I want to work in film and television. What are my options?

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Jeff from the New England Conservatory asked:

What kinds of jobs are available in film and television?  I am particularly interested in getting involved in how music is selected for movies and TV shows.

Hi Jeff

The people who determine what music is used in movies and television are called Music Supervisors.  To learn more about the music supervision profession, I recommend following the Guild of Music Supervisors on Facebook and on Twitter (@guildofmusic). Music Supervision is just one of the many “behind the scenes” roles filled by the large majority of entertainment industry professionals.

film and tvWhat kinds of jobs are available in film and television?

Many people make a good living and lead rewarding careers working in the entertainment industry.

Everyone sees the actors and hears about the directors and producers, but stick around at the end of a movie to watch the credits, and you will discover that it takes hundreds of people in a wide variety of jobs to make every film, video and television program.

The career website Media-Match provides a great summary of film and television industry job descriptions which can help you develop an understanding of the breadth of opportunities available.

While there is a lot of opportunity, a career in film and television is not for the faint of heart or the risk-averse.  You will face many obstacles and a lot of competition if you choose to work in entertainment, so it is best to go into it with your eyes wide open.

Following are three realities you must accept if you want to work in film and television:

You will not be recruited for entry-level work

More people want to work in film and television than there are available jobs in film and television, so companies in these industries to not have to recruit heavily to find candidates for most entry-level jobs. They don’t need to look for candidates, candidates look for them.  If you want to work in entermainment, you have to be the hunter, because you will not be the hunted.

Once you have established a professional reputation and a network of professional relationships in the industry, your options and your bargaining power will increase greatly. When you are just getting started, you goal is to get your foot in the door before that door slams shut or before someone else gets their foot in the door ahead of you.

You will have to go to where the work is

Fact. In the U.S., the large majority of the entertainment “middle class” lives in or around the city of Los Angeles. There are large pockets of additional entertainment industry professionals in places like New York City, Chicago, Miami, Nashville, and a few other cities.  If you want to work in film and television, you will need to move to where films and television programs are written, developed, produced and sold; that likely means LA.

Every city needs teachers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, computer programmers, nurses, police officers, etc. Very few cities need music superviors, editors, screenwriters, directors, camera operators, grips, or best boys; and when they do, they only need a few.

If you don’t want to go to where the jobs are, you don’t really want to work in film and television.

You will have to pay your dues

3989539535_a2aac61844_z (2)Hollywood is full of stories of successful writers, producers, actors, agents and studio executives who began their careers making very little money waiting tables, working in agency mailrooms, answering phones, picking up laundry or being someone’s personal assistant or unpaid intern.

Early in your career, you will have to pay your dues, figuratively, in order to advance. Be prepared to work long hours for little or no pay, doing work that doesn’t require a college degree, and working for very demanding and often eccentric people.  Is this fair? No, it’s Hollywood, and it’s reality.

As you progress in your career, you will likely have to pay your dues, literally, to one of the industry’s many professional associations, guilds and unions. These organizations provide stability, benefits and collective bargaining for many entertainment industry professionals that work primarily freelance, from project to project, and on short-term contracts. Working in film and television isn’t just a career, it’s a professional lifestyle and is very different from traditional employment.

If you want to stay in your hometown, be “in demand” with employers, make good money early in your career and enjoy a fairly predictable and stable career path, DO NOT consider a career in film, television or any other part of the entertainment industry.

If you have been bitten by the Hollywood bug, you know you will be betraying your own soul if you don’t try, and you find the unpredicable nature of the entertainment industry energizing and exciting …. well, you don’t have a choice!

Pack your bags and buckle your seatbelt! You’re going to Hollywood!

Good luck,


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