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Popular Hollywood Jobs: How Hollywood Works

Updated on October 7, 2021
Kenna McHugh profile image

I work in modeling and film production and like to share insights into both businesses.


How Hollywood Works

How do you get the first job that gets your foot inside the magical Hollywood door?

You want a career in the movie business, but you need the experience of having your first break in the film industry before you can get a job. You have the option of internships or volunteering. In other words, you need to demonstrate the ability to do whatever is needed and do it well with no or low pay. Once you are in and do a professional job, the opportunity to work is always available. Most important to the process, however, is that you are willing, in the beginning, to work for low pay or even free. The idea is to accumulate a list of credits -- that is, a portfolio, a reputation.

Production Assistant

Here is an example of what not to do - this happened:

Production Manager: "The job is a six-day shoot. We need a couple of PAs to do everything."

Applicant: "Okay."

PM: "Saturday is an early call - 3 AM."

Applicant: "Wow! That is early."

PM: "Do you know how to build IKEA furniture?"

Applicant: "I don't build IKEA furniture. I tried that, and I am not good at it."

PM: "Well, send me your resume..."

The applicant doesn't get the job because of his response to the early call, and "I don't build IKEA..."

Here is an example of what to do:

Production Manager: "The job is a six-day shoot. We need a couple of PAs to do everything."

Applicant: "I am willing to do whatever you need."

PM: "Saturday is an early call - 3 AM."

Applicant: "No problem. I will be there."

PM: "Do you know how to build IKEA furniture?"

Applicant: "Sure. I've done that before."

PM: "Good! What is the best way to reach you..."

The applicant got the job because his response was positive and willing to do whatever was needed. Even if he failed at IKEA furniture before doesn't mean he will again. The point is he will try. He is willing. Production managers need an upbeat crew without creating problems on the set with "I can't do that."

Local Film Jobs

Hollywood hires based on reputation and perseverance. That means knowing who you know is another way to get your foot in the door.

It would help if you built a portfolio of decent and reputable work. Establishing a resume can only be done by being willing to take on whatever task the production offers at whatever pay the company provides, even if that's nil.

Like a production assistant, an entry-level job makes on average a flat rate of $125 - $250 a day, including meals. As a production assistant, the best pay standard I experienced is $250/12 hours, including overtime.

Nevertheless, please don't get too excited because you may still find it hard to attract any work by offering your services for free. The unpaid crew needs to be covered by insurance, shown the ropes, and fed. It even costs the production time and money to hire you.

Your best opportunity to build your portfolio is to work on smaller independent shoots where the production, most likely, can't afford to pay you or feed you well. On the upside, track these shoots down and volunteer! Once your resume begins to show the depth of your experience, you can start to aim for bigger crews on larger shoots and better pay.

It is most beneficial to start making contacts in your local area. You can contact your local film commission and see if they have a hotline number or a website promoting jobs. Most big-city film commissions do. Check with your film commission once a week to determine if a production company is coming to town. Even take the time to visit the film commission office, make yourself known, hang around a bit, and help the office. Sometimes the production companies will only leave a contact number with the film commission.

Some cities or regions create a film production directory for film production companies to utilize when they come to the area. Some guides charge or are free to list your services.

You can google "film production directories [enter state] and examine what comes up. The California Film Commission office maintains a website for California, and the link is at the end of this article.


Film Work

The film industry is a creative business, so be creative and think of unique ways to find work. As you call these contacts, make sure you find out about other productions coming up and their contact numbers - in other words - network. If they are too busy to talk, tell them you'll call back. Be courteous.

Here are some general numbers and Web sites to contact for information on film work in the area. In my book, Breaking Into Film, provides a comprehensive listing of film work resources.

  • California Film Commission -- 800-858-4749
  • San Francisco Film Commission Hotline -- (415) 554-6244
  • New York Film Commission -- 212-803-2330
  • New York City Film Commission -- 212-489-6710
  • Texas Film Commission -- 512-463-9200
  • Chicago Film Office -- 312-744-6415
  • Illinois Film Office - 312-814-3600
  • New Mexico Film Office - 800-545-9871
  • City of Seattle Film Office - 206-684-0903

Hollywood Careers

Like any career, building your credits in a competitive industry means you are a professional. Act like a professional. People see you as a professional. The film careers that last a long time are because those individuals are professionals. Never do half of what your true potential is capable of doing. Learn, be alert, work hard, and be friendly and helpful. Hollywood needs people like you.

© 2007 Kenna McHugh


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