Hear the first-hand experience of young Irish people living and working in the US in IrishCentral’s latest series on the J-1 graduate visa. We speak to recent Irish graduates working across a range of industries on their careers, motivations, and the highs and lows of their stateside adventure.
In this week’s edition, DCU graduate Diarmuid Hayes tells us about finding your feet in the film industry in New York, from holding up pedestrians to the sixteen hour work days.
Diarmuid studied Communications in DCU before moving to New York.
Deciding to move
Despite reading everywhere that film is booming in Ireland, I never managed to get my foot in the door there after graduating. While my own films were playing and even winning awards at festivals around Ireland, I struggled to find paying work. I grew frustrated repeatedly knocking on the door of what appeared to be a closed shop and fucked off to America.
Everyone is familiar with the New York skyline, subway, streets and bridges because it’s the city where so many films and TV shows are set and this was the main reason I decided to come here. You see films being shot every day of the week in Manhattan. Surely I would find work on one of these shows. That, and LA people are fake, or so I’m told.
Finding a place was tough and I honestly don’t have any real advice on navigating the dodgy landscape of New York real estate except to have your wits about you. They know you’re bright-eyed and naive and they have no qualms about fleecing you.
If you can avoid this process and find a place through family or friends, you should do that. I lived in Crown Heights and then Bushwick which I preferred since there’s lots of other 20-something hopefuls around.
The film industry
Working in film is tough and the nature of the industry is that jobs are usually project based, so you’re always looking for jobs.
There is a great Irish community of filmmakers who are generally happy to give you pointers on where to get your first job. I started out working for some Irish filmmakers in New York and through those films, widened my network and started finding work on other shoots.
You need to be a bit shameless about networking at first. Email people, ask to meet them for coffee, ask them directly to keep an eye out for anything that comes up and then email them again a few weeks later. After a while I was able to line up work on a consistent basis but it’s tough at the start.
Finding your feet
The entry level job is a production assistant, or a runner as we would call it at home. This role can be varied from helping in the office in preproduction, to handling actors on set, or on bigger shoots, “locking up“ street corners (holding pedestrian traffic during takes).
I was lucky to be around when Amazing Spiderman 2 was shooting in NY, which was the biggest film ever shot here in terms of scale and budget, and they were hiring a lot of production assistants. Through this I got more work on shows like Person of Interest, Project Runway, Gotham, Forever, The Blacklist, Public Morals and some other films like Pixels and some Seth Rogen Christmas film.
As with lots of things, it’s all about connections and a producer or Key PA who likes you will call you again and again for jobs. I have been really lucky to work for some wonderful producers as a production coordinator and production manager on some commercials (Vogue, Maybelline, Netlfix, Canon) and some cool independent films.
Outside of production, I also work part-time for Media Factory, a production company run by Irish filmmaker Niall McKay, who also runs Irish Film New York. I do some shooting and editing which is a nice break from PA work which can sometimes get repetitive.
I have also been working on my own writing and directing and have shot three short films on weekends off while I’ve been here. Working on films every day definitely informs your sense of what makes (or breaks) a film and I’m grateful to be getting such world-class experience here.
Working hard at what you love
The hours are long. Really long. And if you want to be rich there are easier ways of making a buck than filmmaking. New Yorkers in general work extremely hard and film people are among the hardest working in the city. 14 and 16 hour day are not too unusual.
As I have found here, there is no one set path into working on set. Everyone has their own way in but we all have one thing in common; we love coming to work, and an environment like that is great.
Overall, I’m delighted with my decision to come to New York. My new skills are transferable and will hopefully stand to me back home. This summer in fact, I’m heading back to Dublin to produce a feature film; an ambitious project I couldn’t have dreamed of undertaking before I came to New York.
You can see more of Diarmuid’s work at http://diarmuidhayes.com/.
Have you taken the plunge and moved to the US on the J-1 Graduate visa? Tackled the visa process, the job and apartment hunt and lived to tell the tale? IrishCentral wants to hear from you! Share your J-1 Graduate visa story with firstname.lastname@example.org to take part in our series and advise the next batch of US recruits.