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How To Find Work In Freelance Television

Guest Post by Jacob Swart.

You want to work on a television set, but don’t know where to start. The world of freelancing is daunting and confusing. I have heard the question “How did you even get that job?” even from my film school friends. No need to worry though, it isn’t impossible.

If you didn’t already know, Hollywood television shows are actually filmed in your backyard. Hundreds of crews fly around the globe with camera equipment and crash land in your neighborhood. I’ve worked on ABC, FOX, Discovery, and HGTV crews that were all local. Here is how you can get one of those jobs.

Know Where to Look

First off, you need to know where to look. Craigslist is a good spot to look for local tv gigs, under film/tv, and it doesn’t cost anything to browse. I’ve gotten hired for a couple of jobs from there, however, you need to be careful it isn’t some kind of adult shoot (unless that is the type of work you are looking for). Television productions rarely ever advertise what show it is, just the position they need. Better yet, sign up for a service that tracks only tv and film jobs. The most callbacks I’ve had have come from StaffMeUp.com. Their easy to use system allows you to input all of your screen credits and search for crew positions in a radius around your city. They allow you to apply for 5 positions a month for free. If you keep your profile up to date, it might bring good news. I was called to work on an HGTV crew just because my profile said I was available. Another good service is ProductionHub, but they are entirely subscription based. I’ve gotten one callback from them. Although, the job was posted both there and on StaffMeUp.

Build Your Resume & Answer the Phone

Polish up your resume. Whether you have experience shooting photos or filming a wedding, everything needs to be on a digital profile. If you haven’t worked on a set before, try to volunteer with college or local productions. Build up experience. Production managers will want to make sure you have the right skills for the job. If you have never held a camera for a show, make sure you don’t apply for Camera Operator. The easiest way to get a job on set without experience is to apply for the production assistant, a.k.a. a utility position. Make sure you are “local” to where you are listed and can be called for the job at any notice. I once missed out to work on a National Geographic set with Morgan Freeman because I missed the call and didn’t get back to them for half an hour. Production managers need to lock down crew fast, and if you are the first one to answer the phone you get the job.

Mind Your Manners & Work Hard

If you are a film schooler or have formal training, great! You already have the basics of set etiquette down. If not, you need to read up before you even start. Local crew is expendable, if you screw up, you will be gone faster than the producer rattles off her coffee order. Production Assistant is the easiest way to get a job on set, but its also the easiest way to get kicked off. Just make sure you listen at all times, don’t sit around, and be careful about keeping receipts if entrusted with PC (Production Cash). Producers will tolerate a “greenie” but only if they are willing to listen, and acknowledge when they don’t understand something. Otherwise, have fun! Depending on where you live, you could get every one of the rare jobs that come to town (as it is here in Idaho), or have competition in a thriving film community. Either way, make sure you stand out and are ready to take the call. 

Jacob Swart is a freelance filmmaker from Boise, Idaho. He attended the Film School at NNU for two years. He worked as a Studio Technician at local ABC and Fox network news stations during that time. He loves the outdoors and runs a show with his brother on wilderness survival. He now runs his own studio and does freelance work on productions for clients including Discovery, HGTV, and ABC.

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