READER QUESTION: How Do Recent College Graduates Break In To Hollywood?

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Hey, screenwriters—

Today’s mailbag question comes from Zane, a college student who writes:

“Do you know of any good opportunities in Hollywood for recent graduates? I have a strong interest in the industry, but am not sure of the best method to start my career. I am considering other work options and then getting an MBA, after which I might come back to my search in Hollywood.”

Well, Zane, you’ve come to the right place. I love helping college students, and I actually run an alumni networking organization, Vandy-in-Hollywood, for my own alma mater, Vanderbilt University. So I’ll tell you what I tell those students…

First of all, getting a job in Hollywood is almost always about contacts and relationships more than resumes and grade point averages. So unless your uncle runs Paramount or your sister has a hit TV show, your first step is to put yourself in places and situations where you can rub elbows and meet people who can help you. Which basically means… MOVE TO LOS ANGELES.

Unlike other jobs, where recruiters and interviewers come to college campuses, hire young employees, then give them time to move to the new city, Hollywood jobs rarely hire you unless you are currently living in L.A.. This is because when you’re hired, most employers want you to start asap. As in, tomorrow. Or in a couple days. Which doesn’t work if you’re living somewhere else, and many out-of-towners flake out before actually showing up.

Secondly, be prepared to start at the bottom. Almost everyone who starts in Hollywood begins as an assistant of some kind—usually a production assistant (or P.A.), which means you’ll be fetching coffee, running errands, making copies, stocking the fridge, etc. It’s grunt work no one else wants to do, but it allows you to observe the industry, learn how things happen, and—perhaps most importantly—network and make contacts. You’ll meet everyone from other entry-level P.A.’s and executive/administrative assistants to agents, producers, and executives. You can learn more about getting a P.A. job in THIS POST from a few months ago.

Thirdly, know what you want to do. If you don’t, which is fine, know what you DON’T want to do. Many college students make the mistake of saying, “I’ll do anything,” which makes you just about the LEAST HIREABLE PERSON ON THE PLANET. Employers want to hire people who are focused and ambitious, who will pour their heart and soul into even the most basic job because they intend to use it as a stepping stone. And while students often worry that being specific about their dreams and goals will close off certain opportunities, employers rarely want to hire the person who is simply willing to “do anything.”

Having said this, many young people genuinely aren’t sure what they want to do, and that's okay. But spend some time thinking about it. A good place to start is thinking about what you DON’T want to do. For instance, if you know you have no desire to work in television, or with costume designers, or in special effects, eliminate jobs that point you down those career paths. Think about what kinds of entertainment you like best. Do you prefer comedy over drama? Independent films over blockbusters? Adaptations over original material? See where your likes and dislikes take you, and while you may not be ready to say, “I want to do set design for low-budget period films,” you MAY find you’re able to say, “I know I like reality shows and documentaries, and I prefer cable channels to networks.” That helps you begin finding your focus and telling employers what you want.

Having said all this, Zane, I realize I haven’t REALLY answered your question. Which is: “Do you know of any good opportunities in Hollywood for recent graduates?”

So let’s get to that.

HERE is a link to a post that lists some good job-hunting websites and strategies (it's the same link as above, if you've already been to it).

Another great way to get your foot in the door is to get an internship, which basically means you’ll be working for college credit instead of a paycheck. Unfortunately, California makes it tough for recent grads to get internships, because state law requires you to get EITHER money or college credit… and since most internships are unpaid, you must receive credit… which is tough if you’re already graduated. However, you can sometimes persuade your school to “not graduate you” for a few months so you can receive credit for the internship. Or, enroll part-time in a local community college, like Santa Monica College, where you can often pay less than a hundred dollars to receive one hour of internship credit.

HERE is a link to another recent post about internships.

Lastly, Zane, I’ll say this… an MBA will only help you in Hollywood in a handful of jobs, mostly in the financial/business sector of the industry. While an MBA will obviously give you lots of knowledge and information, it probably WON’T help you get a job as a development executive, or a writer, or a lighting designer, or a director, or even an agent. I have plenty of friends who have gotten their MBAs in hopes of becoming an agent or manager or executive, and they STILL must start at the bottom, working as an assistant, and climb the ladder with everyone else. They may climb a little faster, simply because they have a broader base of knowledge, but—with a few exceptions—having an MBA probably won’t help you get a typical “Hollywood” job.

HERE is a link to a recent post about graduate film school… which obviously isn’t the same as business school… but, I think, speaks to many of the same pros and cons.

Anyway, I hope this all helps. Good luck… feel free to email with other questions… and, when you have that killer job, HIRE ME!



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