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Lights, camera, action! The glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry lures thousands of people every year. Most plan to sing, dance or act their way into the spotlight. But there’s more to a career in showbiz than just what’s in front of the camera. From accountants to writers, there are numerous opportunities to satisfy that creative craving and command a sizable salary working behind the scenes in film, television, live theater or music.
The prospect of finding employment as something other than a performer within the business is excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall growth in the motion picture industry is expected to increase by 32.7%, or 80,000 jobs, by 2006. Similarly, employment in music and theater is expected to grow by 34.9% over the same period.
With opportunities this abundant, African Americans shouldn’t have a difficult time finding a “gig,” right? Not necessarily. Of the 812,500 salaried employees in the entertainment industry, almost 250,000 work in the motion picture industry. But of that number, only 9% are African American says the BLS-most of whom are entertainers or have minor staff positions.
“Behind the camera, there aren’t very many of us,” says Mayme Clayton, executive director of the Western States Black Research Educational Center in Los Angeles. “In this industry there is always nepotism at work, and it makes it very difficult for blacks to even get in,” she explains. The NAACP, for example, points to the scarcity of African Americans writing for television, and Hollywood’s own Writers Guild of America admits that only 7% of TV writers and 5% of feature film writers currently employed are African American.
Nepotism aside, a large part of succeeding in the entertainment business is knowing where to look, how to network and what credentials you’ll need.
Given the industry’s growing influence and economic impact, we decided to take a look at some of the hottest behind-the-scenes jobs in the business. If you’ve got the interest and skills, whether you’re just getting started or want to switch industries, here are eight promising non-entertainment career opportunities in entertainment.
“Theater is the basis for everything in lighting. If people can get internships in theater, they can go into many other areas,” says professor Cathy A. Perkins, head of lighting design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Innovations in technology over the past 10 years have opened up many venues in which lighting designers work. They include theme parks, cruise ships and industrial productions sponsored by major corporations. A lighting designer works with the director, set, costume and sound designers of a production to bring out key moods through lighting but does not maintain the operations of the set.
Some designers hold a master’s degree in fine arts for theater. But most work their way up in the lighting department of a production from lighting technician or electrician. To work as a lighting designer usually requires joining the United Scenic Artist’s union.
Salary varies widely, depending on the production (i.e., Broadway vs. off-Broadway; film vs. television).
Entry level: $300-$800