10 Questions You Should Ask When Writing Your Resume

10 Questions You Should Ask When Writing Your Resume

A quality resume is something that every freelancer struggles with. How can you dilute a wealth of knowledge and experience onto one page? It hardly seems fair, and honestly, it isn't.

Before I was lucky enough to have found a great 2nd AC, I would post job listings that produced many resumes of potential hires. Today, I want to help you get your next gig by sharing the process that I went through when choosing a camera assistant to work for me.

10 Questions to Consider

Hiring a 2nd assistant camera (AC) is a crucial decision for a 1st AC. If the gig goes well, a 1st AC and 2nd AC will often work on many future productions as a team and possibly develop a strong friendship.

But before that work relationship can be cultivated, you have to find the right person for the job. And that means reading resumes.

To help cut down on the clutter of resumes I received from job listings, I began asking myself questions that I felt were important in choosing an impressive 2nd AC. Today, I’m going to ask them to you.

Consider this a self-test for the job of your dreams.

1. Do you have experience?

The entire purpose of a resume is to showcase experience, so it’s only natural that this is the first thing that I evaluate. I look for types of productions, dates of productions, and whether I recognize any of the projects that a person has worked on. It is also crucial if you are applying for jobs within the camera department to list the director of photography you worked with on each show in case there is a connection with the job you are applying.

If you don’t have paid work experience, don’t panic. Experience can also come in terms of student films, film classes or other related projects. I have had to hire inexperienced 2nd AC’s before and train them, so I look to see if they have any connection to filmmaking.

2. Have you worked with this camera before?

If the person I’m looking to hire has experience with the camera we’ll be shooting on, I don’t have to worry about showing them the ropes and they will be more useful to me. In fact, they may have some things to teach me about the camera. This is easy if you have plenty of experience — simply list the cameras you’ve worked with alongside the production or in a separate section (i.e. “Camera Experience”).

If you are lacking in this area, point out experience with similar cameras in your cover letter. For instance, if you don’t have experience with Alexa, but plenty with RED, point out that you have used digital cameras before and comprehend the basic theories. Mention that you understand the camera through reading books, manuals or other means. You need to show that you have a basic knowledge of equipment.

3. What skills do you claim to have?

Skills are tangible strengths such as pulling focus, mechanical repair, and loading magazines. Not everybody will have the same skills, though camera assistants should have certain ones (such as those just mentioned). A lot of camera assistants I know will supplant a skills section on their resume with a section that describes what cameras they have experience with since experience with equipment often translates into the skills necessary to use it.

My advice here is not to exaggerate. You either have skills or you don’t. Inflating them may help you get a job, but could lead to embarrassment on set if you are put in a position to execute them. If you are asked about a certain skill that you don’t have in your repertoire yet, say that you understand the concept behind it and you’re willing to learn.

4. What abilities do you claim to have?

Where skills are tangible actions, abilities are intangibles like efficiency, communication and optimism. There is no true measure for these claims, but they can be qualitatively evaluated. I do find abilities as important as skills, especially if I am hiring somebody who does not have much experience.

For those without much experience, this is your time to impress. Turn your passion into a positive by translating it into abilities like “hard worker” or “takes direction well.” If I was going to be training or mentoring you, I’d want to know that you were up to the challenge and willing to bust your butt. I can teach you skills, but I can’t teach you an attitude.

5. Do I get the impression that you love this job?

When I am looking to hire a 2nd AC, I want somebody who loves their job. They need to have a drive for the work that camera assistants do. Film sets are tough and without this sort of attitude, it’s easy to burn out. I know I still have this passion, so I want to work with someone who feels the same way I do.

The easiest way to show this? Always write a cover letter or some kind of note with your resume and make sure you mention why you want the job. It can be as simple as “I love movies” or “I want to learn more about this camera.” Either way, showing that you’re interested in more than the job is the best way to prove you have a passion for what you do.

6. Do I get the impression that you work hard?

Passion almost always breeds hard work. And film work is not easy work: You’re on your feet most of the time, you’re lifting heavy equipment, and there is heavy pressure not to make mistakes. A lack of experience, but passion to learn, is usually an indication of a hard worker. On the opposite end, having a heavy load of experience indicates that you have the propensity to put in a full day of work.

Hard workers care about details so you should use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation on your resume. Proofreading is done by diligent people. Also, take time to craft your resume and pay attention to aesthetics, placement of sections and overall presentation. Don’t let it look lazy.

7. Do you understand what the job is about?

Camera assisting isn’t exactly a job you hear about on career day. I didn’t even know what an AC was until I stumbled into becoming one. So one thing I’m always on the lookout for when hiring within the camera department is to make sure those working for me understand what they’re getting into.

Working in the camera department sounds sexy because you’re near the action, but it can also be technically tedious, physically exhausting, and mentally taxing.

When I look at your resume, are you relaying information to me that makes me think you can handle that?

And, further, are you informed about what skills are needed for the job? If you’re listing how you understand story or that you’re good at running a generator, that’s great, but those aren’t necessary skills for AC’s. They can be complementary and helpful, but they shouldn’t be at the top of your list.

Basically, I want to feel like if I hire you that you won’t be surprised and possibly turned off from the resulting work.

8. Is your resume inflated or does it speak for itself?

After landing my very first camera assisting gig, the cinematographer told me some sage advice: “Take off your resume the fact that you wrote for the student newspaper and were Vice President in your club — nobody f**king cares about that.”

“I was only trying to fill space,” I protested.

He shook his head, “Nobody cares.”

He was right. Try your best not to inflate your resume. A concise one page resume is often more impressive than a lengthy two page resume. The good part about condensing your resume is that it forces you to showcase your best work. In the beginning, it will be tough to avoid inflating your resume, but as you get more experience you can remove the fluff.

When I look to hire a 2nd AC, I want to see real skills, abilities, and experience.

9. Will I end up doing your job because you can’t?

I have been burned so hard with 2nd AC’s who simply can’t do their job. It’s not because they weren’t trying or didn’t want to, they simply weren’t good enough. It sounds harsh, but it slowed everybody down which is unacceptable. It’s tough to be a one man band.

When I read a resume or cover letter, I try to get a feel for the overall chance of this happening. This risk is often a balance between skillset and experience:

  • Experienced AC: low risk
  • Skilled AC with minimal experience: low to medium risk
  • Newbie: High risk

The intangible factor in this equation is passion. With a newbie, is the passion to learn enough to offset a lack of experience? That is the true heart of the matter.

10. If I was doing your job also, would you do it as well or better?

This last one is crucial for me. At one point I lamented to some friends that I wish I could hire myself to do both jobs. That may sound egotistical, but I was really trying to drive home the point that I have a certain way of doing things and I want somebody else to be able to do it better or just as efficiently.

When it comes time to choose a resume, I look for someone that I think could do the job as well or better than me. With the 2nd AC I currently work with, he has more experience than me and I was intimidated by that at first. In the end, I realized that if I wanted to hire myself, this guy was as close as I would get. I still believe he does the job better than me and we work great as a team because of our similar approaches.

One More Tip

I know every job site says it, but always send a cover letter. Especially when cold calling a job, not sending a cover letter (or at least an informal note in an email) is going to sink you to the bottom of the pile. When I was wading through resumes, the cover letter is what helped me determine who really wanted the job and whether they were the right fit.

Lastly, don’t panic. In the end, it’s only a resume and a cover letter. Do the best you can to impress and hope that somebody realizes your potential (possibly for another gig). After that, it’s out of your hands.

What do you do to get your resume noticed? How often do you update it?

  • Teddysmith

    I tell people wanting to work in camera to ignore conventional resume formatting and just keep it simple. The most important details should be big at the top. Those are your name, position, union affiliation (if any), and official city/state of residency. If you are a local you should make that loud and clear because it will mean big savings to the production.

    Next, I list the last my best credits from the last year or so in order from largest to smallest. 6-10 credits is plenty. If you have 50 feature credits dating back 20 years you probably don’t need my advice but you can list them concisely and quickly. If you worked on The Abyss that is cool but I don’t really need to see it at the top as your crowning achievement of the last 20 years. I want to know what you did recently and if you can format a Red media card in camera.

    Lastly, film is a 24/7 business and people jump on and off show all the time so put a contact number and indicate it can be called anytime day or night.

    Now write a cover letter telling me all the cool stuff and gear you worked on then email and fax it if possibly. Faxes will more likely be seen (in theory).

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Yes conventional resume formatting has never worked for me. I try and keep it as minimal and simple as possible.

      I agree that there is a balance between listing recent/best credits. A great film from many years ago looks nice, but is sometimes impractical as you show with your RED example.

      I also think it’s not a bad idea to have a list of cameras/major equipment that you’re familiar with (if you aren’t listing them by production)

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Yes conventional resume formatting has never worked for me. I try and keep it as minimal and simple as possible.

      I agree that there is a balance between listing recent/best credits. A great film from many years ago looks nice, but is sometimes impractical as you show with your RED example.

      I also think it’s not a bad idea to have a list of cameras/major equipment that you’re familiar with (if you aren’t listing them by production)

    • Lawrence Marshall

      Ok, nothing is mentioned about putting your school on here (if one attended). I’ve got a BA, minor in film, but I get the vib no one cares? It’s all about what experience you have, how hard you can convey you’ll work, and whether or not you’ll slow the production down? This goes without saying, no one cares about your GPA at said school, even though it’s at least an indication that you’re not a complete idiot, but does it mean anything to get hired on a film set?

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        Since I am relatively young and my degree is film related, I still put my school at the bottom of my resume.

        With that said, nobody cares about your GPA. Simply the school name and your degree is enough information.

        It might not make a difference later on, but first starting out I would advise that you put it on there. If anything, what the degree proves is that you’re willing to start something and finish it to the end.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7717548 Lawrence Marshall

    This. Is. Awesome. So useful coming from someone who has been in the position to hire. I have some questions when you have free time. I’m looking to land gigs from people I don’t know, but people who do know me (and work with my potential hire(ers) have recommended me. How far does that go in the process?

    I’ll be updating my resume right away. How do you feel about having 2 resumes? One that is catered towards one job over another…i.e. listing certain productions you did that are more closely related in experience to the job you’re trying to get?

    If I’m getting PA experience, does that help me break into the camera dept? Or is that experience considered bloat?

    Evan you’ve been very valuable to me, thank you for this blog!

    • Teddysmith

      Multiple resumes are a great idea. In fact, I always tweak my resume a bit every time it goes out. Sometimes I am applying as an operator, sometimes a DP, sometimes the stills photographer. Those three require drastically different resumes.

      List any production you have worked on, even if it’s just PA. There is a lot being a PA teaches you about being on set and I would like to see that on a resume if it’s all you have.

      • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

        Absolutely. Thanks for this comment

      • http://twitter.com/HumanGobo Jeremy Bernatchez

        totally agree! I haven’t done a resume in a long while (the upside and downside of working mainly with the same DP for several years), but especially back when I was a PA, I’d tailor it depending on the job. Back then I’d do a variety of stuff, like working in cam dept, or working with lighting, or even working just in a production office. I think I had 6 different resumes!

        Having something more tailored towards what you’re applying for, IMO speaks to your desire for the job, that you’ll put the effort to show the points that would make you a great hire for that particular gig. It even just shows to yourself, that you’re willing to make the effort :)

        Best of luck on moving on up, Lawrence! This industry can be a blast to work in, and half the fun is all the learning you’ll get to do, and having the experience under your belt!

        • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

          I agree Jeremy. Tailoring your resume shows that you want a job. If you can’t take the time to modify your resume slightly, then you probably aren’t passionate enough for the job in the first place.

          I haven’t updated my resume in a long time (at least for a production job) since most of the work comes through recommendations. Occasionally I get asked by a producer friend for a copy of my resume that they can send on to someone else who maybe needs proof that a recommendation is legitimate.

          Resumes, for freelancers — specifically film freelancers — have always confused me a little bit. I am always looking for ways to improve them. And it’s a question that you will see me seek to answer in the coming months on this blog

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thank you Lawrence, means a lot!

      Like Teddy says, you should have multiple resumes. Every job I apply to, I have a different resume and cover letter for (unless they’re both, say, 1st AC gigs on the RED).

      ANY experience on a film set is better than none at all. A PA gig will show you understand set etiquette and that you have an idea of how a crew interacts with each other.

      As you climb up the ladder or get more gigs, you will be able to remove the less relevant jobs in place of more relevant ones. But when you’re just starting out, anything that can relate to film is helpful.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thank you Lawrence, means a lot!

      Like Teddy says, you should have multiple resumes. Every job I apply to, I have a different resume and cover letter for (unless they’re both, say, 1st AC gigs on the RED).

      ANY experience on a film set is better than none at all. A PA gig will show you understand set etiquette and that you have an idea of how a crew interacts with each other.

      As you climb up the ladder or get more gigs, you will be able to remove the less relevant jobs in place of more relevant ones. But when you’re just starting out, anything that can relate to film is helpful.

  • http://twitter.com/filouza Matthew Dorris

    Thanks for the great post. I wanted to ask more about what failings 2nd ACs that you wouldn’t hire again tend to have. Slow with slating? Can’t load film? What are the major failing points of a bad 2nd AC?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hmm, I smell a post in the making on that topic. Thanks for the idea Matthew!

      The thing that bothers me with most 2nd AC’s that I haven’t hired again is attitude and work ethic. Basics, I know, but it makes a huge difference.

      Attitude is important because after 12 hours, if you’re complaining to me I have no sympathy at all. We’re all in the same boat. On the flip side, somebody working for me with a good attitude tends to pass that on to me and I enjoy that.

      Work ethic is important because I don’t like lazy people working for me. I put in my 110% to a shoot and I expect my 2nd AC to do the same.

      I often will look past their limitations on “skill” if they are busting their ass. I know that I can always show them how to get better at slating, or marking, but that it’s a lot harder to motivate somebody to work harder. Especially if they don’t see the value in it already.

      A bad 2nd AC would basically be lazy, complain a lot, and never be there when you need them. A great 2nd AC is always available and will recognize issues before you even do sometimes. They’re your 2nd pair of hands, eyes, and shouldn’t be afraid to jump into your shoes for whatever reason if you need to.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/diallow Diallo Williams

    I have several credits, but at this early point in my career, they are not for anything that most people would recognize.  After just a year, I have over a page worth of productions i’ve produced (I shoot and edit).  How do I keep it to 1 page, if I have done, say 15 videos?  Even if I only keep the ones I’m most proud of, the list is still very long.  Any advice?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Either go to a 2-page resume, which isn’t that bad these days when they are distributed online, or be ruthless with the credits you choose to keep. Keep your best work on there.

  • Nicolas Ayerbe Barona

    I just finished my first year in film school and besides school productions I can’t say I have actual paid film experience. Except for a small video interview gigs sort off things. I want to get into PA work and move to Camera someday, but in no way I want to diminish the value of what I learned and the experience I’ve received so far in film school because people that hire don’t take film school experience seriously. I have worked with the RED in 4 out of 7 of my school shoots, and in all of them we rented professional equipment that I handled. I don’t want to come of as pretending to be professional when I am just starting. In essence, what’s the kind of resume from a first timer with dreams of being in the Camera Dept. someday?? Also what do you think about IMDb credits and whether or not you should put them in your resume??

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Honestly Nicolas, I would list your school productions as if they were real productions. Do not make an indication that they were student film shoots if you feel they held real professional experience. Something like “Daisy Chain – 2009 Short Film RED One” works. If Daisy Chain is a student film, you don’t have to list it, but if they ask you can clarify. I don’t see that as lying and I did the same thing when I first started out.

      I would list relevant classwork you may have had, your skills, especially as they pertain to production, and do list some employment work even if its non related.

      At the early stage, people are looking to hire hard workers knowing they can/will train them and aren’t always looking for someone who will know everything.

      As for IMDB credits, if you have them, you can list the URL to your profile under your name on the resume, but if you don’t, dont sweat it too much. They will come with time.

      Hope this helps and let me know if you have any more questions!

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