Achieving a career in Hollywood might be a dream for many, but it's not a challenge for the faint of heart. Part of the problem is that there's a massive amount of competition for the same jobs; everyone's looking for the same opportunities.
If you think you just need a degree from a top-notch school to break into film or television, think again. As in many types of work, connections are all-important and you'll need to be willing to start at the bottom.
Internships and Other Low- or Non-Paying Gigs
As ugly as it sounds, it's absolutely essential at first that you be willing to work either for free or for a very low wage as an intern or bottom-rung production assistant. Those who are financially able to do so should be able to get a position with a film or television crew relatively quickly. The key thing is to take this opportunity to meet others in the business and learn on the job in the hope of making the leap to a better opportunity.
Focusing on Agencies
Television producer Chad Gervich advises Hollywood newcomers to focus their job search on the top talent agencies: Creative Artists Agency, Endeavor/WME, ICM Partners, and United Talent Agency. Those agencies—and smaller ones like them—are where you can learn the most about show business and make connections with all of the right people—or at least their assistant.
At an agency, you'll start in the mailroom or as a fill-in assistant, Chervich says, with the goal of becoming an agent's full-time assistant. After some time at an agency, you'll be acquainted with dozens of people who can help you land your next job, and because of your connections, you'll learn what jobs are available right after they become open.
You won't be considered for many Hollywood jobs—even lower-level ones—unless you have agency experience.
Knowing Where Not to Look
It's not unheard of to find your first TV or movie job through job sites and boards like The Hollywood Reporter's or Showbizjobs.com. But you should probably steer clear of websites that charge monthly fees because they're unlikely to be worth the money. Some of the jobs posted online already have a prime candidate—someone who knows someone on the team—before the listing even goes up.
Being Persistent and Helpful
When you're trying to get your first Hollywood job, persistence pays. You don't want to follow up to the point of annoyance, but you can't be a shrinking violet.
Spend some portion of every day doing something that helps you get the job you want. Meet people, make calls, send emails—take action to move forward.
It's also important when writing a cover letter or interviewing with a hiring manger to put the focus on what you can do for the producer, art director, head writer, or whoever. If you can show you're all about being helpful and wanting to contribute thoughtfully to a project, you'll stand well above the candidates who want to talk about their dreams and plans, which are of little interest to most Hollywood creatives.