One year in
One year in the business
I hope this gives you a more informed idea about what to expect in the industry going forward. Remember, I was a film student too, I studied at UCA and I’m one year into my career. I’ve started working my way through the locations department and hopefully this will shed some light on the reality of the industry and just how tough it can be.
I graduated last year and due to my position as a student warden I managed to gain free accommodation for the summer looking after the universities summer school children. Whilst living there I gained work experience for a locations library that was located just up the road from me, initially I did three days but after trawling through Facebook, indeed C.V library etc and receiving no responses for any of the film related jobs, I decided to go back and just build experience. I had no rent or bills, so it made no difference really as I was being paid for being a warden.
After a while they decided to pay me some money, so naturally I stayed. I ended up sourcing and scouting locations for fashion shoots, film, television and T.V adverts, one was for the forthcoming Rocket man and another for The ABC murders which aired over Christmas.
The company I was working for had several projects lined up but sadly none of them arose to production stage though some are still being worked on. By this time, I’d been at the company for the whole summer and I began sending out my C.V to the location managers I’d got to know whilst managing the library.
After about 3 weeks of e-mails, I landed my first job as location marshal on a Kira Knightley film, I can’t disclose which one yet, as I’m still sworn to silence, but this is where I began to learn how the industry really worked. Luckily my bosses were lovely and totally flexible so let me go out when I could.
Most of you newbies are probably going to start out as ‘dailies’ i.e. the production will bring you in for one day at a time on an ‘as and when basis’. I asked my boss at the library for advice, made sure I was ready and on my first ever day I did all of the following:
I had my radio on the wrong channel so I couldn’t be contacted.
I ended up in shot whilst trying to get someone to move out of a suspended parking bay. Luckily, they weren’t rolling but I was holding up the show, very unprofessional.
Now, I honestly thought my career was over, the scare stories you hear are quite something, however fear not, in my opinion, to never work again in this business, you’d have to do something pretty F*cking stupid or, be such an arse to work with that no one wants to employ you again, which by the way, I’ve seen happen, to one person who didn’t get invited back to the another production, the reason I know this is because I saw him on something else.
So, we moved from one location to the next and I worked my ass off to make up for earlier, I made sure I always carrying or helping move something, making sure I was busy more importantly, I asked for things to do. Now apparently simply asking for things to do went a long way as it landed me another 10 days on the same production as a unit assistant.
I was up at 3am in the morning for 5 days straight, driving for an hour to get to the unit base in Wimbledon, setting it up, pouring diesel into heaters, making sure there was a hot tea urn and then doing a 12-hour day between the base and set. The first day I showed up, the generator broke meaning we had about 45 minutes to get power running to the crowd tent so hair and make-up could be done, not the stress you want at at 4am but luckily the unit manager knew what to do. So be nice to people, otherwise you might not get the help you need.
Since this production, I’ve worked for Warner Bros, Marvel Sky T.V and Netflix. This industry does reward hard work and the right attitude.
Now the hard bit.
Financially I have to say I’ve been broken, I had to use my dad’s inheritance money to pay my rent one month, all my savings are gone and currently I’m overdrawn. I also forgot to pay my congestion charge from a scouting job I did and landed myself £558.00 bill and a visit from an enforcement officer, albeit that’s not the industries fault but when jobs are few and far between at the beginning, this can be a shock.
it’s hard work, very hard work. Being in locations we need to carry so called Easy up tents, the weights to hold them down, signs posts, cones, tea tables, fold away benches, you name it we probably have to carry it so be prepared for some aches and pains. I once carried an easy up about 500 metres and when I arrived at the locations lorry the lorry the driver took off for no reason meaning I had to carry it all the way back to set.
It’s who you know. Yup, it’s who you know, it will take time to build a network however as I say, if you work hard and work well, someone will recommend you, I once received a random phone call from another location manager who needed me for a day but sadly I couldn’t attend, which brings me to my next point.
You need to be available. This isn’t the type of business where you can get a job at Sainsburys and then hand in your notice. Production schedule’s change frequently and so they’ll need you tomorrow, if you can’t rearrange your shift, you aren’t getting the job. Personally, I’d say if you can live with your parents until you find a decent contract, do it. You’re going to face a period of having no money too, if you really want to work in this industry this is something you’re going to face.
Don’t let people down. If you’ve said you’re coming, show up. If you agreed to a BBC drama and then get offered a Marvel film on dates that clash, don’t ditch the BBC, it looks terrible on you and this industry is small, very small. Very quickly you’ll start seeing the same people over and over and people talk. If you ditch one job for the other people will find out. If you’re not available, that’s different it’s quite common for people to be unavailable because they’re working elsewhere, also, this makes you look busy.
So, if that hasn’t put you off here’s some things you’ll need.
A Car: Sometimes you’ll need to drive to a field in the middle of nowhere and you could be miles from a train station, most shoots start early, anything between 5 and 7am. Recently I started at 3am. if you’re shooting in London and live along a tube line you might be O.K. but sometimes you’ll need to go elsewhere. so get a driving license.
A Leatherman: This is a tool of the trade. It’s a multi tool / pocket knife, almost everyone I know in the business carries one and they’re so useful, I urge you to spend a day on set without one, and then bring it on the next day. You’ll wonder why you never had one in general. £69.95 in any decent hardware store. Get mum and dad to buy you one as a graduation present.
Contacts and experience: It's who you know and experience. If you’ve had guest lecturers come in from the industry and you haven’t badgered them for work experience of some kind or gone and worked for expenses only on another short, you might you find you struggle after graduation. I made sure I had this on my C.V before I left university and it still took me around 7 months to find myself my first job and that was with professional work experience.
Always say thank you. If someone replies but has nothing to offer, just reply and say thanks for letting me know. You’re going to experience a lot of non replies so when you do get one just say thanks regardless of whether there’s a job or not.
Worry about you: You’re bound to see other people from your year succeeding ahead of you, one guy in my year got straight onto the Crown, why ? because his sister was an MUA who put him in touch with the D.P who gave him his first job, and good for him too. Don’t worry about it, focus on your career, not someone else’s.
Waterproofs: invest in a decent jacket, waterproof trousers and shoes. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. Honestly though, this is 100% worth the money, North Face, Jack Wolfskin etc do some really good stuff.
Don’t complain: it's cold, it’s raining, you’re tired, guess what ? Everyone else is cold wet and tired too, get used to it, you’ll only end looking up like you don’t really want to be there.
Well if I haven’t scared you off then clearly the industry is for you. I honestly drive home and I’m still excited to turn up the next day despite all of the above. So far, I’d say I’ve had a very positive experience but that doesn’t mean the negatives won’t come at some point.
Good luck and see you on a set some day