10 Tips for Students Who Want to Work in the Film Industry

10 Tips for Students Who Want to Work in the Film Industry
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There have always been plenty of people who want to work in the film industry.  Some do what it takes to have a long, productive career in film production, and some move on when they realize that the business is not all what they expected.

I’m writing this post for students and young people who know they want to work in the film industry.  It isn’t an easy business to be in, but it can be creatively and financially rewarding if you’re cut out for it.

(Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means I make a small commission from any purchase you make, at no additional cost to you.)

Here are ten tips for students who want to work in the film industry:

  1. Start networking now.

Yes, it’s great that you’re connecting with other students, but you can and should be attending events with industry pros now.  For years, I helped organize industry events as a part of a trade organization, and we often invited students to attend, but few bothered to show up.

That’s a missed opportunity to meet and network with industry professionals who could be your future employers.  They want to meet the next generation coming up in the industry, and you want to meet people who can help you establish your career.

So what are you waiting for?

Our industry is all about making and keeping up with contacts, so commit to attending some networking events.

  1. Understand the difference between working as a freelance employee and an independent contractor.

As a film industry freelancer, you can work as an independent contractor who receives no benefits and is responsible for paying taxes, or an employee who has taxes taken out of their paycheck and receives benefits.

In the film industry, the category you fit into usually depends on your union status.

When I started out in the industry years ago as a production assistant, I was an independent contractor.  I received a flat daily rate and received a 1099 rather than a W-2 form for my earnings.  P.A. work may be your first paying industry job, so expect to work as an independent contractor.

Now I’m a DGA member, so I’m a freelance employee, with federal and state tax, FICA, Medicare, and a pension contribution deducted from my paycheck.  Once union members qualify through time worked, they’re eligible for health care through their union.

Understanding these distinctions will help you plan financially and price your services accordingly.

Keep a careful record of your business expenses, too, as many of them are tax-deductible.

  1. Learn as much as you can about what each department does on set.

No matter where you want to end up in the industry, you should understand what each department on set does.  Filmmaking is a collaborative endeavor, so no matter what area of the industry you choose, you’ll be working with other people.

You need to know how what you’re doing fits in with everyone else’s work on set.  Watch, ask questions when appropriate, and learn.

  1. Go the extra mile.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Go the extra mile.  The road is never crowded.”  It’s true.

There’s no better way to make yourself stand out than to do more than what’s asked.  People who do are always in demand, and there aren’t that many of them out there.

Return calls, emails, and texts promptly.  As a freelancer, nothing will piss off the contacts you’ve so painstakingly made as not returning messages.  People may want a recommendation on someone to hire or need information.

Make yourself look good by taking the time to respond to inquiries as soon as possible.

  1. Take care of your health and your body.

We work some brutal hours in our industry, and it’s crucial to take care of ourselves.  You’ll feel your body breaking down quickly if you don’t get enough sleep and don’t eat well.  The stress we experience in our industry takes a toll, too.

Get comfortable, supportive shoes like Orthofeet to save your feet and back.  Try to sit down for a few minutes when you can.

Staying healthy isn’t always easy in our industry, so be proactive about it.

  1. Practice safety on set at all times.

Safety lapses on set can cost lives, as we witnessed recently with the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the film Rust.  There’s no show that’s worth someone being injured or killed.

We all need to pay attention during safety meetings on set.  If anyone ever asks you to do something unsafe, you should refuse.  Time pressure and poor planning are no excuse for safety lapses.

  1. Take available industry courses and seminars to further your education.

I’m constantly getting emails about industry courses and seminars.  Many of them are via Zoom, which means they’re not location-specific and are open to participants anywhere.

If there’s one good thing to come out the pandemic, it’s the proliferation of continuing online education in our industry.  We should all be taking advantage of that.

If you join IATSE or one of the guilds, you’ll have even more opportunities to learn new skills through online courses.

Our industry is constantly changing.  Take advantage of some of the courses and seminars out there to keep expanding your skills.

  1. Learn about the various industry unions and guilds.

IATSE has numerous locals representing the craftspeople who work on set.  Then there’s the DGA, the WGA, and SAG-AFTRA.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with them, as at some point you may end up joining a union.  Markets like Los Angeles are heavily unionized, so union membership is a must if you want a career there.

IATSE locals and the guilds can be expensive to join, but you do get the benefits of healthcare and a pension with enough qualifying hours.

Decide the market you want to be in early on, so you’ll know if you’ll need to join a union and can plan accordingly.

  1. Watch what you say on set.

Gone are the days when raunchy talk and crude jokes were the norms on set.  Today it’s essential to keep your communication professional.

That goes for your emails and phone conversations, too.  Sexual harassment claims have brought down some industry heavy hitters, and it’s a reminder that we all need to be aware of how we communicate with others.

You may have already used Grammarly for school projects.  If not, sign up for free here to ensure all your written communication stays professional and grammatically correct.

  1. Guard your reputation and be mindful of what you post on social media.

As a freelancer, you build your career with a solid reputation of being professional and reliable.  Using social media carelessly can tarnish what you’ve worked so hard to build.

Social media can be a helpful tool in building your career if you use it wisely.  It can be a wrecking ball on your career if you don’t.

Think before posting.


Those are some of the main things I believe you should know as a student who wants to work in the film industry.  The industry needs committed, reliable people as the next generation of professionals who will move the industry forward.

So I hope to see you at a future networking event.

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