Post Production

Getting Your Foot in the Employment Door

And Not Putting it in Your Mouth

I recently had a long time employee, venture forth into new and exciting opportunities for herself. I began the arduous task of finding a suitable replacement.  Before we get too ahead of ourselves, the position has been filled. But it reminded me of the casual and ineffective way so many potential employees offer themselves to the trade looking for employment.

By its very nature, production and post filmmaking employment is intermittent and sporadic.  This keeps many of us in the entertainment business working as freelancers. I’m constantly searching for new productions and producers, inquiring and making new connections and strengthening old ones. As owner of Allied Post Audio in Santa Monica, CA, I consider myself a freelancer — with a roof. With the fierce competition for jobs it is not enough to only have experience in your chosen field.  There are a number of additional required skills as a freelancer that are far outside of the typical skills for working in entertainment.  These include proper correspondence, interpersonal relationship skills, responsibility and conduct.

On a prior post for PVC I spoke about some ideas for keeping the work that you find.  You can find that post here. I wanted to go a step back in this post, about getting that gig in the first place.  I have hired many crews over the years. There are a lot of great people out there who work hard and professionally. There are also a lot of people who are out of work, experienced and looking.

Colleges and Universities teach gear and workflows but often fall short when it comes to the skills necessary for job seeking.  Skilled freelancers, long out of school, often think that experience is enough. They believe that if you drop a few lines and get your resume and credit list out there the work will come.

email - employment Email and texting have completely changed the way, in these modern times, how many people communicate with one another.  Not surprisingly, the casualness of these sorts of interchanges has carried over into the workplace. In high school writing classes we are taught how to correspond formally. Typically, a letter will have the recipients name and address, a date, the senders name and address and a salutation such as Dear X. Perhaps it’s cell phone texting that has lead to a communication shorthand that is frankly unacceptable in a business scenario.  Don’t do this –

“hey – cool studio. looking for some work.  I do it all. resume attached.  later”  Or: “Qualified engineer.  Loads of experience.  The real deal.  Call today.”  Or: “Just graduated with a degree in sound.  Foley, ADR, sound design specialist.  Give me a shout.”  Or simply: “See attached resume.”

These are clearly not serious job inquiries.  This will not get much traction in a professional situation.  What a potential employer sees in your dealings with them is what they will project to be your dealings with their clients.  First impressions matter and a casual phone call or email will not be taken seriously. Every communication from phone calls to query letters and resumes must inspire complete confidence that you are going to be a great asset to the company team.

It must be the allure of the uber-cool entertainment business that implies this sort of casualness.  We see it portrayed that way in the media – stars walking around in ripped jeans and tee shirts, crews with backwards ball caps and short pants and flip-flops.  But they are already in it.  They have paid their dues, done the work and found success. They are not applying for work.

I’ve conducted many interviews over the years with unshaven, unwashed, ungroomed, prospective employees who probably can’t figure out why they weren’t hired.  Typically, I will casually ask them, at the end of the interview, if they would dress and act like this for a “fill in the blank – Starbucks, Macy’s, Sizzler, Van’s Shoes” job.  Its hard to imagine some of these people seriously job seeking any other job acting and dressing in this manner.

Doesn’t seem like a necessary tip but I’ll offer it anyway – always treat job inquiries and interviews with the utmost respect.  Dress well, look good, and make a strong impression.  Be professional, be courteous and most of all be honest about your experience and your goals.  If you are new to the work but show aptitude and the right attitude you may actually have a leg up on someone who is more experienced but is lackadaisical in their appearance and their demeanor.

I created my company and I work hard to keep it.  I work hard to get my clients.  I work hard to keep my clients. I want to continue to be busy and successful.  People don’t come to me to mix their shows only because I have a mix console and Pro Tools.  People come to me because I do great work, I have a great staff and we are all extremely service oriented. Clients tell me what they need and we get it done. We anticipate problems, create a dialog and fix things before they are issues. Attention to all of the details is what makes us stand out.

The entertainment business is a very labor intensive profession.  We spend many hours and long nights together making the work shine and the clients happy.  Employees, freelance or not, will be spending a lot of time with me and my crew.  With and without our treasured clients.  A great attitude and demeanor sometimes counts more than experience.

Resumes are typically the first introduction of a potential hire.  Full disclosure on a pet peeve of mine; a resume filled with skills but no actual experience.  I see countless resumes that indicate “Foley artist, ADR recordist, sound designer, dialog editor“ any and all of the above and yet no actual work experience in these skills.  Maybe a short film, or a couple of school projects or classes, but no real work experience.  The lack of experience is not the issue for me, the idea that you are representing yourself as a Foley artist or a dialog editor after one three minute short is the problem. Slacker

I receive dozens of resumes a month.  Many are from seasoned professionals who work freelance and are looking for a new post house to get on a roster.  Many are also from students and new engineers.  The differences in resumes can be striking.  Not just from the experience and credit list of course, but also in the attitude and in the approach.

The resume is not only a reflection of work experience, it is also an introduction to an employer.  If there are typos or grammatical errors or if it is seemingly filled with hyperbole, it will color the first impression of you.  If you are just beginning your career, employers are smart enough to know that your resume probably won’t have pages of work experience.  However, whatever impression the resume and cover letter gives is the first window someone will have of you and how you conduct yourself.

There are many theories on the best presentation specific to resumes.  I can’t go into any details on that, but I’m sure there are lots of posts available online. I can only speak for myself on this, but I would prefer to see all of the work experience of a beginner. It might be outside of the chosen field or profession but that can be OK.  If I see that you worked summers at a restaurant, or a local business and I see some consistency in that work, I can then draw some conclusions about you.  That says more to me about than a class that was taken in Foley.  If I see a consistency in a summer job that went from a sales associate one summer to an assistant manger the next, that informs me about that individual’s personal responsibility and work ethic.

Since I work with sound editors, mixers and Foley artists with major Hollywood feature’s credits and I get resumes from the same individuals seeking employment, it just rubs me a bit the wrong way when I see recent grad also telling me that they are a Foley artist for instance.  Everyone has to start somewhere, but be aware of how inflating or expanding skills or experiences might be interpreted by others.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  Don’t leave the school projects or shorts off of the page.  They  are legitimate and show what you’ve done.  Often however, these are made to look like work experience that it is not.  Be honest, be straight-forward, put the real deal out there and you will get your shot. Highly experienced crews send resumes with credit lists that are filled with shows I’ve never heard of.  That’s the sad fact about the work we do, there are many shows that live in obscurity and don’t have the recognition factor that you’d expect from someone with years of experience.

For employment, all impressions count.  Be personable, friendly and polite. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie or a fancy dress, but you should look like you are serious and can work in a pressure filled, professional environment.   Take the interview seriously, act confidently and be truthful.  Show the employer that you are there to work, work hard and do whatever it takes to move your career forward.

Don’t pad or inflate the resume.  Some schools offer resume templates.  I know this because I get resumes that all look alike and have the exact same information on them.  Only the names are changed.  This is not a great indication of why you are better than the other guy or gal.  I have received several resumes from classmates, at the same time, that all look alike!  Make your resume your own, it is a representation of you and only you.

headphones Be persistent and follow up.  Ask if it is all right to stay in touch and if the employer may offer any advice in getting ahead. Send resumes every six months or whenever relevant new work experience deems it. You’d be surprised how much that can help.

Here’s just one example of something that has happened with me in the past – I met with a number of potential assistant candidates.  After a mountain of resumes and several interviews and much consideration, I chose one.  They told me that they were leaving town and would contact me immediately when they returned to start the job.  I held the position open for them while they were gone. After a couple of weird and incomplete emails and unanswered calls from me, I decided that I had to look for someone else.  I lost time waiting for them because I had made the commitment to them and thought that they had done the same for me.

That very same day, one of the assistants that I had interviewed but did not hire, sent a note thanking me for my time to meet with them.  They included another copy of their resume so it was readily available to me.  I scanned over it again, and then I looked back to my notes, regarding our earlier interview.  On review I saw that they had impressed me, but ultimately the other person seemed like a better fit at the time of hire.  However, since the position was open again, I called and hired them on the spot. They became a trusted and diligent employee.

Bear in mind, in this ever changing profession, that the person you blow-off or disregard today, can be the same person with the choice gig you crave only a couple of years later.  Even under extreme pressure, be polite and don’t burn bridges if at all possible.  In my experience, your future career really can depend on it.

Keep your head down, be respectful, don’t have all the answers and don’t be afraid of asking relevant questions.  Be willing to come in early and work late.  Show initiative if you get the job, work hard and learn. It’s the only way to get ahead unless a relative owns the place.

Good luck out there!

You can find me on twitter – @Woody_Woodhall to keep the conversation going


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Woody Woodhall, CAS is Head of Allied Post Audio in Santa Monica, CA and is an award winning supervising sound editor, sound designer and rerecording mixer. He has sound supervised and mixed feature films, documentaries…

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