How to Get Credits When You’re Starting Out

Posted on: Mar 23, 2023

An African American cinematographer sets up a camera and lights for a day's shoot.Photo Credit: Photo credit: KAL VISUALS / Unsplash

By Michael Roberts

When applying for a job in the TV or film industry, the first thing you’ll be asked is, “What credits do you have?” Without credits, it can seem impossible to land a production gig. Even if you have a few, it can feel hard to land the right gig if you don’t have the right credits. So how do you get credits when you’re starting out in the industry?

Here are five tips for accruing your first credits:

1. Network

Networking is the art of socializing with others in your career field. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that allows you and your colleagues to help each other get hired for your next gig.  Typically, in the TV and film industry, networking occurs on sets, in production offices, or at a bar after a long day of work. So, how do you network if you don’t even have a job in the industry yet?

One way is to search online for networking events in your city. It can sometimes be hard to tell what is a legitimate industry event and what is a money-making scheme, so be sure to do your research before you part with any cash. Even if an event is free, it can be daunting to attend by yourself when you don’t have a familiar face in the room. Just remember that everyone is there with the same intention: to make connections. They want to talk to you, so put a smile on your face and say hello. Make sure to read our blog for more tips on effective networking strategies.

Another more personal method is to find people whose work you admire and reach out to them.  When you watch a show or movie you like, stick around for the credits, and take note of the people with the job you are hoping for. Look them up on Staff Me Up, IMDb and social media to see if they have a contact email. Then shoot them a complimentary note that includes specific praise on something that they did personally. The more specific you can be, the better. Just saying you liked the show or film they worked on can sound disingenuous or lazy, since many people work to make a project come to life. Complimenting a specific thing about the movie or episode they worked on will get their attention.

Introduce yourself as an aspiring [insert job title here]. If they live in the same city as you, ask if you can buy them a cup of coffee. If they live across the country or the globe, ask them if they have time for a phone call or Zoom chat. Make it clear that during this meeting you’d love to hear the story of how they built a career in the industry. People love to talk about themselves, so you won’t have any problem getting them to spill the beans.

Don’t ask for a job in the email or even during the meeting—your objective is to create a relationship and hopefully get a mentor. This person will be much more valuable long term than getting you just one job. If you make a good impression, they’ll consider you when they hear from people in their network looking to fill entry-level positions.

2. Learn what entry-level is for your desired career path

So, you want to be a producer? An editor? A director? A staff writer? None of these jobs are entry-level positions, and most people start as production assistants (PAs) or even interns. Learning the established path to your desired career path is essential in applying for the correct gigs that will set you on your way to your dream job.

If you have no credits and are applying to gigs that aren’t entry-level, you’ll undoubtedly be denied every time. For example, you might think assistant editor (AE) sounds like an entry-level job, but most AEs spend months or years doing PA work, digitizing, or logging before actually getting to work with footage.

Furthermore, not all PA jobs are equal. While having any credits are better than none, make sure you apply to jobs that will lead to the part of production you wish to be in. If you want to be on-set, don’t apply to post-production PA gigs. Post-production is what happens once the shooting is done and all the people on-set have moved on to another job.

An online search will help you navigate the career paths of the film and TV industries. It’s also a great opportunity to learn from your mentor and ask them what the career path is for your desired trade.

3. Get your cover letter ready and apply, apply, apply

Now that you know what jobs you should be applying for, it’s time to respond to every gig you see that fits the bill. Since you don’t have any credits, your resume will be lacking, so make sure to have a well-crafted cover letter that you can adapt to each job post.

Sign up for job alerts on Staff Me Up and make sure to respond as soon as possible.

4. Work while you wait

It could take some time to land that first credited gig, so in the meantime, keep busy by working on projects of your own or with others who don’t have industry jobs yet. Sharpen your skills with online courses or in-person workshops. These are great ways to network with others who are looking to get into the industry. You never know who will be the first to be hired, and once they have their foot in the door, they can keep it open for you, or vice versa.

5. Be patient, but consistent

The competition in this industry is intense, so brace yourself for lots of rejection. The ones who succeed are those who persevere and keep grinding when the landscape looks grim.  Eventually, someone will bite, and you’ll get your first job offer.

Good luck and just keep going!

Michael Roberts is a docu-reality editor. He recently worked on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and served as the supervising editor of HGTV’s “Battle on the Beach.”

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