How to Start a Career in the Television and Video Production Industry

Do you aspire to work in television and video? Maybe you would like to work in film?

This is the first installment in a series of helpful information and tips on how you can start a career in the media industry. My mother always used to say, “Nothing ever comes easy.” You could say the same about the Entertainment Industry, because if you decide on a career in film or television that is the industry you are entering. The reason I point this out is because the entertainment industry is wide open with employment opportunities, one for every interest and skill.

Why just limit yourself to film work? You can easily migrate back and forth from television to film because both are similar in nature. A degree is beneficial, but usually not necessary. The field is open to anyone. The one thing to remember is that this industry is about part time and contractual employment. There are scarce opportunities that offer steady full time work with benefits and a retirement package. Even local television stations offer mostly part time work at a scale of $8-16 an hour. Maintaining a career in this industry requires a wide variety of skills and a certain amount of hustle. Here are two real life examples.

A former adult student of mine relocated back to Los Angeles after taking my class. He called me one day and told me he found work with a production company that was producing a television series pilot. It was a guaranteed six months of work at a rate of about $26 an hour. A couple of months before they wrap, he finds out the series he is working on is not going be picked up by the network. This means he would soon be out of work.

His knew a friend working for another company, and he tells him they are in need of a crew for an upcoming production in several months. He ended the conversation by saying his plan was to save up enough money to get him through in between jobs. In a more revealing example, the person who trained me used to direct commercials in Los Angeles. I believe that a couple of the commercials even televised nationally. He also once worked as a set dresser for a Disney film. One day I asked him why he gave it up and came back to Salinas, our hometown.

He told me, “You work six months and are out of work for four.” Keep in mind that this is temporary contract employment. Once the contract ends, you do not qualify for unemployment benefits. A precarious career if you are raising a family. These are just two examples of what to expect in this business. This may sound negative or pessimistic, but I am merely being realistic. It’s better to start your career knowing this than to jump in blindly, get frustrated when things get tough, and quit. If you want a career in this field do not expect a secure and reliable nine to five kind of job that will make your mom proud. On the surface, the entertainment industry is very glamorous, but it requires dedication and perseverance to survive.

Even so, it is a truly satisfying career for any creatively minded person. How many people do you know that would love to work in this business, in any capacity? Just remember that in order to survive and put food on the table you must be willing to diversify your skills. Do not be over look any possible opportunity.

Just because you ultimately want to become a screenwriter, you should not turn down work as a production grip, TV station crew, A/V crew, radio technician, or even theater projectionist. Each of these income sources has their own various opportunities in themselves. You will find that most people employed in these jobs have the same aspirations you do. They may tell you of opportunities they hear about, because it is also about networking and being where opportunities may arise. Let us say you are an aspiring animator. One day you would like to work on an animated movie, or maybe even a video game.

You find temporary work as a grip for a small video production company. The job is laborious and really is not what you want to do, but the wages are good. You do your job well and the next time the company is in town they offer you more work. As time goes on you gain the trust of your coworkers. One day a crew member mentions in conversation that the producer will soon be looking for graphic artists to help on the animated opening credits. Do you see how this works?

This industry wants mostly young, single people willing to tolerate hard, hectic work schedules and occasional long hours. They must also have a willingness to be there on weekends and holidays. Yes, even on Christmas morning. Keep in mind that while you are sitting there on Thanksgiving Day watching the ball game, there are people working on the camera crew in the stadium, in the remote production trailer, at the network receiving and sending the signal to their affiliates, and at the local station sending it to your television.

There are no holidays or weekends in this business. Another expectation of this industry is that you migrate from job to job. Employers in other fields prefer to see a stable work history at one place on a resume. In this business jumping from one job to another is encouraged. They call it market jumping, and it is how you gain more experience so you can relocate to bigger paying markets.

Having said all of this it may appear that in order to work in this field, you must be where the major media industry is. However, this is not always the case. You do not necessarily have to live in Los Angeles to begin a career in this field. In the next segment, we will discuss making a living in the local media market, and the mindset needed to achieve it.


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