Careers in film
Find out about careers available on- and off-set in the film industry, from casting to costume design and makeup.
A diverse array of roles is required to bring films from script to screen, and there are specialisms to suit all kinds of interests. To find a home in this industry, you’ll need a passion for film, an ability to visualise a script and a good understanding of how the different components of film work together. You may also wish to study your chosen specialism through a postgraduate degree or short course.
What jobs are available in film?
- Acting: actors perform as the film’s characters on-screen. The film’s lead actors and supporting actors are supplemented by bit actors (who deliver less than five lines of dialogue) and extras (who appear in a nonspeaking, background capacity and are often recruited via agencies, such as Casting Collective). Actors are often represented by agents.
- Casting: the casting department finds actors who fit the specifications for the film’s characters and helps with auditioning and selection, although the director and producer have the final say on who makes it to audition and who is cast.
- Scriptwriting: scriptwriters write screenplays which may then get turned into films. They are also often represented by agents.
- Organisation and research: roles in this sector include location managers and location scouts, who find and visit potential filming locations and negotiate gaining access to them for filming, and script supervisors, who keep the script updated with the director’s changes and make sure that there are no continuity errors between different aspects of a production.
- Artistic roles: costume designers, set designers and makeup artists are all crucial for bringing the script to life visually.
- Special effects: Special effects are real-life effects which can involve pyrotechnics, makeup, prosthetics, weather machines, scale models, props and various illusion techniques to create exciting effects on film. Specialist technicians and artists work to bring special effects to life, as do stunt performers.
- Visual effects (VFX): while special effects are created in real life, visual effects are computerised effects which are typically added in post-production, such as overlaying a background on top of a green screen or using CGI (computer-generated imagery). Jobs in visual effects include rotoscope artists, character artists, modellers, animators, texture artists and compositors – you can find information on what these roles involve on the TARGETcareers website.
- Coaches and specialists: different aspects of the production may require coaches to advise and train the actors, such as dialect coaches and choreographers. Specialist consultants may also be used to make sure that the film’s depiction of its topic and its historical period is accurate.
If you’re interested in producing, directing, editing, working in the camera crew (camera operation) or working as a sound mixer, visit our article on key off-screen roles.
How do I break into the industry?
Unpaid work experience is common in film, but make sure you know when you're entitled to be paid.
The first step to working in film is getting initial experience. Being active in the cast and/or crew in student theatre, finding intro jobs as a runner, doing unpaid work experience, creating short films with your friends and teaching yourself to use relevant software are all useful for getting yourself started in the field. Unpaid work experience is common in film, but make sure you know when you’re entitled to be paid.
Those who rise to prominence in the film industry don’t all take the same route, but they usually start in lower-level positions, or move from related positions into the position they’re known for. Actors often begin with bit parts; casting directors may start as casting assistants on adverts or short films; costume designers may begin as dressers, who maintain costume quality and assist with costume changes. Scriptwriters can take years to sell a script, so they’ll usually take a related job to pay the bills (such as a script reader, who reads scripts for a development executive and determines which scripts have potential).
Impressing staff with your work and developing contacts during these early stages is essential: building a career in film often involves mentorship from key producers and directors. Cultivate friendships with people you know who are also interested in film, because, aside from the benefits of friendship, you may be able to help each other get jobs down the line.
Many actors and behind-the-scenes film workers have a postgraduate (or undergraduate) degree in their specialism, though this isn’t necessary. The contacts that university provides, the resources/software available in institutions and the opportunity to make films can mean that university is worth it, but it’s also a big investment, so consider your options carefully.
Film-related practical postgraduate degrees can be expensive, because they have a high number of contact hours and provide extensive resources for students. For instance, one-year MAs in acting may charge upwards of £18,000 for tuition fees, on top of rent and living costs. You should also consider whether your proposed degree’s contact hours will prevent you from maintaining a part-time job.