The film industry is notorious for its transience. Finding steady work is like finding the fountain of youth: chasing a mirage. Back in the golden days of Hollywood, crew were devoted to a studio. They signed a contract to just work on Warner pictures or MGM pictures and films were cranked out assembly-line-like as they were made in-house. Stars were locked into picture contracts that devoted them to a particular studio brand their entire careers. Nowadays, that idea is stone dead.
More than ever, since the writer’s strike of ’07, it’s all about the “independent contractor.” All film people (if they aren’t part of the corporate machine, ie: they actually work in production) are technically self-employed, according to the tax code. Often a company rehires its entire crew from scratch when revving up a new project. Whether it’s a day long, like a commercial, or the cushy 46 year run of Days Of Our Lives, your contract ends when the show ends, nevermind how long or short it is.
And so we are looking for work almost all the time. Since the projects that pay the big bucks hire off their own Rolodexes rather than touch Monster or Mandy with a ten foot pole, you had better have some good friends up top. We’re all busy people, we can’t be besties with everyone we ever meet, so we have to get used to typing out a shiny turd I call the “remember letter.” That wonderfully awkward piece of prose that says, “Hey! Remember me? We met once at that party/movie with the chickens/panel about Star Trek and we got along/worked well together. I happen to be free for the next few weeks and was letting you know I am available if you know of anyone looking for an assist.”
Yes, even the best of us have to send out these awkward babies to people, even worse they’re often the people we’re most worried about impressing. We have to send a lot of them. In fact, its smart to keep a list of employers or people who are in management circles and let them all know you’re available. Why don’t you let them know you’re available a lot? Like, every two weeks you’re unemployed. Every two weeks contact them and ask for work.
Sounds overbearing? Overeager? What if they don’t like your nagging? What if you frustrate or offend them?
I know “what if.” Nothing if. Nothing will happen. The ones who don’t want to talk to you will block you from their phone. Your emails will file into the spam folder. They’ll tell you to please leave them and their families alone or they’ll call the police. That is IF they are even of that minority of people that will let you know. Most people generally will quietly ignore you because they themselves don’t want to seem like asses, and those people probably weren’t going to hire you anyways.
So if you buck up, it’s ultimately a win-win. We all hate begging and groveling for things, but the most comforting thought I keep in my head regarding such embarrassing necessary evils is that everyone in the field has to go through it. Consider the situation from the receiving end, the production manager who receives not only your message but messages from everyone that they’ve previously worked with who’s looking for work. You are nothing special.
Unless you are special. Unless you make yourself special, special enough that your image truly does float to the top when the next assist job comes up. How do you accomplish that?
By simply doing what I said earlier, calling every two weeks.
The truth is most people don’t even get that far. Most people capitulate and never do press that “send” button. They’re too afraid to speak up, to be forward or to be pushy. By being one of the few that realizes the value and the harmlessness of these routine actions (despite how much we hate them, no one likes asking people they barely know for a job) you are already one of a very few people who has just recently had contact with this employer. He read your email that morning. He simply knows you exist and that you’re available and, if you’re lucky in having worked with him before, that you are reliable. When the current PA turns over for whatever reason, he calls you, because now you exist.
Getting work is often a thing of luck, but it’s not ALL luck. There is effort involved. This is the effort part. If you put in the effort, eventually, at some point, even though during a dry spell it seems like it’ll never happen, you will get work.