The entertainment industry can be tough. There are many cliche's, such as "It's all about who you know" or "It's all about right place right time." Neither of which are entirely untrue. However, I am a firm believer that anyone with some raw talent and a whole lot of drive can build themselves a career in post production sound - or any entertainment job for that matter.
If I'm making it sound easy, my apologies. It's absolutely a ton of work. Let me repeat that: getting a job in a highly specialized, creative industry where you are in competition with literally thousands of applicants will always be a ton of work. So why do it?
- You're obsessed with great sound design.
- Being creative on a daily basis is a necessity for you.
- You can't imagine doing anything else.
If these sound like you, that's a good start. You're going to need that drive.
You don't hear many people talking about the nuts and bolts of getting a job in the entertainment industry. I'm sure that's because every path is inevitably going to be different. However, here at Boom Box Post we have seen a lot of resumes and a funny thing comes with seeing potential candidates appear in your inbox multiple times a day. The characteristics of a great candidate become distilled down very quickly. Here are my suggestions as how best to set yourself up for a successful job hunt.
Step 1: Formal Education
When I was coming up, there were very few (if any) programs tailored specifically for a career in post-production sound editing. Well, times have changed. These days, to be even considered for a job at most studios you should have some type of formal training. Whether this means a two or four year Bachelor's degree from a University or a technical program, or an online certification/degree is up to you. It's important for me to stress that with all the options out there, you don't have to spend a lot of money. The point being, it helps to spend some time learning this discipline in a structured and supervised environment.
Step 2: Experience
Education is fabulous but a lot of people make the mistake of considering themselves an expert upon exiting school. Yes, you may have a lot of technical knowledge and a number of student films under your belt, but that is just the beginning. Class projects are nebulous and if you don't finish, you simply get a bad grade. And student films can't compare with real world work experience. When considering job applicants, we want to see some credits. They don't have to be major studio films. It's enough that on the other end of that credit was a creative professional to whom you had to answer.
You can swing a stick in LA and hit someone with a web series, a short film, even a podcast. Ask around for work opportunities. Start by reaching out on social media. I'm sure you'll find someone happy to have you work for free on their project. Start small and you can graduate to better and more professional independent work. Accept beer and pizza as a payment. Maybe eventually charge a small fee if you can swing it. Take on as much as you can possibly handle. Money and time should not matter at this point. There's no excuse not to be doing what you love. This is also the time for you to make mistakes and learn some real world lessons. All of this experience is the next level of your training - real work with real deadlines. You can't imagine the numerous lessons you will learn and ultimately how much better you'll get at your craft over time with practice.
Step 3: Spend Time in a Working Studio
In short, get an internship. I could have called this step 1a or step 2a, because interning is definitely something you could do in tandem with school and freelance work. A proper internship is like a graduate degree, continuing your education. Some studios (like ours) offer an intensive program with projects designed to give you as much of a real world analog as possible and lots of time with working editors. For that reason, some internships can be highly competitive. That said, simply being around to see the day to day workings of any professional studio can be crucial. If you're having a hard time getting a sound studio internship, don't limit yourself. Experience in any kind of professional creative studio is a real boost for your hiring potential.
Candidates that have never spent time in a the real world stick out like a sore thumb. The problem with freelancing alone your entire career is that you miss out on all the intricacies of working as a part of a team. By being in the thick of it, you'll also start to grasp the importance of deadlines and how best to manage stressful situations with real consequences. Ultimately, you're going to need these skills because post audio on a large scale is always a team effort.
Step 4: Show Your Work
At this point, you have the education, as well as experience in and out of the office. A resume can be impressive but equally important is showing off what you can do creatively. The good news here is that all your hard work should add up to a pretty amazing demo reel.
This is where your choices can be crucial. Start by finding clips that inspire you and speak to your creativity. These clips should be no more than one minute long (short is always best when presenting your work) and they should feature creative sound editorial. Your clips don't all have to be climactic action scenes but they also shouldn't be a two-person conversation in a coffee shop (I know this sounds fundamental, but believe me we get a lot of demos that are real head scratchers).
Find an obscure animated short on Vimeo, a trippy Guillermo Del Toro creature inspired youtube clip or a high tech looking commercial spot. The key here is not to simply present some of your student film work. A professional looking clip will always sound better. In fact, everything you do on your demo page will reflect back on you. Are there typos? Is the page well organized? Ideally, I like to see 3 perfectly polished (short!) clips with a link to your bio and resume. To be honest, if you get this far you'll be heads above the pack.
Step 5: Reach Out
At this point you've educated yourself, spent time observing within a studio, freelanced like crazy and created an amazing demo reel. The last step is to get all that experience down on paper. Create a one page professional looking resume to share all of this with potential employers. Type up a personalized cover letter, explaining in short who you are and why you want to work for that particular studio. Make this letter the body of your email. Include a link to your online demo reel clips and attach your resume. Send. Repeat.
A lot goes into building a career for yourself. All of this comes down to intention and effort. Show your passion by taking the time to cultivate your craft. Present yourself in the most professional way possible. Keep at it.