film productions, while doing other stuff to make ends meet? I don't know that mandy.com is used much in your area (and often the jobs listed are shit), but I see a lot of ads on mandy for people looking for folks with your skillset.

In terms of writing and segment producing, why not just call up a local ad agency or media company or whatever and say, "I'm a segment producer over at WLVL, and I'm interested in how my skills could translate to advertising." At the very least, it sounds like you have some of the skills to direct or produce commercials.

Why not call up the local film office and ask for advice, or maybe list yourself with them as a freelance shooter and editor?

Or. Gulp. What about teaching? With an English degree and hands on experience in the technical side of production, you'd be a shoe in for a high school media teacher. Maybe look into what it would take to qualify to teach?
posted by Sara C. at 8:05 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of very well-paid people working in all different kinds of technical, creative and business side TV jobs and with relatively few exceptions (kids who got great union kids through their uncles, sitcom writers hired out of Harvard Lampoon at age 21) they started out in terribly-paid jobs. Identify a few people in the first category who do things that you are doing now, or are organic outgrowths of what you do know, and figure out how to connect the dots. A LinkedIn premium membership is your friend & tool in this enterprise.
posted by MattD at 8:24 AM on September 26, 2012

28-35K is a really low salary. As you have 2 little boys, I'm sure maximizing your income is probably appealing.

Why not get into ad sales? Ad agency/advertising sounds more fun than it actually is, but sales people tend to have a crack at making a lot more money. You'd have to work hard though.
posted by discopolo at 8:28 AM on September 26, 2012

Web shops frequently need video for web projects, but not frequently enough to keep somebody on staff. If you have the capital to pick up the starter equipment, a small business doing video work for web shops, small ad agencies, etc. sounds like it would be very possible. Since you were thinking of law school, I'm going to assume your spouse makes enough to cover the bills - which makes taking a shot a self-employment even more appealing as you won't have to worry about starving in a bad month.
posted by COD at 8:50 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want an 8-5, don't go to law school.

It's interesting that you say there's no money in TV. Sure, there's no money working as a PA at a local TV station in Louiseville, but that doesn't mean there's no money in TV.

You have to hustle. Submitting resumes is not going to get you a job in a competitive field like advertising. If you want a job, any job, then fine, submit away. But if you're looking to break into advertising, you need to network. Do you have any contacts through working at the TV station that could help you? You're a 30-year-old PA - people know that you want to move on. Ask people in your professional network for help.

And again, advertising is not going to be an 8-5.

I think Sara C.'s media teacher suggestion is a great idea. Between that and some videography on the side, you could make a decent living and work reasonable hours.

Another Sara C. comment I'd like to highlight - you're not a PA. You're a segment producer. Spin your experience. Hustle.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:22 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I've thought of starting out on my own and creating my own agency. But that's the sort of massive financial risk that I can't afford to gamble in and lose. Even taking out loans to buy 15-20k worth of equipment to start the agency is not possible for me.

I do realize that I have experience that would make me ideally suited for jobs in the creative side of advertising, but in two years of looking, I've seen exactly one job in the Louisville area that fit that description. The majority of other jobs I've applied for are the sort of entry level jobs that come up, but don't exactly meet my skills as they are.

I realize that networking is key, and frankly it's something I fucking suck at. I've always been very introverted and I don't do we'll in conversation with strangers. I can fake it for a moment, but it leaves me feeling drained and anxious to go home.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 9:53 AM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: For what it's worth, any job you take to transition out of TV and into some unrelated field like advertising would probably have to be an entry-level job, unless you were able to leverage specific technical skills you have that are in demand. (Which I think you could, if you really got out there and hustled for it.)

I also wouldn't look at it as "start my own ad agency" (which is ridiculous as you've never worked in advertising before), but more like "start my own videography company" or "start my own commercial production house".

The overhead to start a business shooting weddings, local events, and car dealership commercials is not $25K. You could probably get started with a couple grand and every Saturday for the rest of 2012.

For that matter, have you looked into jobs with local equipment rental houses? The entry level gigs typically don't pay that well, but it's probably the ideal job for an introvert with technical skills in a smaller market where there aren't a ton of high profile creative media jobs to be had.

Also, you said upthread that you were interested in Any Other Job. Have you tried applying for other jobs that your English degree qualifies you for (like teaching), or other jobs that match a non-technical skill set like sales or basic office admin work?
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I realize that networking is key, and frankly it's something I fucking suck at. I've always been very introverted and I don't do we'll in conversation with strangers. I can fake it for a moment, but it leaves me feeling drained and anxious to go home.

Everybody feels like this. I hate networking events and shmoozing, but that's not the only sort of "networking," and frankly, it's the least useful kind. Send emails to people that you work with asking for information interviews, send emails to former coworkers, use your school's alumni network, whatever.

For what it's worth: I am very introverted. I work on a network TV show in a major media market. I avoid business card swaps (networking events) like the plague, but you bet I network with my coworkers, former coworkers, people in other departments, etc. I am not the best at this sort of thing, but I'm doing well enough.

And here's a little tough love: You want to change careers, but you don't want to network, put in financial risk, or draw on your pre-existing skills? I can understand why you're not willing to relocate or take on debt with two children, but it sounds like you're looking for a good job in a glamour field in a city that's not a major media market that will give you decent working hours, and that you can find by blindly submitting a resume. That is not a smart or realistic way to look for a job.

You need to branch out of your comfort zone or revise your expectations. You have two kids and a wife, and if you're looking for fulfillment outside your professional life, I think that's a smart and valid way to live your life. Look for some sort of admin job and get the hell out of TV if that makes you happy, but don't try to transition into another creative field if you're not willing to put in the effort and take risks.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:20 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: but don't try to transition into another creative field if you're not willing to put in the effort and take risks.

I was only stating my ideal work environment. I absolutely would take any kind of admin job that paid a decent wage.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: What you have described there is a resume that's well suited to an in-house video producer job. There are a fair number of such positions available in my neck of the woods (Washington D.C.) because we have a lot of corporate headquarters. It looks like Louisville has several larger companies based there, so you might have some luck pursuing that angle.

Video production is a little bit of a step-child, it can be housed under IT, Communications, Marketing, Training or I'm sure others, so you may have to poke around a bit if you're looking at company websites directly.

Corporate video would likely be a good fit for you, the departments tend to run on the lean side, so you would get some variety in your day, but they work a pretty typical 9-5 kind of schedule. If you worked for a larger company with sites around the country you would likely have to do some travel, but typically the budget for that kind of thing is not so large that you would be gone constantly. Most importantly you just about have the "5 years of experience" that qualifies you to apply for the none-entry level jobs, which makes the job hunt a lot more pleasant. In my experience the jobs that require a slightly more specific skill set tend to have a better response rate then the more generic cattle calls, and it gets pretty disheartening to send out resumes and hear nothing back.

Good luck with your switch.
posted by dadici at 12:31 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

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