If you want a career in film, it is important that you determine what profession you want to be before you pursue your career. Knowing what you want to "be" in the business is sometimes overlooked by people. It is a simple aspect, but if you neglect it you could have a difficult time getting your foot in the door.
When I sit down to consult with career-minded film enthusiasts, they passionately express their desire to work in film, and ask me what do they need to do so they can work in movies. Now, this is great that they are enthusiastic and passionate about working in film. But, there is a step missing with this equation. One needs to have a profession in the business that he or she is trying to "be" in order to break into the business. If you are focused and know what you want to be in the business, it is much easier for you to succeed.
In other words, say Bobby, who is 20 years old, wants to work in film because of what film does, the magic of it all. He goes pounding on production office doors asking for work or, even better, gets an interview to work as a runner or PA. The production manager sitting across from him says, "What profession are you pursuing in the business?" Unfortunately, Bobby says, "All I want to do is work in film. I'll do anything."
Ah, here is the mistake Bobby makes because now the production manager thinks Bobby isn't serious about his film career. His answer is too vague and indifferent, which indicates Bobby hasn't done his homework. Bobby hasn't taken the time to decide what he wants to "be" in film. If there are ten or twenty other people applying for the same job, most likely the production manager is going to hire someone who is more aware of what he or she wants to be in the business. Showing that you know what you want to be, is a sign that you are "on top of it." You know what you want and what you are doing. Still, there is nothing wrong with changing your mind either. You can pursue a career as a director, change gears and decide that what you really want to be is a producer -- it happens all the time.
Not only does it make a better impression in an interview to know what you want your profession to be, it also makes it easier for you to achieve your goal in having a career in film. There is a book called Fundamentals of Thought by L. Ron Hubbard that devotes a whole chapter to this concept of focusing on a profession in order to do a job and thus reap the fruits of one's labor. This concept is so applicable to building a film career that if you look at the careers of many successful people today -- Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, award-winning cinematographer Ellen Kuras, William Goldman, the Coen brothers -- you can't help but agree. If you study each of these individuals, you will see a common thread between them. They each knew what they wanted and went after it like wild fire.
Let's go back to that interview. Let's say Bobby knew that he wanted to be a set designer. The production manager knows that Bobby is a career-minded person who knows what he wants and goes after it -- a good first impression. He hires Bobby and tells him that he will see what he can do to have Bobby work with the production designer or art director. Bobby has his foot squarely in the door.
In other words, it's okay to be a runner or PA to learn the business or discover what you want to be in the business. But, nobody wants to be a runner or PA forever -- it's a stepping ladder. These are positions that you get and then move up to what you really want to be. For example, while Bobby is on the set, and when a crew member sees that Bobby is dependable and responsible, he asks him what he wants to be in film. Bobby answers "set designer." This leads to his next job, which might be with a production designer or art director -- it's magic; this is how the business works.
If you are not sure yet what profession you want to be, that's okay too so long as you research and study the different areas to decide what profession in film is right for you. Like in our interview example, Bobby could tell the production manager that he is not sure about what he wants to be yet, but he is considering set designer, editor or casting director. He wants to work as a PA on a couple of productions to see "what's it all about" in order to determine his true career choice. The production manager has the impression that Bobby is serious to the degree that he is researching and discovering the different options of the film business. Bobby has a chance of getting hired.
So, the key to succeeding in film is to know what you want to be before you pursue a career in film. And, if you don't know what you want to be, you better find out soon and then do everything in your power to get that job. In my next column, I plan to write about how you can research and determine your profession in film.