Seven Things to Do Before You Graduate with a Film Degree

graduateIf you’re a student studying film, chances are you have a lot on your plate.  Classes, productions, exams, and maybe a job and a social life, too.  But there are some key things you can do to give yourself a head start in the field, whether you’re interested in production. post-production, broadcast, or other media.  Complete this list to get a head start on a successful career.

Get an Internship

You are going to need something on your resume besides McDonald’s and a BA in film.  Find an internship in a field you think might be interesting.  Make sure you’ll have a direct supervisor who can help you learn something, not just have you do menial work all day.  Expect to spend 80-160 hours of college in an internship.  If you can’t find a paid internship, it’s okay to take an unpaid one.  I suggest limiting your work time to 120 unpaid hours, though.  After that, you’ve made your connections, left your impressions, and hopefully learned a few lessons.  Now you can put the internship on your resume and find an entry-level job.

Need some ideas on an internship?  A lot of smaller businesses don’t post anything formally, but if you leave your resume on their desk enough times, you might get a call back anyway.  If you’re in Milwaukee, we sometimes hire interns, too!

Create Something Impractical

You will have your whole career to make other people’s projects.  When you’re doing work for clients or a specific television program or film, you probably won’t get a lot of creative input.  You’ll be subject to brand guidelines, messaging guidelines, tone, and budget in ways you can’t even imagine.  College might be your last chance to do something “crazy.”  You can work on projects without deadlines, spend hours on them without counting and budgeting, and finish when you decide it’s done.  And when you’re done, having something really unique to show as part of the interview process is a great way to be remembered.

Submit Things for Awards

If you’re doing it right, you’re creating things for class and campus groups non-stop in college.  Be sure to let your best work collect some awards.  Film festivals, advertising and media groups festivals, and student groups all have awards.  Winning is usually about a combination of talent, luck, and submitting to lots of opportunities.  Taking home a few awards will boost your confidence and add a line item to your resume, both of which are important when you’re trying to get in the door at your first “real” job.

Start a LinkedIn Profile

This advice applies to almost every college student.  You need to create your own personal brand, and waiting until after graduation is too late.  Almost every internship or job opportunity that considers you will probably look up your profile, see what you’ve done, and how you may be connected to their existing employees.  Create your profile, add some work experience, and start to find your voice.  Be sure to build your network, especially with faculty and students a year or two ahead of you.  You’ll be looking to work and get internships in the same places your friends are.  This can also be a great way to keep in touch and ask for career advice from people who have been where you are.

Join Some Organizations

Be sure to get involved with at least one organization on campus and one professional organization.  These are great ways to build your network and give you some introductions into the world of film and video production.  Personal connections are important in any industry, but for you, they will be extra important.  You could be moving from project to project as a contractor every few months, so the more people you already know, the easier it will be to find your next project.  Lots of professional organizations have reduced rates for students, too!  Not sure where to start?  If you’re in Wisconsin, I suggest United Adworkers, Madison Media Professionals, and Milwaukee Film,  Different cities have different groups, but try to find one in an area you’re interested in, with regular events and a lot of members you’d like to get to know.

Work as a Production Assistant

There are two ways to make a living in the world of moving pictures: jobs and gigs.  Chances are, you’re pretty familiar with how a job works.  Gigs are different.  Usually lasting between a day and six weeks, gigs are project-based work and you’ll usually be paid a day rate, as opposed to hourly.  Production Assistants (called PAs) are almost always paid a day rate and usually get to be on set.  You’ll probably need to provide an invoice and get some experience in invoicing and taxes.  People who work as contractors on different gigs are called freelancers.  Even if you’re not planning on spending your career as a freelancer, you’ll still benefit from seeing how that world works.

Make Some Cold Calls

Even the most accomplished people in the worlds of cinema and television are just people like you and me.  Find an excuse to get in touch with your idol.  Maybe you’re writing a paper for a class and would like a quote, or you’re interested in touring their facility or finding out about their process.  These days, it’s pretty easy to send an email, and if you appeal to their ego, you’ll probably get a response.  Just be professional, concise, and end with a specific action you’d like them to take.  You might be surprised who emails you back.

Now go create some projects, make some connections, and win some awards!

Posted by Jon Kline