As soon as you step on your first set (or second or third), start exploring to find what you want to be. Many people fall into the habit of thinking below-the-line film crews are one big nebulous group of people separated by a director at the top and everyone else at the bottom.
But that thinking hides some of the most interesting jobs.
It’s true the director sits pretty as king of the mountain (though a producer might try to knock them off once in a while), but there is such diversity among the talented people who make up a film crew that to lump them all together into one identical group is misleading.
So, what do you want to do on set?
If you want to tinker like you used to as a kid with legos, go be a grip.
If you want to build and construct, lend a hand and a hammer to the sets.
If you want to furnish and explore worlds, find a spot in the art department.
If you want to make zombies drool blood, there’s a spot for you in the make-up trailer.
If you want to control the blood of the filmmaking body, become an electrician.
If you want to paint with light, become a gaffer.
If you want to capture the ambience of an atmosphere, become a sound mixer.
If you want to be the ringleader of crew, cracking the whip simply because it will make the film better, become an assistant director.
If you want to tell stories, become a producer.
If you want to tell your stories, become a director.
If you want the best view on set, join the camera department to secure a seat behind the lens.
If you don’t know what you want, then pick anything on this list and start there. Become a production assistant, a driver, whatever you can get hired as. There’s so many nooks and crannies in the film industry that you may not have found your niche yet.
Once you find a job that sticks, go after it aggressively because it will dictate everything else that follows: what department you’ll report to, who you eat with during lunch, and what tools you’ll need in your kit. Even what kind of clothes you wear to set.
The faster you make that choice, the quicker you get to start working towards establishing yourself as a professional and making money doing it.
In some cases, you might wrap on a shoot and discover you hate the long hours, the spontaneity, and the grueling workload of film production. That’s OK – it’s definitely not for everyone.
In that case, if you want a normal Saturday & Sunday weekend, a steady paycheck, predictable hours, easy tax filings, and all the perks that come with joining the 9-5 workforce while still being a part of the industry, pick a job off the set. There’s marketers and sales people and web developers and agents and an entire ecosystem of more traditional jobs built around the film industry that don’t have the same pitfalls as being in production (though, like any job, they have their own drawbacks).
You don’t have to be behind the camera on set or in the director’s chair to be a part of the industry.
You do, however, have to know what you want. So, what’s it going to be?