The ONE question job interview
By Alec Pinkston, head of production
I get inquiries for internships and entry-level jobs nearly every single day. Typically they are way too long, try too hard conveying their entire life story and don’t try hard enough to be creative and original. When you are competing with yesterday and tomorrow’s stack of applicants, doing the same thing as everyone else is a terrible way to stick out, and sticking out is usually the best, if not only, way to get your foot in the door.
Even if I can’t review their work for days or weeks, at some point I make time to reply to all of them, even if it’s a short polite pass because I remember what it was like sending unsolicited presentations of your small body of inexperienced, underfunded work. Nothing is worse than no reply at all. If they do something to catch my eye, I will meet with them in order to ask one vital question which will tell me everything I need to know about them as a potential intern, colleague or even protégé: What have you created that was NOT a school assignment?
The reason is simple. This one question opens the door for me to see their true level of passion, which is the only trait you absolutely must possess to eventually become great at whatever you love to do. You cannot acquire it and you cannot fake it. If you have enough of it, every other skill you need is coming. It’s just a matter of time. As long as your have that passion, I know you could someday become a truly great asset to my company. Usually one won’t make it to the interview stage unless it’s clear to me that they are using the bulk of their “free” time to improve their craft. Taste and execution will develop with experience but passion is a blank check only you can write to yourself. Ira Glass does a marvelous job of explaining developing taste so I will link that here and move on.
These days there is no excuse for someone to have shot or participated in less than a dozen passion projects (if not dozens) by the time they start looking for internships or jobs. 20 years ago you couldn’t hold people to this standard, the process was much more expensive and even if you were enrolled in a film school, any effort to make your own work was a much steeper climb. Now there are endless technological advantages and therefore ZERO excuses. Although even 20 years ago there were never excuses for truly passionate people, they inevitably still found a way to get it done without the luxury of a mobile studio in your pocket.
Education is wonderful and assignments force you to explore new areas and mediums until you latch onto your style, but if your portfolio consists of only what has been assigned then you are always living within parameters that you haven’t set. Expressing your perspective for the sole purpose of having to scratch that creative itch because you cannot imagine what else you would possibly do, that’s the person I’m looking for. If it’s just a major to you, then it will be just a job for you and I’m looking for someone who has found their calling.
So my only advice is create and create and create some more- BUT make sure you finish what you start, even if you know it’s not working out exactly as you hoped. Those lessons will improve the next project and ultimately that is all that really matters. I don’t care if everything they’ve done so far isn’t very good as long as it shows improvement, originality and tons of effort.
The biggest mistake that I made, which most will also make, is my earliest projects were way too long. My first projects were 8-10 minute short films and at that point I just didn’t have the ability to make something that deserved that much time. Shooting one 10 minute short will take about the same amount of time as ten 1-minute shorts, but you will learn 10x more. There are obstacles to every idea at any budget and developing creative ways around those obstacles is a prized skill in any profession.
I’ll finish by mentioning that I never went to film school. I realized shortly after college that I picked the wrong major, so I worked 40 hours a week in that field and spent 40 hours a week (mostly on nights and weekends) writing, producing, shooting and editing over 120 shorts, sketches, pilots and specs in a five-year period. Of those, maybe six I still feel are pretty decent. The majority of them just weren’t all that good, but every one was a little better than the last and eventually I learned enough that someone noticed and I was able to switch careers to my true passion. Now, I’m lucky enough to be someone scouting the next generation and seeing those interns grow and develop into tremendous creative talents is the best part of my job.