Written by Sneha Mendes

Starting a career in film is hard. Starting your life again from scratch is even harder. To my fellow filmmakers immigrating for work, I am sure you know that starting your career in film and from scratch is probably one of the hardest and bravest feats you have had to endure.

Oftentimes our struggle isn’t just getting a foot in the door, but also, putting up a constant fight to stay in the country. Let me start by saying that I appreciate our resilience, and good things will come. This is not an industry that is easy to break into, and it is definitely not the most forgiving to immigrants. There are many reasons to be discouraged, but many more that are superiorly encouraging. We keep them in mind as we pave our way to new beginnings. And slowly but surely, work comes our way.

Recently, I feel like I have been making some headway work-wise. And everyone who has had to move countries or continents or zip codes as I did will always have free access to the lessons I learned about getting started. It’s not a beautiful method, rather scrappy actually.

But it works:

Step 1: Play the Numbers Game

Message everyone. Use every social media platform you have. Find your favorite movie or music video or short film. Now go to the credits and find everyone who has worked on it. Message them all, and ask (respectfully) if they have the time to talk. Now find their other projects, and then hit up all of the crew of those projects up. And from there, you’ll be led to other projects, so message everyone on those projects too. I would message 50 people a day. Of those 50, 15 would read my message. Of those 15, five would reply. Of those five, three would call. And off those three, one person may at some point in the future invite you to set.

Step 2: No Job is Too Big or Too Small

Just get on a set, and then you’re really cooking with gas. Don’t be ashamed if you have to start as a PA again. You have to pay the bills, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Introduce yourself as the person you want to be, no matter the size of your role. For example, I am a writer and producer. And I say, “Hey. I’m Sneha. I’m a writer and producer, but today I am working as a PA.” Crews reward smart workers by working with them more and more. The more crews you’re on, the more filmmakers you meet.

Step 3: Everyone Loves a Learner

Once you’re on set, you’re either going to be exceptional or replaceable. Everyone knows that unless you’re a prodigy, you can’t be extraordinary overnight - but filmmakers like to invest in the potential you have. Learn, and ask for the room and the grace to learn. People are forgiving of errors as long as they know your intention is to grow. Talk to every department and study them. Most people are happy to teach you, and very patient too, as long as you are eager to learn with devotion. Accumulate knowledge that you can use to push your career forward. And then, push.

Sneha Mendes

Step 4: Make Your Intentions Clear

You have big dreams and so do I. The beauty of film is that we are a community and we need each other to make things happen. So let everyone know about that screenplay you’re working on or that genre you want to try directing. This is a number game, and eventually something sticks and someone calls. We all need each other at some point, and it’s only a matter of time until someone needs you. Do not forget that you add value to every project you are on. Internalize that, and then work with intention.

Step 5: Tunnel Vision Baby

You will be very broke sometimes, and your body will be very sore, and your mind will be very tired. And it’s okay to take breaks or cry in the shower or to give up too. You are putting your body through a lot, and only you will know if it’s worth it. If you choose however, to keep waking up and deciding to be a filmmaker, the hardest thing you will have to do is keeping the faith. Things are going to work out, because you are working so hard, and hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. You will encounter five no’s for every yes that can give you that break you want. But trust me when I tell you, those yes’s are so worth it, and they will fuel you to go so far.

That’s it my friends, that’s all my secrets. It’s nothing grand, it’s just resilience. Money will come, networks will be built, connections will be made. If you were brave enough to start this journey, you’re already ready for it.

And lastly, to everyone starting off, and especially those immigrating, know that I am more than happy to lend an ear, or a shoulder or a piece of advice if you ever need it.