Unfortunately I graduated college in 2010 at the height of the great recession. Jobs were scarce and I was scared. I had just spent four years working toward a degree in a bad economy with no leads. I had spent so much time focused on getting through college and living the college lifestyle I hadn’t put much focus on what would happen after graduation let alone how to get production assistant jobs.
I knew I needed to make something happen quickly so I came up with a process that got me results — this is the same tactic I used when reaching out to the filmmakers in this post.
If you’re in interested in what production assistants do on a day to day basis, check out this video:
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
- How to get a production assistant job
- How to be a production assistant
- How to get connections in the industry with the right people
- Where to look for the right connections
- What tools I use to automate this process
- How to make the best impression
- What’s the difference between film production assistant jobs, tv production assistant jobs, and set production assistant jobs?
HOW TO BECOME A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
When I graduated, I had the dream of getting production assistant jobs. I’ve always had this dream, but never felt it was realistic. Even though Oregon has had a booming film economy for the last ten years, I always felt the roles in the production field were filled by graduates from USC or NYU, not the University of Oregon.
Thankfully, I took a class after college from UO and was convinced by a counselor that I needed to give it a shot. If not now, when?
The thing about the entertainment industry, and all industries, is that 80% of the time positions are not filled by those applying through a website. As I’m sure you’ve heard a hundred times: it’s not about what you know, it’s who you know. I heard this repeatedly, but didn’t think twice about it.
Since I didn’t know anyone in the production industry, I never thought I had a chance getting in. Networking was foreign to me.
INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS ARE THE BEST WAY TO GET FILM PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOBS
People hire people, not resumes. This is a concept that took me far too long to understand, and most likely has held me back in one way or another.
Informational interview? I had never heard of it until four years ago.
But now I’ve had so many I truly couldn’t list them all off the top of my head. Informational interviews were a godsend for me. I felt like I was getting a backstage pass while everyone else was stuck at the front of the line, submitting resume after resume.
An informational interview is pretty much a one-on-one meeting with someone in the industry where you can ask about their job and the business. This is an incredibly effective way to get face time with people in the entertainment industry and learn more about the steps you can take to get there.
Production assistant jobs are extremely competitive, so the best way to get your name out there is through informational interviews. Your objections might be:
- I’m not good with people.
- How do I even connect with these people?
- What if I’m flustered? I’ll be so embarrassed..
- What if they say no?
- These people are busy, they don’t want to meet with me.
I know you’re thinking these things because I had these same thoughts. I struggled for a long time to put myself out there and I regret not getting started earlier. This is a quote I wish I had read much earlier:
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” – Tim Ferriss
This is an important quote to me because it made me understand that this process wouldn’t be comfortable. Keep in mind — the more you do it, the better you’ll get. If you want to succeed in this business you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The best way to do this is meeting with professionals in public in a controlled environment.
Here are the exact templates and tactics I used to reach out to professionals, and how I stayed on top of each meeting.
The best place to start is your local film directory. Directories are an amazing resource for reaching out to contacts — these people are listed in the directory because they want to be contacted. No, not everyone will be listed in the directory. But, this is going to give you a huge head start.
Below I’ve included links to every state directory in the US. (If there’s a broken link, or something you think should be added, please let me know.)
New Hampshire: http://www.nh.gov/film/
New Jersey: http://www.state.nj.us/state/njfilm/index.html
New Mexico: http://nm.reel-scout.com/crew_login.aspx
New York: http://nysfilm.com
North Carolina: http://nc.reel-scout.com/crew_login.aspx
North Dakota: http://www.ndtourism.com/information/north-dakota-film-production
Rhode Island: http://www.film.ri.gov/
South Carolina: http://sc.reel-scout.com/crew_login.aspx
South Dakota: http://www.filmsd.com/
West Virginia: http://wv.reel-scout.com/crew_login.aspx
From here, open your preferred category, which will give you a list that looks something like this:
The next tactic should NOT be used to spam people. I repeat, do not mass email these folks. Take the time to research each of these people and craft each email accordingly.
This should be used to shave time off of unnecessary copy and pasting. That being said, this will really speed up your productivity so you have more time to research & craft your emails. When I reach this page I use a Google Chrome plugin called Email Extractor.
It’s an incredibly handy tool that pulls all the emails listed in the tab you currently have open. It’s a fairly straight forward install, but if you need help, here’s a quick tutorial to check out.
Once you have the Email Extractor plugin installed, click the icon to the right of the address bar, which will automatically compile the emails in one place:
Copy all the emails in the Email Extractor box.
Create a simple four column spreadsheet and paste the email addresses.
Since we’ve been able to free up a little time, use these extra minutes to do proper research on those you will be reaching out to. The directory you’re using should post any relevant links to the person’s website or work. If there are no links, a quick Google search should bring up ample bits and pieces if the person is legitimate in the industry.
If you still can’t find anything, use the fantastic email plugin, Reporative. Reporative will automatically pull up any social networks associated with an email address. Say for example, you plugged my email address into the “Recipients” field for Gmail, it’s able to pull not only my LinkedIn account, but my IMDb page:
This is going to be huge if you want to compliment them, ask about specific experiences, projects, etc. It’s also a great way to validate that you’re reaching out to the correct person. Keep in mind that the emails listed on these directories are not always affiliated with the person’s social network, but when it is, it will give you a huge leg up.
As a side note, lifehacker has a great video about using Reporative to track down people that don’t publicly list their email addresses. I’ve used this to great success to track down producers who don’t want their information listed. It does take some trial and error, and doesn’t always work, but if you really want an informational interview with a specific person you can’t track down, I would give it a shot.
CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
We want our emails to be personal, but not stalkerish. I dug up some emails I used for outreach. Needless to say, they’re less than perfect. I’ve attached a screenshot here because I want to emphasize that I did not have experience reaching out to professionals, and that’s okay. The following email is to the producer of a pretty popular TV show:
This email was decent, but there are a couple things I would fine tune if I were to do do it again. Here is how I would write it today:
Dear Mr. ___________,
I’m a recent graduate from the University of Oregon and am incredibly interested in the production industry. I came across your name under the Producer section of Source Oregon directory. [People want to know how you came across them, there’s a chance I came off as a stalker in the first email.] I’m currently interning at ___________, but know I have a lot more to learn. [When producers are hiring, they never want a PA with a big head. They have enough to worry about, a little humility can go a long way.] I’m very interested in becoming a producer, and was hoping to get your career advice for 15 – 20 minutes. [These are very, very busy people you are contacting. Their time is their most precious commodity. By capping the meeting to 20 minutes they are much more likely to say yes.] I can meet with you at your office, or coffee nearby – whatever is most convenient for you. [Did I mention they don’t have a lot of time?] Would you be able to meet? [Busy people can reply to this with a simple yes or no.] Thanks so much, I really appreciate your time.
When I started this process for the first time, I was ecstatic. I spent countless hours researching and sending emails. I really hyped myself up the first few days and waited for the avalanche of responses.
Guess what? They didn’t come. People are busy. People forget. Don’t take it personally.
What you need to plan for is the follow up. In the spreadsheet I screencapped earlier, you’ll notice I had a column for “date email sent.” This is great if you’re looking at your spreadsheet daily, but there is actually a quicker, automated tool that helps me keep track of following up with potential informational interviews.
I use a free tool called Boomarang, which will enhance your Gmail inbox. Boomarang does a ton of stuff, but we’ll be using it primarily for follow ups and email tracking. The email tracking lets you know if your emails are actually being opened by the recipients, which can be a blessing and a curse.
The great thing about Boomarang is that you can set reminders to follow up if you aren’t getting replies from your prospects. Trust me, there will be plenty of people that won’t reply to your initial email. The program installation is very straight-forward and, once it’s installed, you’ll easily see the Boomarang buttons below the normal Gmail icons when you open a blank email template.
As you can see, the program allows you to set conditions for your reminders. Personally, I like to set a weekly reminder if I don’t hear back from the prospect. A week gives people enough time to respond at their leisure, and enough time has passed so you don’t appear pushy.
So, when you send your initial email set, the feature to “Boomarang” in one week if there is no reply. All of this can be done at the very bottom of the email. If your prospect does not reply to your initial email, Boomarang will bounce the email back to your inbox.
This automation is a huge time saver when conducting outreach for informational interviews. Instead of spending time tracking when you sent the email on a calendar, you can set your parameters in Boomarang and focus on creating a quality experience for the potential interviewee.
As I said earlier, there will be a lot of cases where people simply forget about your request for an interview. I would follow up with something as simple as this:
Dear Mr. _________,
I wanted to follow up regarding an email I sent you last week about an informational interview. I know you must be incredibly busy, but I would love an opportunity to meet and talk about your experience. Please let me know if you can schedule a short meeting or if I should touch base at another time.
Thanks so much,
Most of the time people will respond to the first follow up email. Either they forgot or have been really busy, but a follow up will usually make them feel guilty for not responding the first time. Set a reminder once again, just in case there is still no response.
I would still keep the reminder at a week, on the chance they’re on vacation, etc. As I said earlier, Boomarang will let you know whether your emails are being opened and read. If you would like to include this feature when you are sending a message, click the blue question mark envelope at the bottom of the email.
Once you’ve sent the email, you can keep tabs on whether the recipient has actually opened it. This is incredibly helpful if you’re worried your emails aren’t being read. To check and see whether or not they are being read, follow these four easy steps:
Step 1: Click the Boomarang icon at the top of your Gmail account.
Step 2: Click “Manage scheduled messages.”
Step 3: Click “Tracked Messages” on the far right of the top bar.
This will take you to the tracking page where you can see what emails have or have not been read. For the messages that have been read, there will be an icon to the far right that reads “Details.”
Step 4: Click the “Details” tab.
The details will give you a breakdown of when your email was first read, how many times it was read, and when it was last read. All valuable information to make sure your emails are getting through to your prospective interviewees.
If you still haven’t heard back, I would follow up with a third and final email that sounds like this:
Dear Mr. _________,
I wanted to check in one last time to see if you would be available for a quick informational interview. If not, no problem. I would love to hear from you either way.
Now, it might sound pushy to contact a person three times, but it strikes a good balance… and, as my dad likes to say, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” But anything past three is excessive. If you have sent three emails, and you can see in your Boomarang toolbar that your emails have been read, that is a dead lead. At that point, focus on the rest of your leads.
Getting a response after all your hard work is incredibly exciting. When I sent the email I used as an example earlier, this was the response I received two days later:
That was it. Two sentences. I was ecstatic.
It wasn’t his assistant, it was him – and he was willing to let me sit in a room and pick his brain. What I’ve come to learn since this email exchange is how valuable a producer’s time is. The fact that this guy was willing to spend a half hour answering an aspiring production assistant’s questions was huge. I don’t think I fully realized that at the time.
To actually get into a room with him took 16 emails back and forth, but it happened, but only because I was organized and strategic. He gave me a full hour to dive in and ask about the industry, and how he was able to get to where he is in his career.
Since you’ll be working to accommodate their schedule, make sure the location is convenient for them. A coffee at a nearby coffee shop or their actual office are sure bets. Always offer to buy the coffee.
It’s very hard to actually convince them to let you pay, but it shows you’re willing. These are the questions I consistently used on each interview, but tailor your questions to each person.
- What’s the best tip you’ve ever received?
- Were there any books you can recommend?
- What do you wish you knew when you started?
- Where do you see the industry heading?
- How should I invest my time this early in my career?
- Question about a specific project or skill
- Are there any other people in the industry you can refer me to?
I’ve bolded the last question because it’s key. Once you can start getting names from people you’ve met with, you can really start building your own network. The reason I landed my first gig on a network TV show is from the informational interview I’ve been referencing.
It wasn’t from this interview itself, but he gave me the name and email of a production manager. I was able to leverage my interviewee’s name in the subject line to the production manager who gave me the job. Once you start reaching out to referrals from the people you interview, I suggest always using the subject line, “Referred to you by __________.” It’s attention grabbing, and lets them know you at least know someone in common.
Everything I covered here should be enough to give you a huge head start against your peers. Remember to not come off as overbearing and to give these meetings your full attention. When you meet with someone, remember they’re giving you their time.
In return give them a great time with you. When I started my interviews I was incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s something that you get better at over time. Like anything, the more time and effort you put into these informational interviews, the bigger the benefits.
You need to take action. Don’t just download these plugins and look through the directories. Make a schedule, devote a couple hours a day, and hustle.
This process is going to be a grind. It’s going to be hard, and you will get rejected. Don’t focus on the rejections, focus on the wins. You will get wins. Keep in mind this is a 50/50 game, so EXPECT to get as many wins as losses. If you want to land some production assistant jobs, this is what it takes.
Go out and start this right NOW. I would love to hear from you in the comments. Let me know what worked, and what didn’t — include any tips you think are worth sharing.