There are a lot of Things They Don’t Tell You in film school about getting a job after you graduate — and mostly that’s because your professors and advisors don’t know what the current conditions of the film and television job market are, and what jobs aspiring writers, directors, etc. should actually pursue.
I loved my experience at USC’s screenwriting program because it helped me hone my craft, but what they don’t really tell you is how to get from student to Real Life Working Writer — something my graduating class and I are still figuring out, but we’re far more aware of what the trenches are like now that we’re in them.
Here’s what I wish someone would have told me when I started film school:
1. Who you know is important, but not as important as finding your voice as a creator.
At USC, the constant career refrain is: get an internship! Literally any internship! Network and learn! Every time I meet with a current student, the first thing they ask me about is what internships should they get/how many/paid vs. unpaid.
What they don’t tell you: yes, networking is important, but there’s plenty of time for that in your senior year and beyond, and what’s more important is that you’re devoting as much time as possible to your craft as you can.
Networking won’t help you if you don’t have solid creative work — and awards to show for it, if possible. You will literally never be in an environment like you are now, encouraged to focus only on your writing and filmmaking.
Spend your first three years cultivating your writing, seeking out interesting experiences, and reading as widely as possible. This will make you a better artist and creator, and now’s the time to give it your full attention.
2. Being a Hollywood assistant is like being an apprentice.
You spend four years in film school being groomed for the job you actually want to do: writing, directing, cinematography, etc. When you graduate, it feels natural to expect that you can do just that. However, there’s still a gap and a learning curve pretty much everyone has to go through at some point in the beginning of their careers, even if you’re able to jump straight to the job you want. There are dues everybody has to pay — in one way or another.
What they don’t tell you: especially if you’re a writer looking to break into TV, you HAVE to go the assistant route — at least at first. Nobody tells you the benefits of working as a writers’ assistant, showrunners’ assistant, writers’ PA — and what these jobs are and how to get them (check out my article detailing just that.)
These jobs are not only stepping stones, but they provide actual connections (unlike temporary internships) and knowledge that will help you be better at the job you want to do down the line. Think of yourself as an apprentice instead of an errand runner, soaking in knowledge when you can and constantly working on your own craft on the side. [Read more…]