This is a guest post by Kelli Reilly for InternMatch’s Student Stories. If you’re interested in getting involved with Student Stories, learn more here.
Film and Television: fame, fortune, scandal, art, money, pipe dreams. You could not have gotten me to study anything else nor work in any other field. I seasoned myself to be ready for rejection, embarrassingly low pay, and slime balls. Ok, so it is not all bad, why else would I want to join the industry? In my studies and creative works throughout college, I prepared myself to hold strong and grow as the artist I am, and finally graduating would set me free (so I thought).
It was rather anticlimactic; Graduating I mean. I graduated early in December. Only a handful of my peers were doing the same and we were all a little unsure of how the awkward timing would affect us. Were we in fact ahead of the game? Or were we simply displacing ourselves momentarily, only to join everyone else come spring? I still do not know the answer. I decided to stay and grit my teeth in New York. I was told if I could do that there, I could do it anywhere. Also, I did not want to tarnish all the hard work, connections, and time I had spent growing into New York and the industry. Upon graduating, I was technically not gainfully employed. I still remained an intern for a wonderful company whom I want to be with forever, but I could not support myself or my East Village rent off of that. Although my artist needs were mostly satisfied, my hunger and roof over my head were not. I also continued to babysit for a couple of families, which I could write an entire separate piece on because, if you love kids and need a job, it beats waitressing and retail any day (and it is meaningful). Nevertheless, I was searching, excited, and anticipating my future.
Networking. That is a word that will never disappear and will be a nagging participant in your career no matter what field you work in. Never underestimate a single person you know; Believe it or not, I have been introduced to more high-profile industry connections by the families I babysit for than from my University or on-set experience. Every single person they suggested to me, I gathered their contact info, contacted them immediately and set up a time to meet. The best way to put it is, when you are eager to learn and engage with someone, they are more willing to meet with you than if you come in demanding a job. So, I met people, LOTS of people. Acclaimed screenwriters, big time producers, production teams, you name it. Each meeting I came with questions, and research on the person who I was speaking to. It was incredible to see people who had companies to run or the next big blockbuster to write, willing to sit down, talk, and genuinely help me. Through these meetings, one particular person placed me on an industry job blast: Weekly emails of high-profile jobs mainly in Los Angeles and NYC. Whether I felt qualified or not, I applied to every single job. All it takes is one word on your resume to catch someone’s eye and surely, that happened to me.
Only a month in to being graduated and roughing it in New York City, I was applying to dozens of jobs a day, whether it was through my CollegeCentral, job lists I received, Craigslist, anything. In the mean time, I babysat and worked a couple of freelance gigs that I got through my internship. I was not struggling necessarily but I was feverish to where my life was headed; Mind you, it has only been a month but that only made me more persistent. Cover letter after cover letter, I became exhausted of it. I finally put in my last application for the week and I was plain done. The last job I applied to was to work as a personal assistant to an industry mom; I thought, hey, that is a good blend of what I am doing now. So, I applied and finally got some sleep. The next morning, I awoke to an email from (I will not name any names as to protect myself and the parties involved) one of the biggest and most relevant production companies in the Hollywood currently. I thought it was a mistake. What could this be for? The email urged me to come in for an interview/call immediately. I put the pieces together and this was for the personal assistant job that I applied to less than 12 hours before. My heart sank. How could I snag this all while being in New York? Could they phone interview me and fly me out? Do I just pack up and move? I had only read the email and my head was spinning. In brief, I got on the phone and talked to the man conducting the interviews. We discussed my being in New York but how I am from California and would be willing to come out for a job. One thing led to another and I had a flight booked and a new job in none other than Hollywoodland. I had 3 days. 3 days to pack, say goodbye, and start a new life.
The hiring manager and I were still working out when I was supposed to come, according to the “Mom’s” schedule. I got in on a Tuesday. No word on Tuesday and no word on Wednesday until late in the evening. Suddenly, I get a call. It went a little something like this:
“I am sooooo so so sorry but we totally got someone and we are going to have them work here.”
“But…you asked me to fly here and knew I was packing up my life…”
“You’ll be the first person we call if he doesn’t work out. But it’s great to be in LA right? So much better.”
I wanted to scream and I very well did. WHAT. HOW? How could someone knowingly ask me to come across the country only to let someone beat me to it? I did not understand and I do not even want to at this point. All my friends, co-workers, family, classmates, from New York called/texted/emailed asking about the job and wishing me well; I hung my head in shame for falling for classic Hollywood. Chewed up and spit out and I had not even shown face yet. How could I let this happen? Why me? I wanted to quit right then and there. Having $20 to my name and a family who had supported me more than wholly, I knew that I owed it to them to keep applying and keep working.
The same process continued, application after application I sent out. At this point I applied for anything anywhere. I had already moved across the country and left the world behind, I was not going to let anything shake me or hold me back; And let me say, I speak encouragingly and confidently now but you must know it is not easy and not for the faint of heart. Most people give up and you have to be the person who does not. The people who make it are the people who are not going to get distracted by seeming failures. No matter how talented you are, how qualified you are, you better be as equally determined to even remotely keep your head above water. 9 out of 10 applications I read ask you to have “thick skin” and I know they are not kidding. Ok, rant over.
Within 2 weeks, I got my first bite. Production Assistant job, not bad. The job would be weekends and in LA. A few emails in, I should have known. Hollywood got me again, this time with the Adult Film industry. It is almost a joke among film students that if you are down on your luck, you can always work on Porn sets. But come on, was I really down on my luck just yet? I told my Dad about the “opportunity” and initially he turned fiery red but then he laughed and told me that he knows I would not have the gut for it (which is true). I still played with the idea; I was broke and needed some comic relief. All the while, there was a whole different plan.
I was getting desperate. I was settling back in to California, enjoying the summery winter, and working for my Nana so I was not the post-college leech. Then, an email, oh the glory of how an email can change your life, hit me again. This time, New York was calling. I pretty much slammed my head onto my keyboard because I could not believe what I was reading. A former professor, whom I respect and am very thankful for, recommended me for a job as a Bilingual Production Coordinator for a prominent global beauty company. It was a three-week job starting immediately. I knew I could not bring my family and myself through the ringer again, packing up, leaving and then coming back once again. I did not want to create a vicious circle and did not even have the money to do so. But, I had nothing to lose by calling and letting my potential employer know of my situation.
Here is where everything I have said so far comes in to play, ready? I gave him the honest truth, what happened, where I am at, and where I would like to be; Because of my high recommendation and commitment to being truthfully candid, the job was mine: flight included. I felt like a rock star. Everything clicked in that moment. Staying connected, being a genuine and kind human being, and working hard, will always pay off. Most importantly, never being afraid (as cheesy as it sounds) gets you far. If I did not tell the company about my situation I would not have had the job because I would have had to just turn it down and cry at night mourning the loss of never knowing what could have been.
Now, I am at the end of this gig and am once again thinking, what is next? This time, I am not as anxious, bewildered, or disappointed because I am determined, experienced, and grateful. My dream job will not be tomorrow and I will not be able to buy that cute dress in the shop window but I get to work hard so that soon enough I know why it was all worth it.
Kelli Reilly: Tisch School of the Arts B.F.A. grad, from California, loves headbands, and Harmony Korine’s biggest fan. Aspiring writer and artist living between the greatest coasts. She has a lot to say here: kellireillywrites.com