I had a conversation recently with a young film school grad that was feeling betrayed by his choice of career. He’d managed to turn an Office PA position into a Story Assist gig on a reality program back in 2012. That show wrapped in February, and as of the time we spoke in late March, he hadn’t landed his next gig. He was getting by and had some good leads, but was rapidly depleting his savings and none too happy about it.
One of the realities of the entertainment industry is that you’re likely to have more down time between jobs early in your career than you will in the middle of it. It sucks, but that’s the nature of project-driven careers. You will have down time, but as the years roll by, you’ll (typically) have less time on your hands between jobs.
The reason is simple: as you continue to build your web of connections on more and more shows, you build a reputation. You’ll have a network of contacts who aren’t just names you know, but names of people you’ve worked with and who know you can be relied upon to deliver the goods. It’s cold comfort now to know that you’ll be in much better shape three to five years down the line, but in most cases, it’s true.
I was fortunate in that my early years in Los Angeles were spent working for some really great producers who were able to roll me from one project to the next in different capacities. In the first year, I came to work for them as a logger/transcriptionist, rolled into a story assist position, then did anything from office PA to location assisting to stay on the payroll until the next opportunity came along. It’s rare, but I managed to stay at one company for three years, working for the same batch of producers. The key? Remaining flexible. I took jobs that weren’t necessarily creative, but that were still inside the walls, so to speak.
I was very lucky to work out that kind of an arrangement with the producers I worked for. But if I hadn’t been able to, I’d have jumped on anything else in town. Here’s why…
Why You Should Stay in Town Between Jobs
I often say that the most important thing you can do for your entertainment career even when it’s floundering is stay in town. If you have to take a job at a pet hotel, wait tables, or do anything else to keep yourself in proximity to the folks that can hire you, do it. Reality television is often rushed into production, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hired inside of a week of a start date. Even at this point in my career, a Friday call asking if I can start on Monday isn’t out of the norm, and that’s not enough time to relocate back to Los Angeles from somewhere else.
Learning to Manage Your Money
Can you learn to live on half of your income, so that the other half can save your butt if you end up spending weeks or months between jobs? It’s tempting to live it up paycheck to paycheck in an exciting city, but early on, I used to watch workmates drop half of their checks in bars, clubs and restaurants with absolute horror. I know that that “half” figure sounds like an exaggeration, but it absolutely isn’t. When I moved to Los Angeles, I crashed on a friend’s futon for a while, then rented a room in a house for a year or so, then moved into an apartment with a roommate. I didn’t have a space of my own until maybe three or four years into living in Los Angeles, and that was a key point to my survival. Just something to think about.
Keep the credit cards down, too. The idea of “maintaining a lifestyle” is an idiot’s approach to Los Angeles. Yes, look professional. Iron your clothes. Shine your shoes. Comb your hair. You’re supposed to be struggling in the beginning. Driving a 1990 Buick Century Custom and taking the train/bus more often than that just to save on gas money worked out fine for me.
Looking For Work / Staying Socially Connected
If I haven’t seen you in four years and the first email you send me is about needing a job, you’l probably get an “okay, I’ll let you know if I hear of anything” response that won’t be backed up with much action. If you’ve NEVER met me and you send me a resume, you’ll get just about the same level of consideration. If you’re someone I worked with a zillion years ago, but you’ve kept in touch, dropped me a line or a job lead once in a while, you’re more likely to have my active assistance in finding work when you need it.
Cultivating relationships is a no-brainer, and while it’s beyond debate that aggressive but sincere networking is useful, there are still a number of ways I see capable, awesome people dropping the ball every day.
I’ve worked with someone recently who works like crazy and that I’ll hire again and again, but who seldom interacts with other people in the office, putting a serious cramp in his/her chances of being able to tap others for work leads in the future.
I’m not suggesting that you be the one who brings donuts every day or is always asking someone else out to lunch… but even making that small effort to chat folks up in the breakroom or ask for advice now and again goes a long way.
At the end of my gigs, I usually drop my superiors a quick email or card to thank them for the opportunity and let them know I hope to work with them again down the line.
Stick With It
We’re all prone to dry spells. I’m heading into my first place of uncertainty in three years, without no job lined up yet for mid-May. Am I worried about it? Not really. Would I have been thirteen years ago? You bet.
Keep moving forward, build your contacts, be great at your job, and hopefully the pressure and alarm of impending unemployment stretches will ease off later down the line.
Good luck with the great “whatever’s next”!