How do I get my foot in the door at a small production company in NY?
June 21, 2013 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I have two dream jobs: one is working as a producer at a small independent production company in NY, the other is being a casting director. I don't want to be some big hollywood producer, but I'd love to work at a smaller media company. Whenever I've managed to get a foot in the door somewhere, I've done well. There are two problems. One is I have no idea how to land an entry level position in such a company. The other is that I'm starting out late at the age of 29.

Due to financial difficulties and acute depression that finally lifted a year ago, it took me a long time to finish college. I graduated a year ago from a good school, which felt like a huge achievement for me given all the hurdles I faced along the way. Since, I've been living in Boston working as a barista and saving up enough money to move to NY.

My experience so far: I have a BFA with a concentration in film, I had a summer internship a few years back while I was still in school at a documentary production company in Boston, I produced/directed/edited my own short film through SAG for my senior thesis project and it turned out well. This fall I had an internship at a local casting company that led to a great letter of recommendation and some good experience but no job title, as they weren't hiring when I left. I do think I have a better sense of how to navigate casting, but I'd like to find out more about both professions (producing and casting) so I can compare my options. At this point I think I've saturated most of the internships available locally, as there are few media companies here and most of them only hire students as interns.

My school didn't have a great production department or professional network so beyond having worked on my own small projects, my understanding of production itself isn't as thorough as it should be. Right now I'm trying to read as much about the business as I can. That said, my knowledge of film as an art form is wide-ranging. I also have a good understanding of storytelling from having been obsessed with films my whole life, and from having worked as an editor at my college newspaper for several years.

I hesitated about posting this question because I didn't want to get a lot of discouraging feedback. I realize it's a very hard profession to break into but I believe that I have the ability and drive to do it, if I could only figure out where to focus my energy. I can be very aggressive when I have a course of action, but right now I feel stuck.

The other problem is I'm a bit socially awkward (although that's improving) and I know nobody in this line of work, so I can't exactly ask my friends "how did you get your job?" I think a lot of people going into this field already have a ready network of friends coming out of school, but I didn't exactly go to film school.

So how do I find out what kind of experience I need to be hired for an entry level position?

The only idea I have is to pick some interesting looking small production companies in NYC and pick a few producers or assistant producers at them to email. Maybe watch the films produced by various companies and then try to interview producers whose films resonate with me? I was thinking of asking them if I could take them out to lunch on a sort of informational interview. I was also thinking of doing the same with some casting directors/assistants who work at companies doing work I find interesting.

Would that be weird? I don't want to burn my bridges anywhere by being a nuisance, like at companies where I might want to later apply for a job.

I just have no idea how to go about doing this without even a rudimentary roadmap. I also feel weird about my age and don't know how to explain starting out so late. I do have some hope as a woman I know changed careers at my age and now works as a casting assistant in NY--she's one of the people I plan on contacting.
posted by timsneezed to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Informational interviews are your friends. Ask the right people at these companies to meet with you for coffee or lunch to talk about what you talked about here. People are generally open to those kinds of meetings, as the pressure is off.
posted by xingcat at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2013

I work in documentary and I came in later in my career, from being a journalist. I think your best bet is to network like crazy, answer an ad that looks remotely promising, and work on anything vaguely related. Being resourceful, eager, hard-working and enterprising trumps knowledge of film, appreciation of cinema as art and just about anything you learned in class or in a book. Gushing about how you loved someone's work is nice, but frankly, I'd rather hire someone who can get the job done. Everyone loves everyone else's work.

Work on TV shows, work on online videos, work on infomercials, volunteer for film festivals--all experience is relevant. No job too small. Your age is a plus, as you have oodles of real-world experience in handing cranky contractors, late Fex-Ex shipments and other snafus (or that's what you tell them.)

Brush up your social skills as show biz is who you know. Being charming and personable is extremely helpful. Being a pest is actually a very useful skill for a producer--persistence pays off. Producing is pretty much a job for anyone who can simulate extroversion. Introverts usually become editors.

Limiting yourself to only those places whose work you like is self-defeating. Work anywhere for anyone who will pay you. Join Yahoo groups, Women in Film and any other group that might be helpful.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:16 AM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

How about an internship? I may have set my sights too low, but in a similar position at age 27, I just called the production company in question and asked for an internship. Three months later, I was a PA. From there I took an editing track, but it looked as though I could have continued in production fairly easily.
posted by xo at 12:00 PM on June 21, 2013

The recent Black Swan lawsuit has had a chilling effect on internships, fyi.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:03 PM on June 21, 2013

It isn't weird at all--setting up conversations and getting to know people is how people learn and find jobs. Additionally, internet stalk people and find connections. Don't be weird about it, but "Dear So-and-so, I recently saw your company's film, and when I looked up more, I noticed that we both served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan." Even if you don't have a ton of friends working in the field, you never know who knows whom. Find the names of people at assorted production companies and then look them up on Facebook and LinkedIn. See if you have any friends/connections in common, then reach out to that mutual friend and see if they'd be willing to make an introduction, or use it as a conversation starter. "Hey, I think we both know Daisy. Small world. We went to summer camp together--how do you two know each other?"

Alternately, maybe that person graduated from the same school you did in a different year--use that (especially if it is a smaller school). "Hey, I also attended Small School. I'm really interested in learning more about the field, would you have time for a chat?" I once had luck getting a conversation with Very Important Hollywood Producer (albeit about something unrelated to breaking into the business) because we graduated from the same place, albeit decades apart.

And can you get back in contact with whomever you worked with at the casting company? If you have good relationships, even if they aren't hiring, they may be willing to help you out with an introduction to other people that they know.

Cold calling/emailing is a necessary part of any kind of trying to get a foot in the door, but even if you can warm it up a little with some sort of connection, it helps. It's not necessary, but if you have an advantage, it doesn't hurt to use it.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 4:30 PM on June 21, 2013

Contact the film commission in Boston. Send your resume (and make sure it's formatted as a film resume) to every show whose email address the film commission has. Make the subject "Production PA resume," send another that says "Casting PA resume." If you have any math talent, I would also send an "Accounting PA" email, as accounting knowledge is very important for a producer to have. Try to tailor your resume to be most applicable to each of these jobs, if you have enough experience to do so.

A lot of work in this industry is freelance, it's not usually working for a single company all the time. So, keep that in mind when looking for jobs.

Absolutely contact your casting friend in NYC.

Hopefully get a few more IMDB credits under your belt before the move to NYC.

Lastly, no one cares how old you are, my last PA was 28. Just do a good job and be prepared to work more hours than everyone else you know.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 11:06 PM on June 21, 2013

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