Si Dunn and Connie Dunn for Cyber
These days, you can spend four years of your life and almost
US $100,000 to obtain a prestigious film degree from a big-name
university. Yet once you hit the streets looking for a job
in the entertainment industry, that hard-earned diploma may
not land as many interviews or bring you as much respect as
Indeed, you may find yourself losing out to someone without
a degree but who happens to have some production credits,
plus good connections.
"The old adage is true--it's definitely who you know,"
says Sherwood Jones, an editor and postproduction supervisor
at Tapestry Films in Beverly Hills. "This is why internships
have become an increasingly effective way to get the proverbial
foot in the door. Many producers and production managers no
longer look to resumes but instead turn to colleagues for
their hiring recommendations," Jones notes.
Experience sells, too, but good references are absolutely
vital, especially in tight job markets. Producers and directors
who are responsible for multimillion-dollar projects often
have to hire quickly, and they must trust that the people
who get the jobs will show up every day and give their best
Faced with a choice between a film school graduate with no
professional experience and a high-school dropout who recently
has worked on a few movie sets, many hiring managers will
go for the dropout right away. He or she will need a lot less
on-the-job training and will have references from other producers
LEARNING BY DOING
"The best way to be successful in the entertainment
industry is to be able to train with professionals on working
television and movie sets," says Mark Gerard, a television
producer at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.
Virtually gone, however, are the days when you could show
up at a movie studio, beg for a chance to sweep floors or
deliver the interoffice mail, then start working your way
up the creative ladder.
Today, says Jimi Petulla, founder of the Career Connection,
"the big thing is who you know. But having the talent
and the tenacity also are important."
To help create new opportunities within this trend, his Los
Angeles-based firm operates a unique, "one-on-one apprenticeship"
program. The Career Connection helps people who want to work
in film or television pair up with production companies in
or near their hometowns.
Petulla's firm has set up apprenticeships where students
are able to keep their "day job," yet learn from
a local mentor and get valuable, "real-world" production
credits in their spare time.
What ensures that you can get an apprenticeship, of course,
are (1) motivation and (2) money. In previous centuries, people
usually paid for the opportunity to learn from a respected
craftsman or artisan.
Those who qualify for Petulla's program pay tuition fees
after they have had a successful screening interview with
a film, television or video production company close to home.
Part of the tuition then goes to pay the student's mentor
at the production company--usually a producer, director or
other high-level professional--"who guides the student
through the program and shows them the ropes of the business,"
The program consists of working at the production facility
once or twice a week under the mentor's guidance and working
at home to complete self-paced training course materials supplied
by the Career Connection. A bonus is paid to the mentor if
the apprentice later is hired to fill a full-time position
in the production company.
In recent months, the Career Connection has placed apprentices
in numerous independent production companies, as well as several
major entertainment companies in the United States and Canada.
Some of these include Lion's Gate, Miramax, Fine Line, Alliance
Atlantis, Paramount Pictures, Artisan Pictures, Turner Broadcasting,
Sony Picture Classics and Spike Lee's 40 Acres and a Mule.
A MATTER OF COMMITMENT
While some of the apprentices barely are out of high school,
"the bulk of my students are in their thirties,"
Petulla notes. "They may have a full-time job making
okay money but hating what they do, and they've always dreamed
of doing films or videos. I even have people in their sixties
Graduates of the program receive job placement assistance
for seven years, and many, according to Petulla, have "moved
high up the ladder to such positions as producer director,
editor, studio manager and many others." Good workers
often are hired by the mentoring companies before their apprenticeship
Petulla notes that the Career Connection stays in direct
contact with movie studios, television stations and other
production facilities all over the United States and Canada,
"so we are uniquely capable of opening some of the most
sought-after doors in the world."
NOT FOR QUITTERS
The apprenticeship program is not for everyone, Petulla cautions.
"It won't work for quitters." It also won't work
for people who are more concerned about how much money they
will make than about what they will learn."
He advises mentors to test the mettle and tenacity of apprentices
by trying to talk them out of going into the film or television
industry. And he warns that he has seen "a drop in tenacity
in recent years. Ten years ago, I heard more people saying:
"I would cut off my arm to get in. I know I'll have to
pay my dues." Now, people think that just because they
spent US $80,000 (to get a degree), they should get a morning
drive and their own parking space and be the TV news anchor
right away. I have found that true across the board in film,
He blames part of the loss of tenacity on the fast pace of
contemporary society. "I think our ancestors had it right.
Look at their sculptures, look at their architecture. When
you walked into a Victorian home, everything had been done
by hand. Now, houses are put up in ten days."
"We're bringing back what people did before there were
schools. If you wanted to learn art, you did an art apprenticeship.
If you wanted to do something else, you found another aprenticeship.
With one-on-one instruction, you can learn more in one hour
than you can learn in 40 hours in a classroom," Petulla
Petulla is well familiar with the mentoring process. When
he was 13, he rode his bicycle to a nearby radio station and
began hanging out. After a while, the disk jockeys began showing
him how to work some of the controls. "A DJ would take
a break, and pretty soon, I was turning knobs and flipping
switches for him when he was out of the room. By the time
I was 15, I was a disk jockey. I would come home from school
and go to work at the radio station. I got into the business
off the street. Ironically, most of my friends in the business
also got in off the street."
With these memories in mind, Jimi Petulla launched the Connection
concept about 15 years ago, to help newcomers get apprenticeships
in broadcasting. Since then, he has helped more than 4,000
people land jobs in the highly competitive fields of radio,
television, music recording, video and film.
A Career Connection apprenticeship does not guarantee employment
in the film or TV industries, of course. But Petulla claims
a 70 percent success rate. And Hugh Downs of the ABC News
show "20/20," has said "it is amazing to see
the amount of people" Petulla has placed "in radio
and TV stations, recording studios and film companies all
over the country."
Petulla definitely is no fan of crowded classrooms where
teachers use blackboards and chalk to try to train students.
"That's primitive," he grouses. "The blackboard
and chalk take us back almost to the stick in the sand:"
He adds that "in the old days, royalty were about the
only ones that really learned, because they could have one-on-one
with tutors." The other fortunate students were those
who could find apprenticeships with craftsmen, artists or
noted experts in their fields.
In today's go-faster world of moviemaking and TV production,
Petulla points out, slowing down long enough to do an old-fashioned
apprenticeship "can be a win-win situation--for both
the apprentice and the mentor."
HOW TO MAKE THE CONNECTION
More information is available at the Career Connection Web
site (www.film-tv-connection.com). A free video can be obtained
by calling (800) 755-7597. "The video actually tells
people how they can do this on their own, if they don't have
the money. And I encourage them to do that," Petulla
"You can find a correspondence course or go to the library
and get books on film or video production. Then you can find
a mentor. If you approach four or five mentors in your area,
someone may help you."
Si Dunn is a Cyber
Film School staff writer. He and his wife, Connie, are
magazine writers and screenwriters in Denton, Texas.