The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry

Here’s Adrien’s post to compliment mine on contacts in the industry. He gives the point of view for the live-action film industry. You can find the rest of the articles in this series of “Getting the J-O-B” at the end of the post. – KJL


Contacts in the film industry are indispensable.

Networking is the key. That said, my start in the film business came by being in the right place at the right time. Once I got my foot in the door, having that one film on my resume really opened the rest of the doors for me.

There was still a few years where animation and film overlapped for me, and during those years I pounded the film industry hard to get my name out there. A job only lasts as long as the phone call to you (I can’t even count how many jobs I lost because I was in a movie theatre). I never went to school of any kind, so I never had the jump start on contacts that Karen is talking about.

If you don’t go to school, then you’re on your own. This is where your mettle is truly tested. Your level of success depends 100% on how much you desire the work and how hard you pound that proverbial pavement.

Film, like anything else, is a seasonal thing.

It’s really busy at times and it’s very slow at times. The best time to pound the pavement is the busy time. It means that productions are more likely to take a chance on somebody new ‘cuz they’re desperate for people. Good luck tryin’ to find work if it’s a slow period. This is mainly due to the Unions not letting anyone in when there’s so many unemployed people out there when it’s slow.

When you think you’re ready for the pro work, the first contact you need to make will be the Union. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the US or Canada, you will have to deal with them. You can’t work without them. In the US, it’s fairly common for a movie to start off Non-Union. At this time, a newbie can come aboard and ‘piggy-back’ themselves into the Union.

It will mean having to pay the dues, though. I don’t know how much those are in the US anymore, but it’s in the thousands. The only other way into the Union is to get past the ‘gatekeeper’. This will be person in charge of the Illustrators Union (US only). They will decide if you get to join. This might not work, as you can imagine. But the ‘piggy-back’ method is always there for you.

In Western Canada, the Union is 891. This isn’t an Illustrators Union, it’s the Film Technicians Union, but that’s where they have all us ‘drawing people’. Now, to get in this Union, you need to be approved by the head of the Art Department. Once that happens, you’re called a Permitee. This means that when all Union folk are employed, they can then call upon the Permitee members to work.

Technically, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But storyboards and illustrating are a bit different from being a Grip, in that it’s a subjective thing. One director loves you, the other doesn’t. This means that if they go through the entire storyboard roster and can’t find anyone they like, they can look at Permitees or even the US for people. Once you’re a Permitee, you need three art directors and 60 days work to be eligible for membership (don’t quote me on this…it changes and I’m going from memory). You have to check out your local Union to find out the requirement for membership.

In Toronto, there is no Union for the illustrators/storyboard guys, so it’s kind of a free-for-all over there.

So, if you’re not member or a permitee, how does knowing anyone help?

Like I said, it’s a subjective thing. They might not have found anyone they like. I have got a couple of my non-union friends onto a film. They’re now at the top of the game at what they do. So meeting people in film is a handy thing. They all flock together, it’s just a matter of finding them.

There are no storyboard agents in Canada, but there are in L.A. These people can help you find work in both commercials and film. They will also take a percentage of your paycheck!! It can be an easier way into a Union because these guys can have the inside track on productions, and be able to get you onto productions that will ‘piggy-back’ you.

They will also help in finding work that isn’t necessarily at your back door. They can be very helpful in finding work that’s say, in New York. A lot of clients don’t mind storyboard artists working remotely (we’ll talk more about that in ‘technique’). That said, I have heard horror stories about agents from colleagues of mine that have used them or still use them.

READ THE FINE PRINT if you decide to go this route. I would also recommend that you have a lawyer check over the agreement. Just google ‘storyboard agent’ and you’ll see a bunch of them.

The current trend in networking right now is the LinkedIn website. I find this to be very pro. I don’t like Facebook. At LinkedIn, it’s very professional and there’s no frills, just contacts. I think it’s a great way to network. I don’t recommend anyone solicit a pro for help unless you’ve been properly introduced. Being recommended by a pro takes a great deal of trust on their behalf and you don’t want to put anyone on the spot.

Contact building is really about building relationships. Yes, you can ask for help. And many will appreciate it. But you can’t do it if you don’t build a relationship.

Here’s another networking site that looks like a film version of LinkedIn. I don’t know much about it other than they sent an email asking me to sign up.

FilmStream Referral Services

Once you’re in the Union and you’re working in film, then staying in touch with a solid group of colleagues is the best thing to do. They all talk and you can easily find out what the going rumors are about the new projects coming to town.

And like Karen says, there is nothing like having one of your colleagues recommend you for the gig!

The next post will be from Adrien as well, where he’s going to talk more about Unions. Subscribe to the RSS feed or by email if you don’t want to miss it!

Here are the other posts in this series:
Getting the J-O-B Part 1: Five Key Things You Need to Storyboard Professionally
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Training
Getting the J-O-B Part 2: Building a Storyboard Portfolio
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Portfolios
Getting the J-O-B Part 3: Professionalism in Animation…or Anywhere
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Professionalism
Getting the J-O-B Part 4: Contacts in the Industry
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry-Part 2: Unions and Film Commissions
Getting the J-O-B Part 5: The Right Attitude
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on the Right Attitude

6 thoughts on “The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry

  1. Debi

    Great info once more. Thanks Adrien! This blog is such a great resource. Way to go both of you!

    Few questions (’cause I love me some questions):

    Are there constant slow months (ie, slower in the summer) or is it variable?

    About the agents, are you talking about the larger storyboard agencies like Frameworks or Storyboard Inc, or are there smaller agents out there? I’ve googled and find nothing.
    I’ve emailed inquries to both the larger ones and they won’t look at your stuff unless you’re in L.A. or are already in the Union.

  2. KJL Post author

    I don’t know if Adrie is poking around here at the moment because I think he’s in the process of moving. Fun, fun for him!

    I do believe film has their slow periods as can animation. It is variable…especially when there’s things like writer’s strikes. 😉 So I’m not sure if it’s always the same pattern.

    I really have no helpful info about agents, so Adrie will have to take that one. For animation they’re not needed (at least here in Canada). So I have no experience with storyboard agents.

    But I can see them not being too interested if you’re not in LA. That’s where the action is in the US. Why deal long distance if they don’t have to? I guess it’s just a reality about the film industry.

    I’m sure Adrie will add to this when he’s finished unpacking. Guess I’m not too much help on this one. But keep the questions coming anyway!

  3. Adrien

    the agents I’m refering to are indeed the ones you mentioned and others like it. I don’t know of any smaller ones. This is what I meant by for “a short time”. You go to L.A., get in the the Union and get an Agent (if you wish) and then move away!! You’ll get the jobs, but you’ll be asked to perform them as a local, which means you’ll have to cover your flight and accomodations. If the job is long enough, you’ll still make good money. I’ve had both contact me for representation and I don’t live in L.A., so there are exceptions. It could also be a quick and dirty (lazy) way of saying your work isn’t up to snuff. I’ve seen your work Deb, so this doesn’t apply to you!

    As for slow/heavy work months, it varries. Begining of the year is pilot season, so I invariably work with David on one those. March-May tends to be the blockbuster arrival time and carry to Sept-Nov. This last December was the busiest time of my career, which was a first. December is always quiet. Nothing’s written in stone, I guess. The longest period I’ve been out of work is 9 months. You just have to save for this work-flow and always have a rainy day account. Tempting to go into it, but never do. You’ll pay the price.

  4. Debi

    Thanks for the reply both of you! Great to know I’m not being told to bugger off cause my work is sub-par. 😀

    Good answers for my questions. You guys are very much helping me figure out a game plan. Thanks!!

    Karen, do you mean writer’s strikes aren’t good for the film industry!? Shocking! Someone should have told that to the executives. 😉

  5. KJL Post author

    I know eh? Geez…with all that money you think they could have figured it out for themselves.

    Anything that screws up with my ‘Lost’ watching is never a good thing. 😉


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