The Secret to Success on Your First Film Job
This is a guest post by Evan Luzi, a camera assistant who runs The Black and Blue.
You step on set for the first time ever on day one of a shoot and you’re ready to impress everyone. You’ve worked hard to get to this point and it feels like now — finally — you’re where you want to be. From here on out, it should be easy.
Well, if that were the case, we’d have a lot more people working in the film industry. Instead, there’s no doubt about it: it’s tough to make a living in Hollywood.
Getting on set is just the first step in a long process. In the beginning, you need to “wow” those who gave you your opportunity in the first place.
Lucky for you, I’ve got a secret to help and it’s bound to make your first day a better one. But before I reveal it to you, let me tell you a story.
“This is My First Movie, What Should I Expect?”
I distinctly remember the first time I ever stepped onto a film set. It was a low-budget feature film shooting on location deep in the woods of Leesburg, Virginia.
As I drove my car along the narrow one-lane roads of the countryside, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, what would be asked of me, and frankly, I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it all.
Still, I pressed the gas pedal a little harder to make sure I wasn’t late. Eventually the roads became narrower and the pavement gave way to gravel.
Finally, after a 40 minute drive, I reached the entry-way to an old wooden house — the main location of the 20 day shoot — put my car in park, and got out.
I was the only one there.
It was a camera prep day, so there was no immediacy to the situation, but I felt an eerie sense of fear — like I had made the wrong choice.
That’s when Marshall turned up.
We talked for a few minutes and when our conversation reached a lull, I asked him for advice, “So this is my first movie, what should I expect?”
He laughed. But not just a chuckle. He laughed in a way that made me feel dumb for even asking.
“On a low-budget feature horror film?” He gave a wry smile. “People will become friends, people will fight, then they’ll become friends again by the end.” Then he took a moment to pause and finish his thought, “At least, that’s the idea.”
He seemed to relish imparting this ominous message to me and could tell I truly had no sense of what was to come over the next month. It was, after all, my first real shoot and I was a camera production assistant — an entry-level newbie with no experience behind a lens.
And that’s what I was to Marshall, which is probably why he laughed. I was a wide-eyed camera P.A. about to embark on a low budget, month long shoot that he knew was going to be grueling. He probably thought I would get fired or lose my mind and quit.
As he drove away and the other crew showed up, I couldn’t shake that feeling — that Marshall didn’t believe I was cut out for the job. It’s part of the reason I remember this day so vividly.
So what does this have to do with your first film job?
That feeling, coupled with experiences further on in my career, gave me insight to a valuable lesson I hadn’t yet realized that day.
Do This and You’ll Find Yourself On More Sets
So now that I’ve teased you long enough, what’s the dirty little secret? Well, not many of my peers in the film industry would care to admit it, but…
The expectations for a newbie on a film set are low. Very low. Surprisingly low.
Why? Because crew have seen so many first-timers step on set who can’t hack it. For a variety of reasons, they simply don’t meet the standards the rest of the crew have. And after dozens of encounters like that, crew don’t stay optimistic.
That’s why Marshall was so pessimistic when I asked him for advice and why he looked at me in a way that said, “Good luck, kid, you’re gonna need it!”
But that doesn’t mean crew won’t give you the benefit of the doubt — in fact, they want you to kick ass. It makes their job so much easier to have a P.A. to rely on or another grip they can trust.
You only have to work a little bit harder than the other newbies a crew has worked with to impress them.
You want to be successful in the film industry.
You want to prove to everyone you’ve got what it takes.
You want to make contacts who will hire you in the future.
But are you willing to put in the extra effort to get what you want?
Before you stepped on set with the professionals, there were dozens just like you who came and went. I bet most of the crew didn’t even bother to keep in touch with them. It’s not that they weren’t nice people, or that they weren’t capable of the job, it’s that they didn’t approach it in the right way.
The real secret is you can’t be satisfied with the job you’re doing.
That’s the key to your success – always ask what can be done and what you can do. Where people often fall flat on their first film jobs is by sitting around waiting to be told what to do.
The minute something has been taught to you is the minute some responsibility has been transferred to you. You only get one chance to learn something on a film set, maybe twice if it’s complicated. After that, it’s up to you to make sure it’s done right.
Crew are surprisingly forgiving on certain tasks, but they do expect — and notice — when there is marked improvement.
But the reason their expectations are so damn low for newbies is because so many show up, do what they’re told, and then wait to do what they’re told next.
Take the initiative and prove you’re worth working with again.
Rise Above Expectations If You Want Success
Establishing a career in the film industry requires a high level of perseverance while combating severely low expectations.
When you finally land that first gig, don’t blow it by being a lazy, complaining greenhorn. Shove your foot in the door willing to bust your ass as hard as possible.
I never did see Marshall again after that first encounter, but I’d love a chance to talk to him today about how I beat the odds and how hard I had worked on that first shoot to overcome the obstacles thrown my way.
You only get one chance at your first job and, if you execute it correctly, you can start the domino effect that leads to more jobs and more contacts.
That’s a lot of pressure, I know, but rest easy knowing that many have come before you and failed simply by not trying hard enough. If you’re willing to go one step further than them, you’ve got a real chance at becoming a solid crew member — just don’t tell anyone I told you, OK?
This guest post is from Evan Luzi, a camera assistant who runs The Black and Blue. Grab his free 145 page eBook, “Becoming the Reel Deal,” for tips on launching your film career and getting your first film job today.
[photo by Koji Minamoto]