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Even today, after over 30 years working in the film industry, I still get people saying to me: Show me your resume. Can I see what you have done.

Fortunately I have a body of work that can speak for itself. But what of the old conundrum: To get work you need experience. To get experience, you need work?

Young filmmakers, directors, screenwriters and actors have always faced this dilemma. And in today's shrinking markets, established professionals like myself also face this on a daily basis. Whether it is to be laid off, or to be replaced by someone cheaper or simply made redundant by one of the new digital production technologies, older and younger film workers everywhere are constantly battling to make themselves marketable in a changing landscape.

My good friend Simon Hunter was waiting at his agents office in LA at the end of last year, when in walked Frank Durabont asking if there were any commercials going. Imagine that! An Oscar winning director of feature films trying to earn a bit from a lowly commercial.

Whether you are starting out, or whether you are established and trying to strengthen your position in the job market, you can get around the Catch 22 of work and experience by using some creative action and energy.

Here's how I did it:

I went to art school in Toronto and then headed over to London without a single contact. I managed to get work at the BBC as a stage hand, during which time I applied for every single job I could at the Beeb: from Head of News, to Scenic Artist. I never ever got promoted, and it wasn't until years later that I found out from a career Beeber that the rules of promotion are so strict and class conscious that I didn't have a chance of being promoted out of stage hand into a so-called creative job.

However, life led me back to Canada where I ended up being interviewed for a job as a scenic artist. The questions I had been asked in my abortive BBC interviews, and the answers I was forced to give served me in good stead.

Then came the tricky part. Part of the interview was a skills test and I was asked to hang a fancy wallpaper onto a set. Having hung wallpaper for my mum a few times I had a vague idea of how the job was done, so I asked: "I know how they hang it in London England, but how do they do it here?" The examiner, a crusty scenic artist, sighed and demonstrated with me watching carefully. Fortunately I was able to repeat the process and presto became a professional scenic artist without any previous experience.

After a few years of doing this, and wanting a change, I decided to use my organisational skills and get a job as a hi tech project manager. In film you would call this the line producer. At the time I had no particular interest in working on another film - I had already painted on 68 features and over 700 commercials and couldn't really see any other role for me in film.

Imagine my surprise when no scientific or media company could see the relevance a successful scenic art career had in the world of hi tech project development.

I met an entrepreneurial type with a scientific research company with 'numerous projects in various stages of development' at a a party, and convinced him to hire me for a month. The pay was going to be a job title. My job was to find him new business. He couldn't afford to hire anyone at the time. If I could get him just two appointments in a month, I would get a reference letter with: Elliot Grove, Assistant Project Manager" on the card. Which is what happened.

With that reference, and his recommendations, I landed a series of exciting jobs running R&D computer and scientific projects including early IBM computer clones, the Gnosis Medical Systems project which launched the Tens Pain Control devices and the Canada Space Arm Project.

The British Independent Film Awards were launched when a wanna-be-intern by the name of Fred Hogge pestered me to death to allow him to work at Raindance - he even threw himself to his knees at my feet until I relented. He had such excellent computer and communication skills that after a few weeks I could see he needed a new challenge, and he took my idea of the British Independent Film Awards and made it the premiere film event of the year in the UK.

Every single person working at Raindance has started off as a volunteer - and demonstrated their ability, and made themselves indispensible, followed by a salary.

How can you use my strategy and get out of the Catch 22 of no experience - no work - no experience?

Look for a company with a great idea and no money to make it happen

Or

Get a great idea for a company

Then

Approach the company and offer to work for the company until this idea starts generating cash hopefully to pay you.

Be very specific about what your boundaries are.

Be certain they realise you are not there as an intern or work experience person to fetch coffee or run errands - you are there in a position, equivalent in status to every other employee in every respect except salary.

Be very clear about the value that you need to receive in kind: it is for your resume, and be clear about the type of wording that you want on the resume. Compensation is about value received for value given - and you're thinking too narrowly if you define value only in monetary terms.

Be clear about the length of your engagement. Make sure your commitment does not keep you from looking for other paid work. If you have another job, make very sure it doesn't interfere with your commitments to this job.

Are you going to be too proud, or throw the rulebook at me for offering your services for no charge?

Get real and get a grip. This is the only way you can gain real industry experience that you can add to your resume, the experience you will need to get a job with a pay check.

Elliot Grove
Elliot Grove founded Raindance as a thought experiment: Can you make a film with no money, no training and no experience, he asked? When people like his first intern Edgar Wright started making movies he started the Raindance Film Festival to celebrate their work in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998. Elliot has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 (1997) was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America. In 2006 he produced the multiple-award winning The Living and the Dead.
In 2013 he relaunched the production arm: Raw Talent with the cult film director Ate de Jong. Their first venture was the psychological thriller Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. finished late 2013.

watch an interview with elliot at the Independent filmmaker's Ball

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy_70CiLlEA

Here you can watch the 2015 BIFA's from the red carpet to all the awards. Elliot's interview is at 1:27:00

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008), Raindance Producers' Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking (Focal Press 2013) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). He was awarded a PhD in 2009 for services to film education. His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

Elliot teaches several courses at Raindance including Lo To No Budget Filmmaking and Writer's Foundation Certificate.

Read articles by Elliot Grove.

26 thoughts on “How To Get Film Work Without Experience

  1. It's great to hear your experiences and tips! But how about working at financing and/or distribution organisations? I think this sector is too overshadowed by the production line!

  2. u are a great man I want to teach somthin first off all I will introduce my selaf my name dawit habtom I born in eritrea but now I live as a refuge in israel so I want to work a film I have no expreience so how I can work may u helped my adress dawit_habtom@yahoo.com at facebook.

  3. This article is very true. That's the ONLY way to make it. It's sad, but true. The wealthy make their coins on the backs of slaves. Always has been, and probably always will be.

  4. Good story. When it works. For every success story there are thousands of fails. It should be simpler. You go to school learn and they should hook you up with work. But it doesn't work that way. It's go to school get a degree then on your own you are. I remember graduating with a pre law degree and the only job offers were pest control. Wtf. I went to a university to do a job a non high school graduate can do. This is what the white world does. Suppress minorities. Back to school I went to get a film degree. After graduating finding work was impossible. No one would hire a fresh faced kid out of school. I volunteered. After six months it was impossible to live with no money. What these ppl who say volunteer are leaving out is money. How did they live with no paycheck. Film is a cliche. 99% are family passings. I'm a director here son you can be a director. Leaving the film school grad out. Wanna make a movie let's use the same ppl over and over. It's a pipe dream for the very lucky. You have a better chance at becoming a star on YouTube. As a matter of fact that's where a lot of b and c actors went.

  5. Great story! The "I need experience, but have no experience" catch 22 can be very frustrating for beginners. I wrote a similar article recently, where I interviewed industry veterans from NY, LA and the U.K. and tell the story of how each of them started out and how they found their first jobs.
    "Getting Started in the Film and Video Production Industry"
    https://medium.com/helioscene-blog/getting-started-in-the-film-and-video-production-industry-7471584e31ea

  6. – The more you network with people who hire for free the less likely you will meet quality employers who pay professional wages.

    -Any university or film school with pride and accreditation would not encourage this practice. You're educated. You have skills. Don't underestimate yourself because you're starting out. You deserve more then a free lunch.

    – Do your research, find a good employer (a studio, a union, a production company with good references and promotional opportunities) and work towards a position. Network with THEIR circle.

    – Don't trust anyone who claim to have the ability to make movies free or absurdly low cost. They'll convince you of all kinds of buzz. Making movies for free is the most common scam in "independent" film. These producers make low profits (maybe an award, minimum distribution) but its enough to keep for themselves. And since they don't have to pay anyone, they may make enough to do it again with another bunch of rookies. These "producers" look for ambitious outsiders looking for a foot in the door throwing their business cards around. The state of California Labor Board is packed to the brim with these cases of exploited film makers. I've seen too many talented people burn out early in their career because of these scams.

    Working for free is a waste of your talent, time and worse yet, your energy. Energy feeds your passion. Don't let free work cloaked in Emperor's Clothing take that away from you. Plus DUH, IT'S ILLEGAL! Be patient, take pride in yourself, be smart, "if you're kind and work hard amazing things will happen."

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/interns-win-huge-victory-labor-566360

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