There is very little formal background that one needs to acquire a position in the creative side of the entertainment industry. The frequency with which people are replaced is a testament to the replaceability of most jobs in the industry.
The job requirements are surprisingly generic. As in other industries, entertainment companies seek individuals who are hardworking, passionate, charismatic, intelligent and honest.
The hardest part of getting hired on the creative side is knowing where to look. There is no formal recruiting or training program, there are no job fairs, formal ads are reare, and news often travels by word of mouth. You have to work hard, smile even (and especially) when you're down, keep looking when doors are closed, hold your head up high when humiliated. Even then, there is the elusive factor of luck in meeting the right person at the right time that you'll need to get anywhere.
"Without a network, it can be scary. Lots of young starlets come to NY or LA and leave soon after. Others end up sticking it out because they have no other choice. They used the only savings they had to come out here in the first place," says one Hollywood TV writer who came to the industry over a decade ago.
The best ways to get a foot in the door are to:
Take classes. Numerous classes abound throughout the industry -- screenwriting, novel writing, acting, producing. UCLA and NYU have extension school classes which are great for networking with other up-and -comers in the industry. Just as important as classmates are professors, who often have some contacts within the industry. For years, UCLA offered a class in its extension school called Screenwriters on Screenwriting, which provided exposure to Hollywood's top writers. Not only was the class a prime opportunity to meet individuals who had 'made it,' but it also provided inspiration for aspiring artists. Classes like these are wonderful for both fueling creative juices and cultivating contacts throughout town.
Temp. There are some entertainment-specific temp agencies, known for placing people in positions in studios or at entertainment companies. Try to find them and get in the door. Some of them will only take you with a referral, but persistence is often the key to getting in. Unlike business jobs where there is an impenetrable rift between professionals and their support staff, a temp position in a creative job could actually land you a full time position.
Intern for free. While not the most appealing track because it is so unattractive (menial labor for no pay), interning can provide you the credibility you need to land a job elsewhere. Make a list of everyone you know and want to target. Write to them. Ask them if there's anything you can do. Ask other interns if they had a good experience. It's always easier to follow in the footsteps of someone who has blazed the path. This is where the cold-calling and faxing into the ether may not be bad. One young aspiring filmmaker landed a job by sending e-mails to over 75 people, and then following up. "Most people didn't even bother responding to me, but one person at a TV studio just happened to be looking for a PA when I inquired. I started work the next Monday." Buy the Hollywood Creative Directory. While expensive for a book (approximately $60) and voluminous (there are several versions), it is a gold mine. "Go get it-NOW" advises one creative executive. Within it are all the names, addresses and phone numbers you'll need to make your initial contacts. Getting to know the names within will familiarize you with the industry, inform your reading of the trades, could score you an internship and give you contacts that could provide a referral or two.
Do at least 10 informational interviews. Leverage alumni networks. Strike up conversations at bars. Go to any conferences or speaker engagements you can find. Get business cards and follow up. Ask people for referrals for informational interviews. In fact, there are many universities that are known for being particularly strong within entertainment -- Northwestern, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, USC, NYU, University of Florida and others. Even if you didn't attend one of these schools, meeting people who did may provide you an entry point into their networks through mixers, parties and other social events.
Offer to contribute script coverage. While many script reading jobs are unionized positions, and they aren't easy to find, it can be a way to break in. Sometimes if a person really likes you but wasn't able to hire you, you should ask if you can do some coverage to make a little money on the side. That said, keep in mind that script coverage does not pay tons of money -- scripts typically pay about $50 each.
Get into an agency. Talent agencies, while brutal, have lines of job seekers not unlike the DMV. If you are lucky to eventually get an interview once you fill out an employment application, you may be given the opportunity to start in the mail room. Tale the job. It is both an entry point as well as a way to meet people that you may not have exposure to otherwise. Often the human resources group can be found by calling information and having them direct you (believe us, you won't be the first), or simply showing up with your resume, being directed to the office and filling out an application form. Of course, an appointment is always best, but if you look groomed, persistent and promising, they may ask you to come back for an interview.
Leverage your alumni network. This is one of the most important resources you can use. Schools often have lists of many alumni in a given industry. Ask your alumni office for a copy. When you meet people, take them to coffee or lunch. Try to find out as much as you can about a person beforehand -- that makes conversation easier, and it's easier these days with the Internet. Get to the point, and ask them if there's anyone else they can recommend, or if they would mind you getting in touch with them or someone in their office soon. Whenever you follow up, always have something interesting to say about some new lead that you've found -- there's nothing more annoying than people who keep pestering a few contacts for a job without any indication that they're making things happen for themselves.
Leverage any network you can. Make friends who may have access to information. Prod people about what they're doing, where they came from, if there's anyone you could talk to. The industry still circulates the acclaimed and notorious UTA job list, which originated from the United Talent Agency, one of Hollywood's biggest agencies. The best way to find this list is by befriending someone who works at a talent agency. Know the trades. Pore over the trade periodicals (Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Billboard, Publishers Weekly, to a lesser degree Premiere and Movieline) to get a sense of all the key players in the field you're interested in. Know the trades inside and out so that you are on top of what movies get made, what TV projects are in development, who the hot new music acts are, what manuscripts are in play at the top publishing houses, and most of all, if there are any openings that mean opportunities for you.
Go to film school. While an expensive endeavor, and a difficult one (acceptance rates are often in the single digits for programs like the American Film Institute, NYU Film School, UCLA Film School, and USC School of Cinema & Television), film school can provide valuable contacts, not only in the form of an alumni network, on-campus speakers, and job-hunting, but also in the form of companionship with dozens of classmates all entering the creative industry with aspirations of fame and fortune. While full-time film school programs are often the most rewarding, there are also numerous smaller, less expensive programs, which may not lend much in the way of credibility, but will likely help you create a reel, demo tape or portfolio.