Advice for getting in

Working in the screen industries is enormously satisfying but it is also important to know that there are some less glamorous aspects to a screen career.

If you are considering a career in screen, you might want to assess how important you consider factors including stability, routine, challenge and creativity.

VS, Altitude Film Distribution/Lorton Entertainment

Working hours in the screen industries are often longer than the average eight-hour day and include evenings, nights and weekends. Balancing this with a social life can be hard. Many people in the creative industries work on a freelance basis, a world of short-term contracts and projects, which can be stressful. Monthly salaries and company pensions are not necessarily the norm. There are big financial rewards higher up the career ladder, but those starting out may face low wages and periods of financial instability.

One of the best ways to start out in the screen industries is beginning building a portfolio of work.  Thanks to a wide range of accessible tools and software available for free online, you can experiment and learn how to film, edit, mix music, animate, create visual effects, games and VR projects from your own bedroom. 

If you just beginning in the screen industries there are some things that you will need. These include a portfolio which is a collection of work you have does that you can show to prospective employers to demonstrate your skills. If you haven't worked before, it can seem difficult to fill a portfolio, but remember that you can create work on your own and with your school or friends. For advice and lists of free video editing, coding, games, animation, VFX and sound editing software to get started visit our building your portfolio page

Alongside a portfolio you'll also need to be able to write a clear and concise CV and cover letter:

How to write your CV and cover letter

Your CV is your chance to market yourself to potential employers, and often you will only have a few seconds to make an impression. It's up to you what you want to include in your CV and to decide what balance of personality and professionalism is right for you. However, most CVs will include:

  • Your name
  • Your contact details
  • A short personal introduction (no more than 30 words describing yourself, your attitude, personal qualities, interests and key selling points)
  • Your key skills (you can list these as bullet points and should include and software you are proficient in, as well as any languages)
  • Your work history
  • Your education, qualification and training
  • You may also want to include whether you have a valid driving licence or other similar licences

Make sure you keep your CV concise, no more than two A4 pages, and try to use a clear professional layout and spacing. Check your spelling and grammar - and then check it again. Avoid using long sentences. Employers will be looking for skills, experience and any new ideas or insights that you can bring. 

When you sent out your CV it should always be accompanied by a cover letter. This is your opportunity to talk directly to the employer so spend some time getting it right and tailoring your letter to each company or individual that you contact. You should adapt your CV and cover letter to fit the needs of each person you send them to. Show that you have researched their company, either by referencing their recent work or by making it clear you know the sort of projects they are involved in. If possible, try and find out the name of the person you are contacting rather than addressing your letter to "Whom it may concern...".

Try to keep your cover letter brief, and in three sections:

  • Your reason for writing (e.g. "I am writing to apply for your vacancy in...")
  • Your selling points (skills or experience that show you have what the employer is looking for)
  • A prompt for further action (e.g. "I'd welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss my suitability for the role...")

If you don't hear back from an employer, you can follow up with a short email, but continuing to send them multiple emails will probably do more harm than good. Try to strike the right balance between showing your enthusiasm and interest in the role without pestering the employer.

How to network well

The screen industries are built on networking and doing this well can help you to get your career started and to develop it further. The idea is to build up a network of contacts that you can call on for help, advice and jobs. 

You have to know why you are networking so that you can work out who to approach and what you need to know. The benefit of meeting someone might not be immediately obvious, but over time you will increase your knowledge of the industry you want to work in and make useful contacts.  Consider:

  • People you know already (relatives, family friends, colleagues) and who they could introduce you to
  • People you don’t know but could easily contact in a company or from your social circle
  • People (or types of people) that you don’t know but who, with some effort and initiative, you could contact.

Organise your contacts into an easy-to-maintain system, such as an online or offline address book or notebook, including the following information:

  • Name
  • Job/role
  • Work details - company, address, phone, mobile, email, website 
  • Notes on the company - recent and future jobs, press coverage etc.
  • How/when you met and what you discussed
  • Mutual friends/acquaintances
  • Ideas for how you could work with them
  • Timeframe to follow up after meeting/talking

Keep up with developing and maintaining contacts:

  • Go to relevant talks, festivals, events and tweetups and collect potentially useful business cards
  • Add contacts on LinkedIn and similar sites and join relevant LinkedIn groups
  • Join a professional group or trade association representing your area of interest
  • Make new contacts on any training courses you go on, and ask fellow participants and tutors about their work and contacts

Advice for approaching potential employers

Approaching the industry can be incredibly daunting. In a day and age where nearly everyone is findable or reachable online, it's important to be clever about who you are contacting and when. Oscar-winning producer and ScreenSkills Head of Film Gareth Ellis-Unwin offers some advice on how to get off on the right foot with potential future employers:

"At my production company, we would regularly get approached by people looking for employment or work experience opportunities. What always impressed us most was the ability to see beyond the CV and get a sense of the person behind. Why are they so keen on working in film or TV? Why our company specifically? What can they share that evidences their passion: a portfolio, a showreel, or links to their work. Who is the applicant outside of their working life and what are their other interests and passions? Qualifications and grades are obviously important but it would always be the individual that mattered more to us.

Be laser focused on who you are approaching and recognise that they probably lead incredibly busy working lives. Be concise. Be polite. Be professional. Persistence is to be applauded - being a pest not so much!

Gareth Ellis-Unwin, ScreenSkills Head of Film and producer of The King's Speech

"Appropriateness of contact is also key. It's very important to be laser-focused on who you are approaching, their appropriateness for the opportunity you are aiming to achieve and recognition that they probably lead incredibly busy working lives. Be concise. Be polite. Be professional. Persistence is to be applauded…being a pest not so much! Contacting a company once a month is about right."

What to do when you meet an employer for the first time

Whether it's at a job interview, introductory meeting and during a networking event, you only have one chance to make a good impression on prospective employers. Successful meetings take a mix of courtesy, common sense and business awareness. When preparing for or arranging your meeting:

  • Think clearly about what you want to achieve – don’t waste the opportunity!
  • Suggest a mutually convenient time and location 
  • Make sure you are familiar with the company’s work and have something positive and interesting to say about it. Check their website for their latest news or releases
  • Prepare answers to demonstrate that you would be an asset to their work, e.g.:
    • Q: Why are you interested in working with us?
    • A: I think I could work well with your team – the skills and experience I gained on [NAME of the project] are similar to your production/presentation style. 

After meeting someone always thank them for their time, and if appropriate follow up with a 'thank you' email. 

This page is specifically for information and tips for getting into the screen industries, but if you are curious about getting into other creative industries, here are some sites you might find helpful:

  • Creative and Cultural Skills (CCS): gives young people opportunities to work and learn in the creative industries, including providing career information, promoting apprenticeships and activities
  • CULT Cymru: A Welsh learning network supporting those in the creative industries
  • Roundhouse: a list of projects and courses for people between 18 and 25 to help develop new skills and creative passions.

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