As a lot of ‘getting ahead in the biz’ is about who you know, then getting work within the industry makes a lot of sense, especially if you want to broaden your basic experience (if you’re a recent graduate, say, or a young newcomer to the scene). So, get a job. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it focused on the screenwriting-related areas. Save the application form for Mickey Ds as a last resort…
Often referred to as an ‘entry level’ job, this position is preferable if you want to consume yourself with scripts, and learn a whole lot in the process (see step 1). However, script reader jobs are rarely, if never, advertised, so it’s a case of sending query letters, emails and polite phone calls to see if you can get your foot in the door. Beware, it pays a low part-time wage, even when you’re working flat out, so it might not suit everyone. It’s got a shelf-life of one-two years but can go on for much longer, and forever, if you want it to. Check out this post for further details if you think it really might be your bag.
More of a TV job but still useful for all sorts of reasons; it’s fun, you get to meet some cool and interesting people (most of the time), and you can make great contacts. Researchers usually exist on a freelance basis but the contacts they make normally keep them regularly employed. Previous TV experience is necessary, as a runner for example, but a bit of guile and intelligence can bypass this lowly rung of the ladder. The TV evolution chart goes: runner, researcher, assistant producer, producer, commissioning editor. Film food chain: runner (reader), assistant, junior development exec/development co-ordinator, development executive, producer, head of department/studio.
Despite being a ‘media secretary’, this one’s a really good job to get. You’ll deal with the day-to-day issues of your boss, who will probably be a reputable producer/development exec, and so you get the inside track on how things are done, and why. Also great for making contacts. The job’s got a shelf-life of about two years before you should advance to the next stage of your career, whether that be a researcher/script reader or whatever it is that really excites you.
Become a locations assistant. Or a best boy. Or an assistant cameraman. Or offer to work on short film shoots. To get a break in this field, you’re going to have to work for free, and you should be more than willing to do so. If you can’t get lucky, don’t feel too snooty to be a runner. Despite the menial tasks, a runner meets and mingles with EVERYONE, and it’s really a cool position if you use it wisely enough.
These are just a few examples of the kind of work that is out there, and isn’t impossible to get, despite what you might think. I started out in Channel 4’s Duty Office (complains/enquiries), and that was thanks to a media temp agency. I worked my way into C4’s comedy department when stuff like Spaced and Ali G were being made. And then, I was a researcher (Ali G) and a production assistant (Black Books) before becoming a full-time script reader (to pay the bills as I focused on my quest to be a full-time freelance writer).
Don’t be on the outside looking in, thinking ‘the industry is against me’. Get a job in the biz, and amass some proper knowledge, experience and contacts.