The legendary Hollywood mailroom was once sacred ground for recent grads looking to get their foot in the door, but with the digital age making snail mail nearly obsolete, studios and production houses are changing their ways.
“Not many people start in the mailroom,” says Todd Davis, vice president for worldwide recruitment at Warner Bros. “It’s a stereotype and a misunderstanding of the size and scope of the studio world. Our hires enter the company at every possible level.”
Young job hunters are finding prospective employers in ways that would’ve been unheard of just a few years ago. The proliferation of social media websites like Twitter and LinkedIn are having a dramatic impact on how many HR departments hunt for fresh talent.
Davis says he and his team at Warner begin the hunt with what is effectively a multimedia blitz that hits simultaneously on social media and Warner’s career websites. “We can reach individuals at a much larger radius,” he says.
In one instance, he recalls two candidates who landed on the company’s radar about 15 minutes after Warner made the job posting. “It has given us a lot of power to do things faster,” he adds.
While social media is a growing tool for new hires, some employers in search of more specialized skills prefer a low-tech approach: face-to-face interaction from the get-go.
DreamWorks Animation uses a boots-on-the-ground strategy that puts its staff directly in contact with university faculty at partner schools across the United States. Sometimes the relationship extends to arrangements where DreamWorks animators teach 11-week programs at schools.
The alliances have forged partnerships between educator and employer that ensure students learn the skills they need to work at animation houses like DreamWorks.
“When we turn to a particular school we know what we’re getting,” says Marilyn Friedman, head of DreamWorks’ Outreach program. “We are looking at this in a long-term view. It takes a lot to get someone onboard here.”
DreamWorks’ active campus presence also allows the company to sniff around for exceptional students.
“We’re out and about all of the time,” she says. “I don’t even call it recruiting, I call it scouting.”
At William Morris Endeavor, human relations topper Carole Katz says the agency seeks students who are “the best and the brightest, regardless of their pedigree. We accept candidates from all walks of life, from Harvard to small state schools.”
Katz says the company keeps up appearances with some agents and executives lecturing at such schools as NYU, USC, UCLA and Howard U. But she notes that schools who intend to place students in the entertainment industry should encourage them to take courses focused on writing, communication, speech and literature. “A general knowledge of basic business and law is also helpful,” she adds.
Even for candidates with such high-level training, at a company like WME, the mailroom can still be a realistic entry-level position.
“One of the things many people don’t understand about Hollywood is that it has a very traditionally defined work system based on apprenticeship and experience,” says NYU Tisch undergraduate film and TV chair Joe Pichirallo. “People working as secretaries and assistants in Hollywood are not interested in pursuing that as a career. Some of them are the best-trained graduates of prestigious film schools looking to move up.”