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A Film Career Requires Knowledge and Perseverance

Updated on December 9, 2016
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna worked on many productions as PA, Craft Services, Talent Scout, Grip, and Producer. Credits include Bowling for Columbine, Wallace.


Whatever you decide to do in the film industry, whether in front of the camera or behind the camera, you need to know about the industry and study it well. As you gain experience, you will be like one of the professionals, living a life as a director or camera person. You may find yourself in the exact place you have dreamed about your whole life.

Dress for Success


People who work behind the scenes in the film industry do not dress formally, but they can't look careless or ineffective either. So, dressing down in a unique way is the style for film crews. Lawyers, lobbyists, stockbrokers and executives dress for success. But, Hollywood is a little more extreme in images.

To find your dress code, check out what the top people in your chosen position wear on the set. There are different looks for different jobs. Studio producers and agents don't look like cinematographers or gaffers.

The jobs in Hollywood are creative. The aim is to look expensive while wearing play clothes. It is casual yet expensive and hip. The fashion is being in the spirit of the time.

What about traditional wear? When a suit and tie walks onto the set, there are murmurs of "Heads up. There are suits on the set." It is not a complimentary term. But, typically, many creative executives and most business executives, agents, lawyers and accountants are "suits."

You must pay attention to the accepted dress of the top people in your chosen position. But, it is also beneficial to develop a look that is all your own. Then, people remember you because you stand out from the crowd. Personal image consultants in the film industry or costume designers can help you find a look that suits you because you certainly would not want your "new" look to backfire.

Hollywood is almost inconceivably conscious of looks. This is not surprising if you think about how the industry manufactures visual imagery. When you go to the interview, you will be judged by what you wear, so it's best to present yourself carefully and the way you wish to be seen. But, if you are applying for a production assistant position, you would not wear a suit or even a tie. Decent shoes, clean jeans, nice t-shirt, and flannel is appropriate.

Learning on the Job


Growing up, Brian was never really into movies. He was more into soccer and boy scouts. After high school, he got a job in the shipping department at Technicolor. He did packing and logging shipments. Then, he got another job in a shipping department at Movie Lab.

After working at Movie Lab for a while, Brian heard about an opening for an optical timer's assistant. They needed someone to take notes for the timer. He would go to the screening and write down what people said and what had to be done to the film. He worked with the timers for about three years.

From there, Brian got a job as a timer. He made sure that the dailies looked like the rest of the film for the movie. Now, he is doing the optical effects timing for movies.

Optical effect timing is not taught in schools. According to Brian, you can't learn how to do it by reading a book. Like most jobs in the movies, it has to be learned on the job. But if you are determined, you can get into this field.

Brian started out with an entry-level position. While he worked, he watched what's gong on around him and asked questions. This tactic worked for him. It could work for you.

Working as an Extra


So, you want to know what it is like to work as an extra on a film. Well, there aren’t too many Film-Extra Gurus in this world because it’s not all that glamorous or lucrative. I have worked on a few movies but it doesn’t make me an expert. However, I can tell you there are some things you should know.

1) First off, when you go to the casting call, make sure, even if they don't have it on there, you list your experience. For example, if you have done films, put down the film title, how many hours you worked, training, credits, so forth.)

2) If you get the callback, make sure you get to know the casting directors/agents. One woman, I know who worked as an extra made sure she knew the casting director well. She told the first casting directors she met while on a film that she was available day and night. She didn't care about the hours. Obviously, they took that into consideration, because for three straight nights, she filmed from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. She went back and filmed eight times after that.

3) Always be prompt for the casting call. I know for a fact that this matters. One extra told me he learned that his third day filming that if they say 7:30 a.m., they mean 7:30 a.m. He came at approximately 8:40 or so and they had already started filming. He didn't get to work in the film until they were done shooting the shot, which can sometimes take all day.

4) Have a good attitude about it. Never look tired or bored. Make sure you don't complain. Especially if you were in the shot, but they moved you, so now you aren't. Always follow directions. If they say "QUIET ON THE SET" they mean quiet. If you don’t follow these rules, you will be pulled off the set.

5) Finally, have fun and smile. It's supposed to be a fun and enjoyable experience. Plus, you get to meet the stars.

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Casting Directors


The casting director is another preproduction job that requires a strong understanding of the script and a keen eye for talent. Directors set guidelines for the "types" they are looking for and the casting director selects actors and brings them to audition for the director, who makes the final selection. It's important that the casting director knows the actors' abilities and can communicate them to the director. The director, in turn, must provide feedback to the casting director, so the casting director knows whether he/she is on the right track.

Casting directors need to be an actor's best friend. If an actor hits it off well with a casting director, it could determine whether or not he or she will get a part in a feature film.

Casting directors have to have excellent people skills because they sometimes deal with large crowds of people a one time. Sometimes casting directors are looking for temp workers, like when they have a huge production coming to town and need someone in the office to sit at the desk and make a thousand calls to pull in five hundred extras for a big shot in a couple of days.

Also, casting directors need help with supervising the extras on the set, which entails making sure the extras don't leave their holding area and behave throughout the shoot. When an actor is being an extra, there is a lot of waiting around, and sometimes waiting around can lead to trouble. It is the duty of the casting director to make sure all the extras behave themselves and understand what it takes to be an extra in a film.


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