Education + Careers
- The Creative Industries are among the world’s most dynamic emerging sectors. Many creative skills have traditionally been learned through apprenticeships in specific sectors however post secondary education in music, motion picture, interactive media, writing, design and related disciplines is increasingly considered.
While the Motion Picture industry can be highly competitive, there are also a lot of opportunities and no “right” way to negotiate a pathway into this industry. One of the best things you can do is make the most of your personal network, including the networks of friends and family – most people working in the industry today have a story about how they met someone who provided an introduction and after that, they didn’t look back. It’s a process that takes persistence, diligence and passion, but so does working in the industry, so think of it as training for your career. So start asking around!
There are a myriad of ways to enter the industry, many of them dependent on your skill set, experience and what you want for a career moving forward. Consider these personal elements and start researching to find out what you can do initially, what you need to learn and who you can speak with in order to begin making your way.
There are three main components involved in getting a project from idea to screen: development (story development, screenplay, financing), production (physical filming) and post-production (editing, visual effects, sound and music)
Creative BC is not directly involved in motion picture, hiring of crew for productions, or managing a job board; however, we can offer some suggestions to help you get started. Below is an overview of training opportunities, work experience and networking suggestions for starting a career in motion picture production. While the list isn’t complete, the resources below are starting points for where to find information.
Some entry-level roles in motion picture production are a combination of on the job-training and weekend workshops to supplement skills and increase your knowledge base.
If you know what you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about that department and position, including what skills and experience are required. Union websites are useful at this stage if they post departmental requirements for membership. You can look at those to determine what you need to learn. Please refer to Joining the Union below.
However, if you are interested in learning a specific craft, an accredited school will help you discover your talents and acquaint you with the important skills and prerequisites for your chosen career. For more information on the career path of your choice, contact the relevant institutions offering the program you’re interested in. We recommend researching your options before committing to a program to ensure it’s a good fit, and that you get what you’re looking for out of the experience.
Developed in partnership between Creative BC, MPPIA and industry labour organizations, this course is administered by Actsafe and provides information you need to know before working on a film set. It’s also a requirement for membership or permittee status in most unions. The course is 2 days – usually over a weekend – and costs approximately $170.00. It is offered through the following educational institutions:
There’s no way around it: the motion picture industry is a huge network. Make the most of your network to generate connections and contacts – personal networks are key and can easily be widened with a little effort and courage. Growing your network can help you get experience and getting experience will grow your network.
Take every opportunity to attend industry events, forums and workshops. If you can’t afford the fees, volunteering is a great way to be involved and meet people. Contact film festivals, associations or film schools to learn about opportunities, to meet people or to acquire skills through volunteering:
And above all, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Get to know the industry organizations, production companies, filmmaking initiatives, and other resources in your area of interest.
Some places to look are:
If you don’t have film experience yet, any work experience that shows you have stamina, a good attitude, good people skills, a zest for life and enthusiasm for learning on the job will help. For instance, people with hospitality backgrounds tend to transition into film successfully because of those qualities. Collect some good character and work references for your resume. If you have a car, mention that – you’ll be working strange and long hours in far-flung places and having your own transportation is an important bonus.
Be thorough. Look for possible opportunities in commercials, corporate videos, digital content, music videos, short films and student films. Volunteer work is invaluable when you don’t have work experience – it helps build your resume and it provides important contacts that may lead to paid work in the future. However, be clear about what you’re agreeing to, what you’re doing and who you’re working with.
Consider the world of commercials as it isn’t unionized – there are a handful of companies producing commercials in the lower mainland, most are listed on the CPAWC website.
Investigate working at a rental house that supplies the department that you’re interested in, to learn more and expand your network.
Entry-level work in production on larger big budget shows is generally as a production assistant (PA) in the locations department or the production office. Contact BCPAX - British Columbia Production Assistant Exchange, which is a network of support and connection between PAs and employers. They also help people who are working to connect with the department they would like to join, manage the website BCPAX and are in the process of launching an app called Crew Call, intended for all departments in the industry.
These Reddit links #1 and #2 have some advice about getting into the industry and some good info about what to expect. The Directors Guild of Canada, BC Chapter also posts a PA manual and survival guides.
Being an extra/background performer can also be a good introduction to working on set, too.
Regarding jobs, here are some links:
Craigslist “Crew Gigs” – as always with Craigslist, be aware that the postings are not vetted and it’s wise to ask questions before committing to anything.
Resumes for the motion picture industry look different from a standard resume. If you are unfamiliar with the format, examples of resumes can be found on union websites. Some positions will also require a portfolio/demo reel.
And some words from us to take along with you for your first days on set
There’s a lot to understand in the world of motion picture production so stay positive, alert and humble, be patient and curious, listen carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand how or why you’re doing something. There’s no such thing as a stupid question when you’re starting out. Locations PA’s are often the ambassadors of the film industry in the greater community as they are generally the first point of contact for the public, however everyone who works in film on location are essential ambassadors in all of the communities we work in. So, get to know as much as you can about your role and the impact of production in order to be a positive representative for both production and crew.
Union membership isn’t the first step in a career in motion picture production, nor do they guarantee work. Applicants are encouraged to research what it takes to succeed in the area that they are interested in, talk to people who work in the industry, and take introductory courses. What unions do provide is the opportunity to work on signatory productions, representation by a bargaining agent and benefits, amongst other things.
Membership requirements vary with each union but in general, after filling out an application, working a certain number of days in the desired position on signatory productions then qualifies you to join a union’s permittee program. Generally, applicants must also have successfully completed a Motion Picture Industry Orientation course (set-etiquette) and a Motion Picture Safety Awareness course at a minimum, which we recommend completing before working on set in any capacity. The following links will have information on how to go about becoming a member in different departments:
Directors Guild of Canada – BC District Council. Member categories are: Director, 2nd Unit Director, Production Manager, Unit Manager, Assistant Director (1st, 2nd & 3rd), Background Coordinator, and the Locations department, which includes Production Assistants.
If you are just starting out in the business, joining the DGC as a Production Assistant is one way to experience how the industry works and get exposure to all the various departments and positions required to produce a film or TV episode. Under the “Becoming a Member” tab on the DGC BC website, click on the Entry Level Permittee Logbook Holder Program to learn more about becoming a member through the locations department. You will also find on this page entry-level downloads like the Production Assistant manual and survival guides to help you out in those first days and understand what to expect of the job.
Association of Canadian Film Craftspeople: ACFC West Local 2020. ACFC is often the union signatory for lower budget productions. Departments include: Accounting, Art, Catering, Construction, Costume, Continuity, Craft Services, Editing, Electric, Greens, Grip, Hair & Make-Up, Production Office, Props, Prop Building, Publicity, Scenic Art, Security, Set Decoration, Sound, Special Effects, Transportation, Wranglers (Animal). Each department has different skill sets, so check what is required for your area of interest,
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees: IATSE Local 891 – BC and Yukon. Departments include: Accounting, Art, Construction, Costume, Editing, First Aid / Craft Service, Greens, Grips, Hair, Lighting/Electrics, Make-Up, Painting, Production Office, Props, Script Supervisors / Continuity Coordinator, Set Decorating, Sound, Special Effects, Visual Effects. When IATSE is accepting applications, the website has comprehensive online forms for each department in their permittee application page that outlines appropriate skills, requirements and training/courses.
International Cinematographers Guild: IATSE Local 669. Represents membership involved in all aspects of film and television that pertains to the camera, including Directors of Photography, Camera Operators, Camera Assistants, Unit Publicists, Unit Still Photographers, Electronic Camera people, Video Assist, Digital Engineers and Technicians, Data Management Technicians and Camera Trainees. View their membership information and find out about their Trainee Program.
The Union of BC Performers branch of ACTRA. Responsible for performers, including Background Performers and Stunts.
Many productions that film in BC do so in part because of the tax incentives they receive for employing BC residents, which do not apply to those who are here on work permits. This might be a minor roadblock and if you have valuable experience, that may not be an issue. Good crews are always in demand, especially when the industry is very busy. There are also opportunities where tax incentives aren’t applicable, like reality television, commercials and low-budget local productions.
There are a number of local companies who do both service and original content that may have openings within the company, rather than on a specific production, in which case the tax incentive might not be applicable.
This is one of the best ways to catch a bit of the magic of filmmaking, and to share the glimmer of the spotlight. You will also learn a little about the hard work that's part of the film industry. An extra is a person hired to provide a controllable background to the main action of the film. They come in all shapes and sizes, and it is fairly easy to become one.
UBCP/ACTRA has information about becoming a union member as a background performer.
You can register with an agency that provides background performers to film production companies.
Registration as an extra includes completing a form that asks you for a few vital statistics, when you are available to work, and what special skill you may have. Special abilities can range from equestrian skills, dancing, fencing to bartending. The agency will also need a photo of you. If you don't have one, the agency will take one for you. There may be a small fee for the registration and photo, but small is the key word here (about $25 - $40 a year). For this fee you should be guaranteed at least one call.
Agencies charge a small fee because their compensation comes from a percentage deducted from your wages. This is standard agency procedure and is incentive to them to find work for you. Extras generally earn only minimum wage and most agencies take 10 to 15 percent, depending upon the type of work.
BEWARE: Some disreputable agencies may try to convince you that you need an expensive photo portfolio to become an extra. This is false.
Another way to obtain extra work is to approach each production individually. You can do this by submitting a resume and photo to the attention of EXTRAS CASTING. Email addresses for production offices can be found on the Creative BC In Production List. DO NOT call the offices as they are extremely busy and will not take any information regarding extra work over the phone.
As you can send your information and resume to the Background Casting director directly, you don’t necessarily need an agent. However, having a profile on one or more extra/background performer agency sites can help you generate work.
Being an extra can be fun and exciting, but it is also hard work and requires commitment and a business-like attitude. When you sign up with an agency you will be given information about etiquette on the set. Take it to heart if you want to be asked back. Once you get the hang of it, you'll feel like an old pro. Break a leg!
Resources and information can be found at:
List of talent agencies who deal primarily with background casting.
BCF Casting – a performer database for three casting directors in Vancouver – the website is comprehensive and gives lots of details about working as an extra. You can also register with them.
Agency Click – a casting database recommended by BCF Casting for independent background (BG) actors
You can also register at talent agents for extra work. Some are listed on Reel West. Below are a few more to check out:
Information on Talent Agencies, and a PDF list of all agencies is below:
For information about employment standards of "Young People in Entertainment", visit this Employment Standards web site:
Search the Vancouver Actors Guide for information about performing arts in Vancouver. They have a talent agencies page but do some research to find those who work exclusively with voice actors. Other useful online resources are:
UBCP/ACTRA has information about getting into the world of stunts and is a good place to start your research.
Other resources include:
- Creative BC does not provide direct connections for internship possibilities, however for graduating high school students or students entering college, a supervised internship can be one way of gaining experience in the industry. Usually these internships are available at smaller production companies that do projects like corporate & music videos, commercials, and reality/unscripted television – essentially a company that either develops its own content or does small scale, in-house production.Students should do some research on the internet to find local companies and then reach out via email or in person to ask about potential internships. As a heads up, the larger, more recognizable productions in the lower mainland usually can’t accept unpaid volunteers or interns as there are liability/safety issues as well as union hiring practices to negotiate.Student and independent film makers with small budgets are often looking for volunteers and sometimes volunteer job postings can also be found online. Careful research and being tenacious in pursuing possible internship positions will be the key to success!