“There are no small roles” in TV & Film Production
Earlier this year, we posted one of our most popular blogs: 40 Hollywood Jobs You Should Know.
We listed 40 of the more “traditional” TV and film production jobs (such as Writer’s Assistant, 1st AD, Grip, Best Boy, Showrunner, Visual Effects Artist), but this time around, we’ve compiled a diverse list of unconventional, behind-the-scenes jobs that are also a very major part of the film production, television and digital production process.
Why? Because before cameras start rolling, budgets need drafted, sets need built, and a slick web interface is crucial in generating promotional buzz.
I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for more than two decades, and as Hollywood has changed, so have the jobs.
I can tell you firsthand that there are a myriad of new opportunities out there that you might not have associated with wearing the badge of “entertainment professional”.
As Co-Founder of MoreMentum, our company’s hope is that everyone who wants to work in entertainment can do exactly that by finding the perfect job best suited for their skill sets—whether that’s a more traditional route like a Writer, Producer or Production Assistant; or a less traditional (but no less important) job function, such as a Carpenter, Web Designer, or Studio Teacher.
Here are the top 10 non-traditional TV and film production gigs that can help fast-track your skills straight through the backdoor and into the front of the jobs line in Hollywood.
Lesser-Known Hollywood Film Production Jobs
1. Hollywood Job: Web Developer
What They Earn: According to “PayScale”, Web Developers can earn salaries ranging from $43,000 to $112,000, with the average salary falling around $66,000. If you have specialized skill sets, you could possibly start out earning a salary around $78,000.
Where To Look: You don’t necessarily need a college or tech degree in web development, but whatever path you choose, you should always hone your skills every chance you get. Once you feel that you’re ready to start seeking a TV or film production job, start your search on your dream company’s corporate website and then fan out to the other entertainment job sites, which you can find at the end of this blog.
2. Hollywood Job: Studio Teacher
What They Do: Just as the title states, these teachers are hired by film and TV studios to teach all actors who are minors ages 1 to 18. Jobs can range from TV shows and theater productions to big budget Hollywood films. The state of California has a mandate in place to monitor child labor laws and one of the criteria is employing a Studio Teacher who must be on set at all times when child actors are working.
Studio Teachers do not teach acting, but rather a curriculum that is age and grade level appropriate and includes lesson plans that have been given to them by the respective school of the minor actor. Each Studio Teacher must have a California teaching credential as well as pass a written exam administered by the Labor Commission—which will ensure that the Studio Teacher understands the child labor laws. Additionally, each Studio Teacher applicant must attend a two-day, 12-hour studio teacher course that is offered once per year by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. This is paramount because in addition to teaching 1–10 students per assignment, the Studio Teacher is also an advocate for the children and makes sure that the studios or production companies are complying with safety practices and child labor laws.
Studio Teacher assignments are similar to working for a temp agency and can be just as sporadic, but the job can include a lot of perks like travel with the production as well, including overseas travel.
What They Earn: Studio Teachers with a reputable agency can earn up to $220 a day and sometimes the “day” can be as short as 3 hours. The average yearly salary is around $55,000 and up.
Where To Look: To find out every step to becoming a Studio Teacher in California, click here.
3. Hollywood Job: Entertainment Accountant or Business Manager
What They Do: A bachelor’s degree in accounting can take you in two directions in Hollywood: a) as an accountant at a firm or production company; or b) as a Business Manager to a celebrity or at a boutique or even large firm. Accountants to celebrities (and not-so-famous production clients) handle everything from day-to-day bookkeeping to making sure that deductions (meals, travel, meetings, etc.) for their personal and professional lives are filed properly at tax time and comply with tax laws.
Accountants working for film and television studios, production companies, or music studios perform various duties, including: dispensing royalties, union reporting, budgeting for concert tours, cost reporting and auditing, and evaluating production costs.
Business Managers provide a more comprehensive approach to accounting duties and usually manage every aspect of their clients’ financial lives, from paying bills and making purchases to advising on contracts and estate auctions. Business Managers have access to a lot of personal and sensitive information about their clients so trustworthiness is paramount. They also have the awkward task of making sure that their clients’ curb out-of-control spending habits in order to keep their finances and books balanced. In both instances,
Business Managers and Entertainment Accountants work notoriously long hours, but there can be perks like invitations to industry parties and awards ceremonies, and access to some of the best catering in town.
What They Earn: Entertainment Accountant salaries range from $49,000 entry level; $65,000 average salary; and $100,000 experienced. Salaries for Business Managers working at a firm or production company are very close to Accountant salaries. But, Business Managers working for a celebrity typically charge between 3-5 percent of the celebrity client’s annual salary. In other words, if your client makes $1 million a year, your annual salary would be $300,000.
Where To Look: First things first: earn a 4 year degree in accounting and then start applying for internships at production companies, accounting firms or celebrities that might be of interest to you. You can also look through trade magazines (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc.), job sites (listed below) and corporate websites to apply for jobs as well.
4. Hollywood Job: Dialect Coach
What They Do: If you have a background in acting and a great ear for accents, this might be the perfect job for you. A Dialect Coach—not to be confused with a “Voice Coach” who deals mostly with singing—helps an actor perfect their character’s accent or curtail their own.
For instance, actor Andrew Lincoln plays the All-American zombie fighter “Rick Grimes” in the AMC megahit “The Walking Dead”. But when the cameras stop rolling, Lincoln has a very noticeable and native English accent. Though a native Londoner, Lincoln’s character is from Georgia and has a spot-on, thick southern drawl.
Andrew attributes his command of the signature “Rick Grimes” accent to Jessica Drake, an accomplished Hollywood Dialect Coach with over 20 years experience. She also has an acting degree from Julliard School of Drama and she was awarded Julliard’s Edith Skinner Speech Award.
What They Earn: Dialect Coaches can earn an annual salary ranging from $24,000 to $125,000, depending on your experience, reputation, credibility and number of clients.
Where To Look: Entertainment job sites and acting schools are a great place to start looking for potential jobs. Paul Meier, a noted dialect and voice coach formed Paul Meier Dialect Services in 1998 and offers a dialect/accent certification. The online and in-studio course is utilized mainly by actors, but it could also be a great place to start if you’re seeking training as a Dialect Coach.
5. Hollywood Job: Looper / Voice Actor
What They Do: Have you ever been watching a television show or film with a crowd scene where you can hear the background clamor of the people standing next to or near the star? Or, maybe it’s a scene in a restaurant and you can hear light conversations of the people seated near the star? The voice actors (or “voiceover actors”) who supply that conversation are called “Loopers”. (KPCC profiled the life of a looper that you can check out here.)
After the film or TV show has been filmed, a Looper records his or her dialogue in post production. The voice actors congregate in a sound stage at the television or film production studio and watch the footage that needs dubbing. Once they determine the tone and texture of the scene, they ad-lib the conversation. A lot of the time you can barely hear what the Loopers are actually saying, but it adds to the realism of the scene. It would be pretty strange to watch a film that has a scene with a room full of people, but only hear 1 or 2 people talking, right?
And imagine an explosive scene in Captain America: Civil War where people are running down a street, but without making a sound. You would immediately notice the odd and unnatural silence and that’s where the voice actor adds their special skill, as explained here. Loopers also provide background screams, shouts and angry chants.
To put your best voice forward, follow these 4 steps:
1) Take acting classes to help develop your overall skills;
2) Find a good voice coach to help you develop your vocal range and abilities;
3) Make a demo reel (no more than one minute long) that highlights your best work, and there are plenty of sites to tell you how to make a good first impression with your demo reel; and
4) Find an agent who can help you book jobs and advance your career.
What They Earn: The average annual salary of a Looper / Voice Actor is $68,000, but can vary based on experience and the company’s or project’s budget.
Where To Look: Your vocal coach is a great resource because they will have information and insight on what your next steps should be or they may even offer job referrals.
6. Hollywood Job: Foley Artist
What They Do: Foley Artists are human noisemakers who are responsible for creating specific sounds by using physical props. Think of it like this: When you’re at the movies and you hear the sound of glass breaking, thunder roaring, horses’ footsteps on a cobblestone street, the creaking of an old door, or a blood curdling scream, that’s the unsung work of a Foley Artist.
A typical day for these very special audio sound effects specialists would go a little something like this: 1) the Foley Artists huddled in a sound studio; 2) the film or television show playing on a large flat screen in the background; and 3) a blank canvas, if you will, filled with specific props that will be used to simulate and emulate the sound of the action taking place onscreen.
I don’t know about you, but I’d love a job where I could blow off some steam by smashing glass, (or to a lesser extent) crumpling foil or popping bubble wrap all day.
But, a Foley Artist is not to be confused with an Audio Engineer whose job encompasses creating “standard special effects” such as loud explosions, car crashes or a volcanic eruption.
What They Earn: Foley Artists make an average of $350 per day, but of course, like any job, that amount can differ based on your level of experience and what the project’s budget can sustain.
Where To Look: If this is truly where your passion lies, then you should be extremely computer literate and accustomed to working with all types of sound equipment. Although a college or tech degree is not necessary to snag a job as a Foley Artist, having a background or degree in audio production or recording arts might give you a slight advantage over the competition. You may also consider working as an intern or apprentice for an established TV or film production company or producer.
7. Hollywood Job: Food Stylist
What They Do: Everybody loves food and art and when you mix the two, you get a Food Stylist. They’re responsible for preparing and then “styling” your favorite dessert or mouth watering meal in advertisements. You know the ones. You’re flipping through the pages of your favorite magazine and stop on a close-up picture of a perfectly browned slice of apple pie lightly sprinkled with sugar, and topped with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream melting over the crimped edges of the pie’s flaky crust. Or you might lick your lips at the inviting photo of the perfectly seared steak covered in grilled onions alongside a fluffy baked potato dripping with butter, sour cream and chives clinging onto the sides. That is the panache and power of a Food Stylist’s handiwork.
But their artistry isn’t just relegated to ads in magazines or billboards. They also perform their foodie fancywork on the set of your favorite movies and TV shows and every time you see a sandwich, full course meal of any piece of fruit, or cup of coffee in a scene, a Food Stylist is responsible. They oversee every detail of the shoot, including choosing the props or accessories (table cloths, plates, silverware, condiments, etc.) needed to best compliment the food. This includes using special tricks such as spraying food with WD-40 to make it pop off the page or screen (and, yes, we did say WD-40).
The Food Stylist also cooks the food (or works closely with a chef), then confers with the photographer, magazine editor, or film or TV producer to ensure that every morsel is picture perfect.
What They Earn: The average annual salary of a food stylist is between $33,000 to $40,000. Many of these professionals work as freelancers, but there are some who work full-time for production companies or companies that offer these types of services. A “seasoned” Food Stylist with a great reputation and lots of experience can rake in close to $450 to $850 per day.
Where To Look: Most Food Stylists start out working in all types of kitchens as traditional cooks or chefs. From there, they build up their portfolio and gain experience by freelancing for an established Food Stylist. After making a name for themselves, they can begin to seek out clients, such as: advertising agencies who work with food companies, restaurants looking for menu pictures, magazine publishers, cook book publishers, or production companies. Although there is no degree in food styling, many Food Stylists enhance their careers by obtaining a culinary arts degree.
8. Hollywood Job: Reenactment Actor
What They Do: Years ago, the term “Reenactment Actor” usually applied to someone who took part in “reenacting” an event from history (such as the Civil War or Revolutionary War) while wearing a costume in order to look like the historical figure that they were portraying.
But when true crime shows started gaining in popularity, the role of the “Reenactment Actor” began to take on a new meaning. These actors used to be nothing more than “extras” with very few lines, but now, they actually have speaking roles and the opportunity to show off their dramatic skills. These actors take on wide ranging and sometimes demanding roles from the seductive stalker or violent veterinarian to the murderous mom or killer college student. These crime series utilize the “Reenactment Actor” to help walk the viewers through every detail of the crime in a dramatic and entertaining way.
I have a friend who is a stand-up comedian, but he has appeared in several crime series portraying various bad guys. He has played a kidnapper, rapist, and serial killer and with each role, his reputation as a dependable and skilled Reenactment Actor has heightened. The hope is for him (and I would assume all actors) that these roles will lead to a more substantial speaking part in a TV show or film.
What They Earn: If the Reenactment Actor plays a random corpse with no speaking role, then their fee will be far less than if they portray the murderer or victim—which actually pays the most. With that in mind, these actors can earn anywhere from $75 – $450 per day, depending on their role and whether or not they are a member of SAG-AFTRA.
Where To Look: Like any other entertainment professional, Reenactment Actors have to audition for every role and should utilize acting websites, trade magazines and acting classes to find out what shows are casting.
9. Hollywood Job: Focus Puller / 1st Assistant Camera
What They Do: When is the last time you watched a movie that was out of focus? I bet your answer is “never” and that’s because someone is adjusting the camera lens or “pulling focus” to make sure the image stays sharp. You can thank the Focus Puller (or 1st Assistant Camera) for that clear picture. They have the highly stressful and extremely important job of judging the distance between the camera and the subject being filmed, and then manually adjusting the camera lens to ensure that the subject stays in sharp focus.
They utilize complicated markers on set during rehearsal to help them prepare for this arduous task. Their job is both an art and a science and one wrong calculation can ruin the shot, which could result in the loss of money and their job. And to make the situation even more intense, Focus Pullers don’t actually look through the camera lens because the camera operator is busy manning that task. I know, it sounds crazy, but here’s how this magic trick-of-the-trade actually works.
A Focus Puller uses a tape measure to determine the distance between the camera and what’s being shot and a more skilled Focus Puller can actually use his/her naked eye to determine distance. Either way, once that information is locked in, they use the focus knob on the side of the camera (or a remote device when necessary) to adjust the camera distances on the lenses.
To add to the amazement of their job, whenever the subject moves, they have to adjust focus for every frame, 24 frames a second. Additionally, Focus Pullers are also responsible for the management and upkeep of all camera equipment.
It goes without saying, but a Focus Puller is an extremely important part of the filmmaking process. They have to be on point because their image is directly correlated to the clarity and focus of the image on film.
What They Earn: A Focus Puller or 1st Assistant Camera can earn on the average end around $49,000 to the high end salary of close to $100,000. Of course, the more skilled you are and the better your reputation, the more your fee will continue to rise.
Where To Look: The best route to take for this highly skilled position is to start out at a film lab or camera equipment facilities house. This way, you can learn every aspect of the cameras and lenses that you will one day be managing on set. After garnering that experience, you can seek out an apprenticeship or camera trainee position so that you can acquire hands on experience and the confidence you need to work in such a demanding role. A Focus Puller must also acquire expert knowledge of photochemical and digital film processing. From there, you can continue to hone your skills as well keep up with the latest techniques and equipment.
10. Hollywood Job: Carpenter
What They Do: When you watch your favorite television show or film, you probably assume that the furniture (along with the other props) was purchased from a catalog or store; but more often than not, they were constructed by a Carpenter. They build all kinds of props and structures on film sets ranging from facades to houses to actual houses. They’re responsible for constructing all exterior and interior sets and scenery on a film or television production.
On the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones”, Carpenters are responsible for building those unbelievably spectacular and large scale replicas of castles and medieval war ships. On a sci-fi production, a Carpenter might also build mock-ups of spacecraft or futuristic buildings. They also build less glamorous, but no less important things like support structures and raised platforms that the crew can utilize during filming.
Since a Carpenter is responsible for building structures from the ground up, their job begins early on during pre-production so that they will have time to meet the deadlines and work standards set by the “Chargehand Carpenter”.
A Carpenter may also travel to the shoot location in order to help assemble whatever structure is needed. When the shoot is completed, Carpenters are also responsible for disassembling the wooden structures and safely storing, disposing of or returning them to their proper storage facility.
What They Earn: Carpenters can earn a very decent living and can earn between $49,000 to $61,000 annually. This fee could be even higher if they’re lucky enough to land on a blockbuster film or highly-rated series.
Where To Look: There are several roads that lead to a job in carpentry: 1) two-year college certificate program; 2) apprenticeship; or 3) trainee program. After you acquire some experience, you’ll be eligible for membership in IATSE, the union that reps artists and technicians in the film, television and theatrical fields.
These 10 sought-out and lucrative positions aren’t the only jobs that can help you carve out a beeline to Hollywood.
There are hundreds of non-traditional TV and film production jobs waiting if you know where to look. CareerBuilder and Monster are very popular job search sites, but here are a few more to add to your list as well: 1) Indeed; 2) BackstageJobs; 3) EntertainmentCareers; 4) ReelJobsNYC; 5) LinkedIn; 6) CareerArc; 7) LinkUp; 8) SimplyHired; 9) MashableJobs; 10) Craigslist (art/media/design | tv/film/video | web/info design | writing/editing); 11) Staffmeup; 12) Mandy; 13) Mediabistro; 14) Variety; and numerous public and private (closed) Facebook groups. (Just google “top Facebook groups production”.) You can also check out the job openings listed on your favorite film studio, production company, or television network web site. They’re usually found by scrolling to the bottom, listed under careers or job opportunities.
Now that you know where to look for a non-traditional production job, we hope Hollywood comes a knocking and if they do, don’t be surprised if they ask you to be a Seat Filler! We’ll let you look up the info on that non-traditional job on your own.