A round-up of the best tips from The Guardian’s recent live chat on breaking into film and television.
1. What are the biggest dos and don’ts when emailing CVs and cover letters?
Gayle Woodruffe, production service manager at Northern Film & Media, says: “Keep CVs short and specific to the job you’re applying for. If you haven’t gripped them in the first half page they may not read the rest. Follow up, build a network and always be professional no matter how frustrated you may be feeling.”
Will Davies, director of programming at IdeasTap, says: “Simplicity, clarity and evidence, are the best tactics when putting together a CV and cover letter. And by evidence, I think the best CVs don’t just list responsibilities but tell you what the person did to improve the work situation or achieve success. So instead of ‘In my previous job I made tea’, try ‘In my previous job I was responsible for making tea and initiated a system which saved the company money and improved efficiency’. The example isn’t a serious one, but demonstrates you have initiative and are savvy enough to improve a situation, which is a godsend in a runner.”
Clare Whitmell, Guardian contributor and a qualified business communication trainer, says: “The advice I heard from TV companies on applications was keep it short and relevant, highlight direct experience (or transferable skills), avoid the fluff and write to the correct person.”
2. What can I do to get a foot in the door in screenwriting or production while at university?
Peter Hort, course director of the BA in film and television production at the University of Westminster, says: “Finding a balance between gaining work experience and keeping up with your course can be a challenge, but it’s possible to do enough work in the holidays and on days that you are free to make it worthwhile. Students of mine who make an effort to network and gain even small chunks of work experience in their first year, usually develop a really good set of contacts by the time that they graduate. It makes the transition into the world of work much easier.”
Vanessa Jackson, course director of the BA (Hons) media and communication, and degree leader of television at Birmingham City University: “You need to take all the opportunities offered to you at university, and try and build up a portfolio of work to show potential employers. Having an online blog or website, with examples of your practical work, is a good idea. Then you can just send a link, and you’ll come across as proactive and enthusiastic.”
3. What are the best screenwriting courses?
Geoff Lowe, lecturer in film practice at Newcastle University: “Screenwriting courses range from terrible to useful. There are an awful lot of online resources available for screenwriters and this is where I would start. There are also lots of screenwriting how-to books. The trick to great screenwriting is finding a great story. You can also find many great scripts from successful films online. Read these and analyse the writing techniques.”
4. How valuable is working for free and how can I tell if a company is exploiting free labour?
Charlotte Owttrim, co-ordinator of the film strand of Creative Skillset’s Trainee Finder, says: “In an ideal world no one should have to work for free, but unfortunately a lot of new entrants have to do this to get their first credits. To make sure you are not being exploited, check you are not taking on responsibilities that a paid member of staff or crew would be doing.”
Vanessa Jackson: “If you are working for a company as an unpaid intern, then that is fine for around three weeks. During that time, you are probably learning more from the experience, than they are getting back in terms of your free labour, but if it goes on for a month or more, then you should be getting paid.”
5. How can I get into film production if I don’t have any experience?
Will Davies: “It’s about getting out and about in the industry. Attend as many free events, screenings and launches as you can (never pay to attend a networking event). Make sure you connect with people, ask questions, find out what they’re doing or how they got where they are. The good thing is that this is such a tough industry to crack, that most people are happy to give advice and point you in the right direction.”
6. How do I network effectively and ask for help without looking needy?
Geoff Lowe: “Networking is an artform in itself. Overdo it, and you’ll be dismissed as too pushy. Don’t do it, and no one will know you are there. You need to believe in yourself and be sincere. Don’t overstay your welcome, but remember the person you are talking to will have been in your shoes. Even major players are always happy to help someone who is sincere and polite. And if someone says they can’t help, ask them politely if they know someone who can.”
Will Davies: “Think of networking as two like-minded individuals having a chat. Take the stressful, business aspect out of it, and just use it as a means to get to know people and find out more about the industry you’re interested in working in. Be relaxed about it, it’s just a conversation. However, do make sure to find out the person’s full name and what they do, so if you want to follow up you can Google and email them.”
7. I have some TV experience, but wasn’t credited for it. Do I put this on my CV?
Charlotte Owttrim: “Keep it on your CV. I often see jobs on CVs which aren’t on people’s IMDB but understand that sometimes people aren’t officially credited even though they were taken on. The trick is to put who you worked with on the job, sometimes they might know them, and will check that way.”
8. I’m a young writer and hopeful director, how can I perfect my writing style without missing chances to get a foothold in the industry?
Will Davies: “Perfecting your writing style cannot be done alone. It’s important to get trusted feedback on your writing from an industry professional. Bodies such as BBC Writersroom, Rocliffe and IdeasTap provide opportunities to receive feedback on your writing. It’s also important to read as many scripts as possible, rather than just watching work and writing them. This gives you insight into how the ‘experts’ do it.”
Gayle Woodruffe: “If you’re looking to direct, it’s well worth thinking about starting at the bottom in production and working your way up. This will build up your network, and your reputation, and also help develop your understanding of what technically can be required from a script. Meanwhile, keep writing and talking about your ideas to people.”
Thanks to The Guardian for allowing icould.com to republish this article. You can view the original version on the Guardian website.