Film School vs. The Real World: Part II (Thanks to Tim)

Hey, everyone–

Wanted to give a shout-out to Tim, and direct everyone to the comment he posted in response to yesterday’s “Film School vs. the Real World” post.  I had talked about two options for post-college life and breaking into Hollywood, and Tim adds…

OPTION #3:  Assuming that you have the $20,000+ a year to be able to afford
grad school, you use that money instead to rent an apartment, and do
unpaid internships to make viable connections in the entertainment
industry. Interning a couple days a week will still leave you plenty of
time to write, and the connections you make will give you a better
chance to break into the biz.”

This is great advice (thank you, Tim!).  In fact, I would add two things…

THING #1: Even if you don’t have $20,000+, GET AN INTERNSHIP.  Internships are probably the best path to a full-time job.  Interns on film and TV sets get bumped up to P.A.’s.  Interns in offices and agencies become assistants.  Most internships don’t pay, of course… which means if you may need to get a real job as well.  So get a night or weekend job waiting tables, running concessions at a theater, whatever you need to do. 

(By the way– I am not suggesting you become a waiter who then spends his days writing screenplays in Starbucks, hoping to “pound out” [gag] the next American Gangster, and get discovered.  Don’t become one of those.  Ever.  I’m suggesting you get a night job– any night job– so you can support yourself as you intern for free at a legitimate company during the day, learning ropes, making contacts, etc.  Hopefully, that internship will soon lead to a paid gig, and you can ditch your job at AMC or Spanish Kitchen.)

Know this, however… in California, you may have an additional problem.  Labor laws require all workers to be paid in either money or college credit.  And since most internships are unpaid, they only give college credit.  Which means you usually must be an enrolled student in order to get an internship.  (I do a lot of internship placement with my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, and have gone through hours of dealing with this over the last year.)

This means if you’re not a current college student, you have a problem.  Fortunately, there’s a way around it.  You can often enroll yourself in an one- or two-credit class at a local community college for little money, then use that to get your internship.  I’ve heard people often do this with Santa Monica College here in L.A. (although I don’t personally know anyone who’s done it, so you’re on your own for figuring it out.  Still– it shouldn’t be hard).

I know this means you’ll be, essentially, PAYING in order to work for free, but the truth is… you’re paying for A) practical experience you can’t get in any class, B) contacts and relationships you otherwise wouldn’t have access to, and C) a foot in the door that should, hopefully, lead you to your first paying gig and a long career in Hollywood.

THING #2: Even if you do go to grad school, you should absolutely– without a doubt– do as many internships as possible.  This will start to give you some of the relationships and practical knowledge you won’t get in the film school… the credit you receive will push you closer to graduation… and– assuming tuition, room, and board are covered– it’s the one time in your life you’ll be able to work for free and not have to worry about where your next meal’s coming from.  When I was at UCLA, I did internships at E!, Fried Films at Sony Pictures, the now-defunct A.S.K. Theater Project, and the Academy Awards.

Lastly, some internship-hunting resources…

•  This post from January, on how to contact TV shows directly, gives some good tips and resources
•  This post, on getting a PA gig, also lists great resources

I also recommend just contacting directly shows or companies you want to work for.  The two posts listed above should help you do that.

Good luck!

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