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Career Research- Deciding What You Want

Contributed By Kenna McHugh

Indeed, there are hundreds of hardworking, talented and creative people for every actor in front of the camera. These people include set painters, electricians, sound recordists, makeup artists, film editors, publicists, location scouts, casting directors, animators and more. With the many jobs available in the film industry, you might find yourself confused or lost in deciding what the best career choice is for you.

How do you know what job is right for you?

In my book Breaking Into Film I suggest doing an informational interview if you are unsure of what area of film production you're interested in or if you have an idea of the field but don't know very much about it.

Informational interviews are a way of gaining knowledge of the field by speaking with an authoritative and dependable source. They give you a look at people who are doing what you think you want to do and allow you to investigate the diversity of specialties in any given choice in the film business. If you think you may be interested in being a set painter, for example, talking to someone who is working as a set painter is an excellent way to find out exactly what kind of work he or she does and to see if this is really something you would like to do.

Informational interviews, however, are not job interviews -- although I have consulted a few people who did get job offers from these type of interviews. They didn't actually take the jobs, but it can happen to you. In these interviews you are just collecting information that will help you in your quest to be successful in the film industry. Don't try to get a job from them either. If the people you're meeting discover that you're trying to use the opportunity to get a job and not just to find out what the job is like, they will be very upset because you were not up front with them. You are to there to learn, not to promote yourself.

Where to begin the informational interview

Let's take the set painter interview. How are you going to find a set painter to do an informational interview with? You can peruse the Internet, look through the yellow pages or find a production directory where set painters and other freelance crew are listed. There are regional production directories for each state or region. You can find such a directory at a library or film commission office.

Before you start "cold calling" your interview prospects, set a script of what you are going to say to the prospect. For example, you could say, "Hello, I am a film student who is interested in becoming a set painter. I would like to meet with you and have you answer some specific questions I have about your profession to see if this is a career I would be interested in pursuing. How about making an appointment for tomorrow or the next day?"

Whatever you decide to say over the phone to get the interview make sure you are pleasant and mannerly. First impressions are the most difficult in getting an appointment. So, really pay attention to how you behave and sound over the phone.

You'll probably want to interview a minimum of three set painters. This will give you a diverse look at the profession.

What questions should you ask?

Now that you have setup your interview appointments, here are some questions you might ask. (By the way, this is a shortened list of questions that are in my book.)

  • How did you choose this field of the film industry?
  • How did you get into this field?
  • What do you like best about this field?
  • What do you like best about your work?
  • What do you like least about your work?
  • What kind of skills, education, and/or training would I need to get into this area?
  • What do you consider your major accomplishments?
  • Were there any unusual difficulties you had to overcome in achieving these accomplishments?
  • What two or three things do you feel you have learned on this job?
  • What are some examples of important types of decisions or recommendations you're called upon to make?
  • How do you go about making these decisions or recommendations?
  • Is there anything else you think I should talk to who's doing this kind of work?

You can also lean your questions towards the type of work the individual has done. This is where your research will come in handy. If, for example, the set painter you are going to interview, worked on a couple of period pieces, you might want to ask him or her about the work they did on the set. Or, if he or she worked with a particular production designer, you might want to ask what it was like working with that particular production designer.

Remember that people in film love to talk about what they do and will be flattered to be asked their opinions. Good luck.

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