A career in the film and television industry can be elusive, especially if you are not familiar with the industry’s myriad segments, unions and union rules. To become a cameraman, actor or director, you must first fulfill basic requirements set by the industry in order to get your foot in the door and move up the ladder.
It can take years to obtain “working actor” status. There are two kinds of actors: background actors and principal actors. Background actors do the work of “extras” on films, TV shows and commercials. They are often beginners in the industry, are not always well trained, may not have auditioned or booked the audition, nor do they have agents or managers. Principal actors are those with speaking lines, or, in the case of commercials, are identifiable and in the foreground of the action.
Get jobs through the casting director. Actors must be hired through the casting department of production companies. Submit a head shot and resume to the department, usually by mail. Casting directors decide whom they will call for auditions or for “extra” work, based on your head shot, character type and experience. Keep up-to-date head shots and resumes, do constant mailings to casting directors, network on sets to find out who is casting for which production and acquire acting and auditioning skills in order to book auditions and work constantly.
Network. Organizations such as Women of Color (www.womenofcolor . com) and Black Film (www.blackfilm.com ) are helpful. Film festivals, screenings and other events enable you to network with industry people. Go to Web sites like www.nyc.gov/film  and look at “reel jobs” for New York City listings of production jobs and auditions available every week. Other cities have similar listings at their respective mayoral offices.
Read. Pick up a book dealing with the specific industry job you want to know more about. Read trade magazines like Backstage or The Ross Report (a monthly publication available for about $8), which lists the names of casting directors, agents and managers, to find current productions and auditions and learn where to mail your head shot and resume.
Get training. Work with an acting coach, take acting classes, join a community theater group, or take cold-copy courses. You will learn industry standards, what the professionals look for, how to “book” a job and more.
Behind the camera (production)
There are many film, TV and commercial jobs behind the scene. You may have dreams of being a director, writer, producer, line producer, coordinator, production manager, driver, gaffer, soundman, grip, props person, set dresser, costume designer, wardrobe person, hairdresser or makeup artist.
If you have credentials, apply directly to production companies. Send your resume to either the producer or to the head of the department you want to work in. For example, if you want to be a gaffer, get your resume into the hands of “the best boy.” Tip: production people rarely get jobs through the human resources department. There are hundreds of production companies, so you will be busy, calling, faxing and visiting them. The key is to make contact with the people who can hire you.
If you do not have experience or cannot get your foot in any doors, consider starting out as a production assistant (P.A.). The pay is low, the hours long and there is no union, but you can find out about many other opportunities, establish contacts and develop a name for yourself. Give your resume to the assistant director (A.D.) in charge of hiring P.A.’s; this will usually be the second or third A.D.
Network at organizations such as Brunch in the City (www.Brunchinthe  city.com), and Black Film. Attend local film festivals, screenings and other events. Big TV networks, such as ABC, NBC and Disney, list employment opportunities for production people on their Web sites.
Go to film school. You can never have enough education. Certifications and degrees in your field of interest are always respected. Many film schools help with job listings, placement and opportunities to make your own films while in school. Whether you take one course or graduate from a film department, education can help to separate you from the crowd.
Read trade magazines like Backstage, Filmmaker and Hollywood Reporter. These come out weekly and are available at Manhattan newsstands and most bookstores.
By Rose Sias