5 Things I wish someone had told me when I came out of school
In 2013, I graduated from my Masters Degree in Costume Design in France. I had studied for 5 years and I though I would be ok since I had worked hard at school, got the right education and accumulated a bunch of knowledge regarding costumes, history, fabrics, arts and everything else in between.
The truth is, no matter the studies you do, you will never be ready for what’s coming next. So here 5 things I wish someone had told me when I came out of school.
1/ You don’t know anything
Of course you learned a lot and you probably worked very hard at school. However, being talented, having knowledge and being willing to work hard are not the most important things at this point.
You need to be willing to forget everything you learned because the people who will hire you fresh out of school don’t need you to know everything. They will expect you to be adaptable, reliable and humble. They will want you to learn from them. When I hire an intern or a costume PA to work with me on a project, I don’t necessarily care how much they learned at school. I want to make sure they will be interested to learn my way of doing things and I expect them to be humble enough to accept the fact that they will make mistakes (cause they will).
Today I still think I know nothing. I do have experience and I consider myself as a professional. However each new project is a different process, new things to learn and new problems to resolve.
2/ They will always be ups and downs
Our industry has seasons. When you’ll start working, you’ll expect that you’ll always have a job. The truth is the Entertainment industry is not build like that. If you work in theater, you’ll likely have a slow summer and a busy winter. If you work in film you’ll have a very busy summer and a slow winter. From my experience, January-February are generally the lowest months and things are the busiest between April and October.
3/ Your attitude is your most important skill
When you come out of school, you are in a pool of thousands other people who have exactly the same degree than you. So why someone gets a job and someone else doesn’t ?
I didn’t have confidence when I came out of school. I didn’t know how to look for work and I was not even sure of what I wanted to do because I didn’t have enough experience to decide. And that’s fine, nobody expects you to be confident and know what type of career you want (remember : you don’t know anything ;)). Yet the only reason you will get the job is either if someone recommended you or if you have the right attitude (which is the same thing because someone will only recommend you if you had the right attitude with them).
Sometimes at this point it is difficult to know what is expected from you so just remember 3 things : reliability, enthusiasm, honesty. Nobody is perfect so nobody expects you to smile and be happy all the time (well depending of where you live ahah…) but everybody enjoy being around a positive and trustworthy person.
4/ The way you think about money is wrong
Our society tells us that if we work hard it will eventually pay off and we’ll become rich. This is a lie.
The only way to make money is to bring value on the table. So instead of telling yourself “I need to find more work”, you should ask yourself “how can I bring more value ?”. There are different ways and I believe hard work is a way to get valuable because it is difficult to know your own value when you don’t have any experience. However when you’ll get out of school, people will offer you to work for free. Of course I don’t want to make the apology of unpaid work because it can impact our industry very badly. Yet I did some volunteer projects and some of them really helped me growing my value. Thanks to some of these projects (I also made mistakes and accepted BS jobs that didn’t help me at all) I was able to truly express myself, make mistakes that I would not have to make later, and show the result on my portfolio.
So before accepting a job, ask yourself if this experience will bring you the value you need in order to be successful in your career and make the money you deserve to make.
5/ Be nice and build your tribe
When I started as a costume PA on television, some costumers acted like snob with PAs or interns who were serving breakfast, cleaning the set or driving actors. I didn’t become friend with everybody because I was not trying to build friendships. I had no idea how this industry worked. Yet I made real good friends, especially with PAs, interns and other people I never though I would get jobs from in the future. At the end of the production, I felt stupid cause I though I should have tried to be friend with the producers or the supervisors.
A year later, one of my PA friend called me to design a tv-show he was working on as the location scout. He recommended me to the producer and I got the job ! He could have called the costumers who were more advanced than me on our past project but he decided to call me because we were friends so he trusted me.
You never know who is the PA handling you a sandwich on set. He could be the producer’s son or the person who will recommend you in a year. So mind your attitude and be respectful. Don’t try hard to make friend with the “right person” because people know what you are doing and you’ll be seen as an opportunist. Instead make true connections with people you like. Soon you’ll build a tribe that you can count on when you’ll need work and people you’ll trust when you’ll have to give up a job and give recommendations.
I hope this helped. I think our industry is still very secretive about all of this, especially if you are living in France. I believe it’s time to unpack these things and talk about our experience so we can help each others and be stronger together.