How to Break into the UK Film Industry
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The UK film industry is a wonderful and beguiling beast. Often, it’s mistaken for being small or inferior to it’s American counterpart, Hollywood. Whilst that’s true, it’s an industry that produces actors, up and coming directors and films that are more than their match for our Atlantic cousins, if not in budget, then in creativity and story.
It’s also an incredibly tough industry and is notoriously difficult to break into. It’s often said that it’s an industry of who you know, rather than what you know. Though that’s not entirely true, many people in the film industry don’t possess qualifications in their craft. It’s an unusual industry, where experience can be gained from the job itself, with no requisite qualification needed for many roles.
We look at some of the best ways to enter the UK film industry below, taking into account the things you should be wary of when starting out on what can be a difficult, but extremely rewarding journey.
This is by far one of the best ways to enter the industry, but also the most competitive. A runner is the entry level position into television and film. It’s a job that is extremely varied and time demanding. As a runner, you’ll be responsible for a myriad of people and tasks, but there is no better way gain an understanding of how the industry works. It could be that you’re a runner to a director one week, and therefore around them as they prepare and plan the shoot, and then running for an actor the next week. Some weeks you’ll be on location or in studio, other times you’ll be in the production office. It’s so varied and so fast paced that no other job gives you an insight quite like being a runner.
The slight pitfalls of this role however, are that you’ll need to have a dedication to your job like few others. As a runner, you’re depended on
for some very interesting roles, (assisting actors, being on set, being around production teams) but the hours can be just as long, if not longer, than the cast and crew’s.
Many people view this as the optimum way to introduce yourself to the industry, often needing no qualifications and no history of having worked in the industry before. All you really need, is a driver’s license.
Pros: You see more of the industry than anyone else, and if you’re unsure about what you want to do, this is a great way to get a glimpse of various aspects. It’s also a fantastic place for those with no qualifications to get into the industry, by contacting production companies and studios, asking for vacancies. It can be that simple.
Cons: If you’re over a certain age, it can feel a little demeaning to be starting at entry level. This is probably a role for younger people, those who have just left university, or those who can see past some of the job roles and are focused on climbing the ladder.
Learn by doing.
This is our favourite on the list, and it’s a great way to be independent in an industry that thrives upon independence. If you want to be a director, an actor, and editor, a writer, or any other role in the industry, then the absolute best way to become one is to be one already. If you love writing, then research writing scripts and dialogue, and start writing. Once it’s done, join filmmaker Facebook or Twitter groups and forums, and share your work. It sounds puerile, but not only is filmmaking one of the most enjoyable endeavours to undertake, it’s also one of the most rewarding. And in no other way can you learn so quickly about what it takes to make a film, lateen a good film.
There are Facebook groups also dedicated to people who want to meet other filmmakers, in order to start projects together. Writers need directors. Directors need producers. And producers need actors. Filmmaking is so collaborative, and so organic, that meeting likeminded people will only further develop your skills, and teach you more about the industry than reading about it ever could.
Pros: There is nothing more fun than filmmaking. The opportunity to create something from nothing is a powerful one. Find something you
enjoy doing, and then find a team of people that you want to do it with. Your first film crew.
Cons: It can cost money and time to pursue. Those at film school already have a huge advantage here. If you have the opportunity, study filmmaking.
We at Met Film School can hardly hide behind bias here, but this is a no- brainer. Filmmaking courses give you a solid foundation for learning all that industry has to offer. We’ve broken it down for you:
– Connections: Film schools and courses are affiliated with former alumni, as well as studios and production companies. They will often provide you with contacts and information for how to get ahead in the specific areas you’re interested in.
– Equipment: You’ll have access to cameras, sound equipment, locations, crew (see below), lighting, the works. And you’ll even get critiqued by lecturers on how to improve you work. Your very own (productive) film critic.
– Crew: You’re surrounded by people just like you. Passionate about film, passionate about filmmaking. Within your class, you’ll have people who are interested in all aspects and elements of the industry. You’ll find a crew in no time.
– Skills: You may already know about filmmaking as you enter a course, but filmmaking is not numbers. It is not statistics. It is a tool with which to communicate an idea, emotion or feeling. Therefore, you can never learn enough or know enough. Studying will help you to take the skills you have and make them better and better.
Pros: You are given a guided hand into the industry and are equipped with everything you need.
Cons: There are none. A great way to get ahead.
And finally, social media. One of the most powerful resources we have at our disposal, and something you can’t simply can’t overlook. There are twitter groups and especially Facebook groups dedicated to helping people find work in the TV and film industry. Once such group, ‘People Who Are Available For Work In TV’, is a group that updates with available jobs. You’re instantly in a group with people from the industry, and you’re able to post questions and ask for advice. It’s a great way to network if you’re not already in the industry, and an even better way to get familiar with the types of roles that come available, and find out what it takes be first in line for jobs. Have your CV ready.
Pros: A tool for networking, a place to meet other future industry professionals, and a forum to ask for advice. All from the comfort of your living room.
Cons: If you have zero experience, it can be tricky to get jobs ahead of those who already have some.
Thoughts from the experts:
Ultimately, filmmaking is a hobby and a passion, so it’s likely you’re pursuing it in your spare time in your own ways. Turning that passion into a profession is tough, but like anything, perseverance and the right attitude are crucial. Research what it is you’d like to do in the industry, get your foot in the door and never stop learning.
- Many of us have thought about how we would rather be doing something more enjoyable, like working in the film industry, as we battle our way to work through the busy morning commute. However, though we might wish to make a change, we struggle to think of ways of making our dreams a reality.
- Recently we interviewed Terry Illot, former CEO of Hammer Pictures, who believes that typically people in the UK feel that hard work and luck play a big part of success in the film industry, but they fail to realize that it’s possible to gain a competitive edge, if they are armed with the right theoretical and practical training:
- He notes the picture is very different in the US. There people prepare themselves for success, combining practical experience with gaining the right academic training to succeed. It is also important to note that filmmaking roles are not concentrated in the areas of screenwriting, directing, postproduction and cinematography. Opportunities exist for those with a knowledge of business e.g. finance structuring, requirements for growth and business planning. In particular, business skills are essential for success in the field of producing. Essentially, filmmaking is a business like anything else and knowledge of sound business principles can be applied very successfully in this environment.
- Interestingly, in the US it is not uncommon for producers working in filmmaking to possess MBA related qualifications. However, in the UK fewer than maybe two dozen professionals have Masters level Business qualifications across the entire film industry, employing more than 40,000 full-time staff. For an industry that is responsible for producing huge international franchises such as James Bond and Harry Potter this is incredible.
- He feels that in the UK we have great expertise and talent, but we are not building on these by keeping up with trends in the global filmmaking market in terms with qualifications. He believes people who are armed with relevant business skills and academic training will have a competitive edge in the filmmaking job-seekers market.
- That’s why Terry worked with Met Film School to develop a new course that addresses this knowledge gap in the UK film industry. MBAs are expensive and also generally they aren’t focused on the filmmaking directly. He developed Six-Month Business and Producing, to offer career changers the opportunity to learn the key business skills required for filmmaking part-time on alternate Saturdays. He feels this will help people get the skills they need fast to gain a competitive edge, when looking for new opportunities, whilst also allowing them to balance their personal/work commitments effectively.