Have you always wanted a job in show business? The city’s film scene — including commercial and industrial work — is growing.
Megan Griffiths is a Seattle-based director and producer who has premiered films at festivals such as Sundance, Toronto, South by Southwest and Tribeca. But she didn’t get there overnight.
After earning her master of fine arts in film, Griffiths started out working for free on nights and weekends as a cinematographer and editor, after her day job. Then she worked as an assistant director, “not only because I had an innate skill for it, but also because I saw that it was a role that was challenging to fill on low-budget films in Seattle,” she says.
After finding regular work in that space, she was able to finally move into the director’s chair, helming feature films including “Lucky Them” and “The Night Stalker.”
Seattle’s film scene is growing. A total of 506 permits were coordinated in 2016, a 22.5 percent increase from 2015, according to the City of Seattle Office of Film and Music. Most (57 percent) were commercial, with 20 percent feature film or episodic. To work the sets, 4,480 local crew members were hired.
On-set career positions can include directing, casting, construction, lighting, catering, publicity, costuming, makeup artistry and prop work.
One of the misconceptions when hearing the word “film” is thinking narrowly of feature films or television shows, says Amy Lillard, executive director of Washington Filmworks, a nonprofit managing the state’s film and production incentive program. “Don’t limit yourself to those options,” she says.
“If you look at all the content around you in your life, whether you’re watching a commercial, watching a news segment on your phone or watching a kiosk in a store or art museum — that’s all filmmaking,” she says. “Content is so pervasive and around us every single day, and there are tons of opportunities outside traditional film, such as music videos, branded content and corporate content.”
Virtual and augmented reality content will be big in the coming years, she says, with the future being an intersection of storytelling and technology. “Filmmakers are storytellers, and there are many unique ways to capitalize on new technology.”
To get started in the field, Washington Filmworks suggests searching for any entry-level jobs with companies producing commercials, education and industrial films. Production assistant positions offer the chance to interact with multiple departments, giving you an overview of potential career paths, Lillard says.
Griffiths agrees. “In terms of entry-level work, interning and working as a production assistant are the best ways to meet people in the industry and start building your reputation as a focused worker who is fun to have around,” she says.
“It can be tricky to get your first job. Sometimes productions will post on Craigslist on local call-boards to find crew, but often you just have to ask around at places like Washington Filmworks and the Northwest Film Forum to get a sense of what’s happening locally and put in some cold calls to let people know you have interest and availability to work,” she says.
And of course, there’s always digital filmmaking program at Shoreline Community College, cinema studies at the University of Washington or film and video studies at Central Washington University.
“My film school experience was excellent because I wanted to learn to direct in a place where I could fail, and it has served me well, but I’ve never been asked for my educational credentials when applying for a job on set,” Griffiths says. “Getting production work is about skill and attitude and reputation.”
Griffiths’ hard work has been worth every minute, she says. “A film set is a place that requires a lot of seemingly unrelated attributes — focus, humor, empathy, tenacity, patience, gratitude, control, collaboration and more — to be present all at once,” she says.
“When it’s all happening, and there’s a movie coming together before your eyes, it’s a beautiful feeling.”