Whether you’re a talented singer-songwriter or a writer looking to pen sitcoms, the entertainment industry is one place that has a career for just about anyone.
Everyone loves entertainment. Whether you’re into romantic weepies, punk rock, or the Food Network, there’s a niche to fit virtually every artistic taste. TV, film, music, theater, and even radio continue to be strongholds in the vast world of entertainment, but with the growth of the Internet and digital media, new technologies only increase the ways in which we are entertained- and the opportunities to make your own career a part of that process.
Plus, you don’t have to be a performer to participate. Do you love the magic of movies, but have no desire to get in front of the camera? Are you a music buff, but can’t sing to save your life? Never fear. Although entertainment is usually equated with the big-name movie stars and musicians that make it seem so glamorous in the first place, it could not exist without the thousands of professionals that create, produce, and support the films, TV shows, theater productions, and radio programs that we so eagerly consume.
Advertising, engineering, business, sales, and production are just a few of the areas that are fundamental to the entertainment industry that can make great careers for non-performers. Although a college degree isn’t as necessary as talent and experience are for an aspiring performer, it’s often a requisite in other fields. A degree in accounting, finance, or business is necessary to work in the financial arena. Degrees in journalism and communications are most practical for careers in television and radio broadcasting. Movie studios and production companies have lawyers, too, but you’re going to need that law degree to be one.
As varied as its career opportunities may be , with so many creative, driven people seeking to break into the industry, the entertainment industry is a dog-eat-dog world. If you think you’re interested in a career in entertainment, start gaining experience as early as possible; and while everyone would love to work for MTV, be willing to think more realistically and embrace any experience. Get involved with film and theater productions on campus. Work for your college radio station. Take your love of entertainment seriously and invest all of the enthusiasm, persistence, and talent you have, and you could be in for the ride of a lifetime.
The entertainment industry may be a showcase for creative talent, but it’s first and foremost a business, and an intensely competitive one at that. Where you live and who you know can often trump your ability and talent.
Hollywood: As you may be aware, the center of the entertainment universe is a little place known as Hollywood. As varied and far-flung as opportunities to work in the entertainment industry are, if you’re interested in working for the major (and minor) players in the film or television industries, your chances of getting a foot in the door and ultimately succeeding increase strongly if you’re based in Hollywood or L.A. At the same time, job seekers face stiff competition from the hordes of other eager stars-in-training flocking to the city.
New York: Although Hollywood may immediately conjure images of celebrities and elaborate studio lots, New York has its own possibilities. The Big Apple is the place to be if you’re interested in making it in independent film or theater, and its music scene is one of the biggest in the country.
Fierce competition: Whether you’re behind the camera or in front of it, onstage or off, the entertainment industry is extremely competitive. Case in point: the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the film industry’s major labor union, represents an estimated 120,000 performers alone- compare that to the number of celebs who have actually made it big. Even internships in production or art departments are very difficult to come by.
Low pay: Working in the entertainment industry by no means consigns you to a life of paltry paychecks, but when you’re starting out, the experience and connections that an internship or assistantship can yield are also accompanied by very little, and often no, money.
Technological innovation has transformed every aspect of entertainment. Consumers and creators alike are driven by the changing landscapes of the Internet, digital video, and media-on-demand.
Entertainment Goes Digital
The late twentieth and early twenty-first century saw a technological revolution that continues to evolve and has profoundly changed the way the entertainment industry operates. From iTunes to YouTube to podcasts, new methods of viewing and sharing content challenge the industry’s ability to adapt to changing technologies and maintain consumer loyalty in an age where it’s easier and cheaper to pirate a DVD or song instead of pay for the real thing. ABC, for example, has begun to offer recent reruns of its most popular shows online for free.
New Demands, New Opportunities
At the same time, the dawning of the digital age creates both opportunities and demands. In the realm of video, digital film has literally revolutionized the way that film is produced. It’s cheaper, easier to create (consider the number of videos on YouTube alone), and is even being taught in many high school film classes. At the same time, film directors and editors must keep up on the latest technologies and video-editing programs, and technical expertise in editing and special effects are more and more important. Even the advent of blogging has brought a more democratic method of showcasing talent: some high-profile bloggers have gained a level of visibility and readership that makes them authorities in everything from celebrity gossip to political commentary. So while your blog may not effortlessly land you a career in journalism or screenwriting, it’s a great way to hone your writing skills in the semi-public eye.
Blasting the Myths
Entertainment may be an industry that’s dominated by place (L.A. and New York), full of aspiring young talent, and very conscious of its own image, but it’s also a huge world traced by many paths.
1. “I thought I would never get any work if I didn’t live in New York or L.A.”
With production costs so high in the industry’s two meccas, film and television productions are increasingly shot on location all over the country and the world: New Mexico, Vancouver, and New Zealand are just a few popular and inexpensive locales. With so many new hotbeds of production and at least one film commission in every state, a career in entertainment doesn’t necessarily limit you to the coasts- or even to this continent.
2. “I didn’t have any industry internships or experience in college, so I was sure I had missed my chance for a career in entertainment.”
It’s never too late to pursue the career that truly calls to you, even if you’re already climbing the ladder of another one. Just be prepared and willing to start from scratch, probably as a low-paid intern or assistant.
3. “I’m worried that if I don’t land a job with a major movie studio or television network, my opportunities for an exciting career will be limited.”
Names like Paramount and NBC may pop up all over the news, but there are many fundamental cogs in the entertainment machine. Individual production companies create most of the television programming that is broadcast- in 1999, there were roughly 1300 in the United States alone- and advertising agencies produce the majority of commercials on air, translating into myriad professional opportunities.
Agent – The representative that gets performers auditions with the all-important casting directors and producers. There are agents who specialize in commercials, TV and film productions, theater, voice-over, and even print.
Breakdowns- A daily list of all of the roles currently being cast that is restricted to agents and managers’ eyes only.
Signatories – Producers who sign a contract according to union stipulations. If you’re a member of a union like SAG or AFTRA, it’s illegal to work on a non-signatory production without prior approval.
Callback – Any subsequent audition following the first-round audition.
Day player – A worker who’s only hired for a day at a time. The actor is automatically called back for another day if he isn’t told that he’s done by the end of the working day.
Pitch – The act of presenting a project proposal to a producer or agent. When pitching, you may only be given ten minutes to convince your audience that they should invest in your idea- or listen to you in the first place.
Query letter – An unsolicited letter sent to an agent by a writer or performer seeking representation.
Trades – The lifeblood publications of the industry, read in order to stay on top of the latest deals, projects, casting decisions, and more. The Hollywood Reporter and Back Stage are two of the biggest.
Residuals – Pay received by principal performers for the use of a movie or television program after the initial release or airing.
Tools of the Trade
Price: Most online content free; daily/weekly print edition and expanded online access $299/265, daily/weekly print edition $229/175.
What it is: The title says it all: the insider’s guide to news and deals in the industry.
Where it’s at: Find it at www.hollywoodreporter.com and in print.
Benefits: It’s chock-full of information on a huge variety of topics, such as industry deals and events, recent cast additions, and weekly box office receipts. An extensive online job board lists positions in 12 areas.
Drawbacks: None. Knowledge is power, and this is where to learn.
2. How To Sell Yourself As An Actor
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
What it is: A guide to navigating (and surviving) show business.
Where it’s at: Bookstores and major online bookstores.
Benefits: This how-to book, penned by a veteran of the biz, addresses the major concerns of actors at any stage along the way. It also approaches the entertainment industry with the understanding that it’s a business and that, dreams aside, you’re a product to be sold.
Drawbacks: Julia Roberts won’t need this book, but if you’re an aspiring actor looking for some insight, you might.
3. Careers in Communications and Entertainment
Price: $20 or less at online bookstores.
What it is: Detailed profiles of job opportunities in the entertainment industry.
Where it’s at: Available used at online bookstores; possibly at local used bookstores.
Benefits: 384 pages of comprehensive career options for anyone interested in communications or entertainment, from film to radio to publishing to special effects and new media. Insiders’ tips, interviews with experts, and industry diagrams dissect the jobs out there and how to land them.
Drawbacks: With its 2000 publication date, this Kaplan guide is going on seven years old, but it’s still well worth the investment- especially if you can nab a $2 copy online.
4. Back Stage
Price: Some info free online; various subscription fees include $12.95/month (www.backstage.com), $8.95/month (www.rossreports.com), and $16.95/month (both).
What it is: A career bible for actors.
Where it’s at: www.backstage.com ; print edition available at select bookstores.
Benefits: A major trade publication replete with career advice, casting notices (including union, non-union, and student films), and entertainment news. The online version also offers the famous Ross Reports, an authoritative list of agents and casting directors.
Drawbacks: The subscription fee doesn’t come cheap, but the inside scoop it buys is hard to pass up.
5. Screen Actors Guild(SAG)
Price: Website is free; work experience, fee, and dues prerequisite for membership into the organization.
What it is: The largest union in the entertainment industry.
Where it’s at: www.sag.org
Benefits: This 120,000-strong actors’ union has fought to protect the rights of performers in the entertainment industry. If you’re seriously invested in pursuing a film career, chances are high that you’ll someday become a member.
Drawbacks: Unless you qualify for membership, it doesn’t provide any tangible benefits, but the website gives you a realistic taste of industry conditions.