How to Forge a Path in the Entertainment Industry Without Connections
Posted on: Aug 24, 2023
The cliché is true—when it comes to Hollywood, it’s all about who you know. Well, what if you don’t know anyone?
It can be intimidating to break into the entertainment industry if you feel you’re lacking personal connections to get you in the door, but don’t let that deter you from pursuing your dreams. Read on for a guide of how to find connections, forge relationships and navigate your way into the industry at the ground level.
Reconsider Your Current Connections & Experience
Before you write off your network, be sure you have truly exhausted every option. Now is not the time for an ego—try to keep an open mind and ask for help. Reach out to friends, family members, coworkers and colleagues and let them know of your goal. You never know who may know someone else they can connect you with.
Ask if anyone knows someone who may be able to pass on your résumé or help you get a foot in the door. You may be surprised what you will find. In general, it’s best to take a personal approach when asking for favors, but don’t be afraid to broadcast your goals on social media as well. The more people who know that you are looking, the better. This is also a great time to assess where you currently stand.
Do you have any relevant experience at this point? Have you taken any classes? Whether you have or not, there is always an opportunity to grow your knowledge of the entertainment industry. Start following social media accounts of studios and companies you may be interested in. Pay attention to industry trends and read the trades (ex: Deadline or Variety). You don’t need a film degree to get your hands on a textbook. Do your research, so when that opportunity finally comes knocking, you’ll be ready.
Make New Connections
Once you’ve reached out to everyone you know, it’s time to expand your network. Your goal is to connect with someone new in a natural, authentic way. You never know who you may meet that could become a valuable connection, mentor or friend.
If you were involved in a high school AV club, or majored in film or television in college, this is an easy way to network. You don’t have to be a film major to take advantage of alumni networks. Reach out to former professors or teachers who may be able to point you in the right direction. If your college has an alumni network, get involved and see if there are any members in the entertainment industry who might be willing to speak with you. If your past education hasn’t provided many of these resources, it’s never too late to take a new class.
Internships & Volunteering
Never underestimate the value of an internship. For many people new to the industry, that first internship is the first group of people they have met in their profession. You can be an intern during school, after graduating or even after grad school. If school was a while ago for you, you can still volunteer! You can often find non-profit events or low-budget projects that will need volunteers on event or shoot days. This may allow you to meet people who could hire you in the future, or at least help build your résumé.
Social media has made it even easier to find and create connections online. You can join Facebook groups specific to your field of interest (ex: Women Working in Reality TV), you can follow studio or company accounts and reach out to professionals via LinkedIn. You may not immediately book a gig or get a response from everyone you reach out to online, but if you invest the time and energy to engage and connect, you may be able to share your résumé or start a conversation.
Events, Panels & Mixers
There are all kinds of industry events where everyone will be mingling and networking. This could be anything from attending a local film festival to a formal meetup with other industry members you found online. You can submit to a variety of competitions in areas such as screenwriting. You can attend a Q&A panel on a subject you find interesting. You may not get to meet everyone on stage, but it’s likely you could meet someone else attending who shares your interests.
Most people you reach out to will not be able to offer you a job on the spot, but they may be willing to lend you their time and advice. If you have the opportunity, ask if they have time for a phone call, or if you can buy them a cup of coffee. Be prepared with questions, but also be ready to listen to anything they’d like to share. This can both expand your network and help inform your job search.
Smaller Companies or Direct Emails
There’s nothing wrong with applying to major studios or competitive jobs, but it can be hard to get eyes on your application in a pool of hundreds of applicants. Targeting smaller companies can help to narrow your competition. You can find local production companies or smaller studios that support specific elements of the production or event process. Some smaller companies may even list an email address to contact regarding jobs or to submit applications. This is a great way to ensure your résumé makes it into an inbox, and if you’re lucky, someone may choose to respond or save your contact info for future openings.
Move to an Industry Hub
While you may be able to find local work or make connections from afar, you’re much more likely to meet people in your industry if you move to a city where production is booming. This no longer applies strictly to Los Angeles, although Hollywood remains the top location for the industry. It may simply take moving to the city nearest to you where they host events or festivals that you’d like to work. Studios and sound stages have popped up all over the globe in recent years. Take time to research which location may provide you with opportunities most relevant to your goals, and take the leap. Even if you wind up working a retail job when you arrive, you’re much more likely to be hired for that dream gig if you are already local to the hiring city.
Staff Me Up
If you’re reading this, hopefully you already know! Staff Me Up is an excellent resource for entertainment industry work. You’ll find a range of openings from full-time positions to day-playing gigs. Check for new postings frequently and turn on notifications for positions specific to your department of interest and location. Always take the time to personalize your Staff Me Up applications and be sure to highlight any relevant experience or skills. Even if you aren’t hired for that specific posting, if your application stands out, the hiring manager may save your résumé for later.
However you choose to connect, remember that networking is a two-way street. Be honest and transparent about your goals—your intentions should never be to use someone. If you can help your connection in some way, do it. Attend their film screening, send them the name of that amazing bakery you told them about. Always thank new connections for any time they have spent with you and keep in touch going forward. A person does not have to hold your dream job title to be a valuable resource. You never know who you may meet or what opportunities may present themselves along the way. Be genuine, be persistent and be grateful and people are bound to think of you when the time comes.
Pay it Forward
Once you’ve broken into the entertainment industry, never forget where you came from. You have first-hand experience with the struggle, and you now have the power to help someone else. Share job openings when you come across them. Lend your time and experience to those seeking advice. Take a chance on someone new and eager. The more we can all help each other out, the more fulfilling our time in the industry will be.
Kealey McGray studied Creative Writing and Film & Television at the University of Michigan. She has worked in almost every part of the entertainment industry for the past 14 years including live TV, unscripted TV, and scripted TV, as well as independent films, commercials, events/concerts, and for a major Hollywood studio.
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