Your First Production Resume
Even without any previous work in film production, you probably already have the experience you need to get a job as a production assistant -- and that's where most film crew careers begin. You just need to know how to frame your experience and skills into an effective film resume. This document guides you through applying for work on a film or television production crew.
PARTS OF THE RESUME PACKAGE
- cover letter
• contact info
• "freestyle": optional information that doesn't fit anywhere else
- letter(s) of recommendation
A casual writing style is fine, in the letter and the resume too. The reader isn't a bank loan officer; she's probably a young film professional who remembers going after her first film job, just like you. The letter can be as short as one or two paragraphs. There's no need to restate what's in the resume. And the more your personality comes through, the better.
In a film production office, the first person to see your resume is usually the production coordinator. On the Texas Film Commission's Job Hotline, find out who the coordinator is for that project and send to her by name. That's much better than "To Whom It May Concern," and it establishes you as someone who pays attention to details.
Within the first sentence or two, state which department you're applying for. That way, your resume will go straight to that department head, rather than to the Miscellaneous Pile. To quote a production coordinator: "It's always the biggest pile, and it's the pile you don't want to be in." Later in this document, under "Delivering Your Resume," we'll discuss how to stay out of the dreaded miscellaneous pile, while getting your resume seen by each department head.
If you're applying as a production assistant (PA), specify office PA or set PA. Office PA is easier to get, because most people ask for set. Another plus in applying as an office PA: the office is set up weeks or months before filming starts, so office PAs may start work weeks before set PAs do. And once you're working as a PA, it's pretty common to move into other departments, on or off the set. So, a position as an office PA is a great place to start, and can easily lead to something more.
In your cover letter, name-drop if you can, but only with those people's permission. Most of the local crew knows each other, so seeing the name of someone they already know can help get your foot in the door:
- "Last spring when I interned for [local crew member] on [film/commercial/etc.]…"
- "[Local crew member] suggested that I contact you…"
One page, great. Two pages, okay. Three pages, too long.
Parts of the resume, in order of appearance. Each is covered in more detail below.
- contact info
- "freestyle": optional, but this is where you can really shine. Later, when you have lots of film experience on your resume, you may want to drop the freestyle - but it can't hurt to keep it.
• film-related experience (paid or intern) comes first, followed by:
• other experience (paid or volunteer)
Name, address, cell phone number and email.
- Show a local address on your resume. Many students use their permanent address, and that can be a mistake. If you don't have a local address, just leave the address off altogether. If you're applying for a job in Austin, you don't want to give the impression that you'll be commuting from Houston.
- If it's necessary for callers to dial the area code to reach you (for instance, if calling from Austin to a San Marcos cell), make that clear. If they leave the area code off, and then hear a not-in-service recording, they're not going to spend the time to figure it out! So make it clear up front, like this: cell 512-xxx-xxxx (dial the area code if calling from Austin)
- Call your own phone, right now, and listen to your outgoing message. Does it sound professional and to the point? Does it leave a first impression that you want potential employers to hear? If not, change it now.
- Ditto, if you have an email address that you'd be embarrassed to tell your grandmother, then set up a new account for business, and use that one on your resume.
Career Objective vs. "Freestyle"
The career objective is often the first thing you see on boiler-plate resumes. Forget about the career objective, and do not include one. Sorry, they're looking for PAs, and they just don't care about your ultimate career goals.
Instead, use the space to insert a "freestyle" that might actually get you a job. My definition of "freestyle": a brief statement of assets that might not fit in the standard resume categories, but can be a great help in getting you noticed and hired. Skills from just about any job or volunteer work can be applied to film.
"Though this will be my first job in production, my skills are a great match…" Play up the skills you relied on as a fast food worker, lifeguard, pawn shop clerk, etc. For instance, a successful pet-sitter is reliable, works odd hours and weekends, and is entrusted with not just with the well-being of not just their clients' pets, but with their homes and valuables. See what I mean? Other useful skills: fluency in another language, especially Spanish; in-depth knowledge of local geography (from a pizza delivery gig?); experience handling groups of people (in a day care center?); a spotless driving record; a dependable pickup or SUV; familiarity with office procedures (from any office job); multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment (fast food). Have you answered busy phone lines efficiently? Scheduled other workers? Were you the one who always unjammed the copier? Here's where you say so.
"I'd much rather hire someone who's worked as a line cook or a waitperson in a busy restaurant, or maybe as a customer service person, than someone who, say, has a lot of student-film camera experience. I know that the first person is used to long hours on their feet, thinking and moving fast a lot of the time, and they have been dealing with multiple situations and personalities each day. The other person may be inattentive in their job because what they really want to do is run the camera, which in most cases, will not happen until they prove themselves through the kind of dedication the first person was exhibiting. It's a Catch-22, but I can tell you I've seen it countless times."
-- production coordinator, April 2006
Show jobs in reverse chronological order: the most recent job appears first.
- Besides the job title, there's no need to go into a ton of detail. You're applying to a film production office, and they already know what a PA does.
- It's okay to show student film experience and film internships here, but make sure it's clear that it was a student project/internship, not a paid job.
- Don't list every student project you've ever worked on. It's good for them to know that you can recognize film equipment and terms, but that's not what gets you a job. It's fine to say, "DP and location manager on five student films."
Here's where you list any work/volunteer experience that's not directly film-related. (But it's all related, right? And you've addressed that in the freestyle section.)
Include college only. Do not include anything from high school.
For the most part, there's no point in including information on individual courses that you've taken; production companies are much more interested in your hands-on experience. But work that you've done in the theater department can have a direct correlation to production work, so if you've built sets, run lighting, stage managed or done makeup, by all means, point it out!
Never list a reference before you've asked their permission to do so. Once you've received their permission, it's fine to include them on all the resumes you send out. But if you're sending out a new batch of resumes, and it's been a long time since you added them as a reference, it's wise to get in touch and tell them that you're applying for jobs, so they're not surprised when they get a call. You want your courtesy to be fresh in their minds when that call comes in, right?
For each reference, show their name, company, city, phone and email (if you have it). There's no need to list a snail-mail address. If the reference is a former employer, supervisor or teacher, great! Say so. Otherwise, add a few details so the caller knows who they're dealing with.
- Alan Smithee, produce manager, HEB, San Marcos, TX. 512-555-5555. Former employer.
- Mary Jones, neighbor, Arlington, TX. 214-555-5555. For six years, I cut her grass every two weeks, and took care of her house and three big dogs whenever she was out of town.
Include two or three references. If this bumps your resume up into a second page, fine, but be sure to keep all references on the same page. And because your resume package might be faxed, and pages might get separated, make sure that your name and contact information appears at the top of every page.
Letter(s) of Reference
It's not essential to include a letter of reference, but it's a powerful asset, especially if it's from a former employer. One or two letters are plenty.
For Texas, one great resource is the Texas Film Commission's Job Hotline for Crew Calls. We note each project as to whether it is offering payment, as some micro-budget projects depend entirely on unpaid crew.
- "Paid" jobs might also offer unpaid internships, so go ahead and send in a resume.
- "Unpaid" means just that.
- "Deferred" means "We'll pay you if/after this project makes any money." Don't count on it; just consider it "unpaid."
Craigslist postings are another resource, but keep in mind that those postings may or may not be legitimate. "Real" film projects use craigslist now, but so do time-wasters. Keep your eyes open, and call the Texas Film Commission if you have questions.
HOW TO DELIVER YOUR RESUME PACKAGE
Remember what we've already learned about the cover letter. Now, revise that first or second sentence to request a different department, and send a revised resume package to each department in which you want to work.
Important: wait at least a few hours between faxes or emails, rather than just sending one after the other after the other… There's a difference between being enthusiastic and being a pest.
If you're sending your resume package via email:
- Subject line: you want to stand out from all the others that just say "resume;" how dull is that? Ideal subject line:
"seeking [department] internship, referred by [local film professional]."
- The body of the email serves as your cover letter.
- Resume and letters of reference should be combined into one single attachment, not pasted into the body of the email. And a .pdf is better than a Word document, because a .pdf is a locked document, and the formatting can't get garbled.
- Title the attachment "Smith, Mary, resume" not just "resume." The coordinator will receive many, many attachments, and most will be titled "resume; " then she has to tediously rename each one before saving. Make yours the one that stands out, by saving her time and demonstrating your attention to detail.
As far as what to wear, there’s no need to show up in a suit or business attire; neat jeans are fine. Wear boots or closed-toe shoes. There are no toes seen on set.
You’ll likely be asked what you want to do for the production. Don’t say, “Oh, I’ll do anything!” Why? Because that’s not helpful in telling the interviewer where you might be the best fit. Instead, be ready to name a few departments that especially interest you. As one interviewer said,“If someone’s especially interested in the camera department, or the art department, then I can send their resume over to that department head with my recommendation. But I’m not going to send it to every department head, just because the candidate hasn’t made up their mind.”
The idea is, get hired. You’re not locked in for life to the department you’re in; it’s very common for PAs to move to other departments as they gain experience.
YIKES! WHAT IF YOU GET THE JOB?
Don't worry about not knowing what to do on the first day of your first job - your new employers will make it clear - but don't go unprepared, either. There's a terrific Web site that spells it out beautifully. Study up.
See? Just from everyday life and everyday jobs, you already have plenty of experience and contacts. Now put it all together, make that resume shine, and go get started on your film career.
Source: Carol Pirie, Deputy Director, Texas Film Commission
Special thanks to the following film professionals who so have been so generous with their wisdom!
Caleb John Clark