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Practical Realities: Jobs on every Hollywood Set

bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
There's still an overwhelming belief by aspiring filmmakers that film school or a major will qualify them for an industry job based on their degree. Saying "I want to make movies" isn't good enough. Hundreds of different jobs get a movie made and released...

..Hi! I'm relatively new around here and have only begun to scratch the surface of what the archives hold.

But there does seem to be one constant in regard to the question of filmschool that I see in many forums, here and elsewhere, and in the emails I receive.

All too often, here and elsewhere, someone will ask the question, "What is the best filmschool?" That question assumes that everyone wants to do the same thing for a living and that there is one school out there that can fulfill everyone's needs. Then, I often see a slew of school suggestions without concern as to what the soon-to-be-student really needs for him/her. What one person needs out of a filmschool is not necessarily going to be applicable to what someone else needs. This also doesn't take into account factors like finances, geography, a person's situation (overhead, debt, spouse, kids, age, previous experience, etc.).

My overall concern is that, like my own experience many years ago, aspiring "filmmakers" still aren't being given the true picture of what it takes to create an actual viable sustainable career in the professional industry. Most filmschools won't or don't tell these kids because filmschools are a big source of income and reality isn't as glamorous as talking about classic movies and movie stars. There are countless books and workshops out there that claim to tell kids how to "make a movie and be successful!" but they fail to explain the oft-times harsh realities of the business. The art aspects of filmmaking are indeed important, but without a grounding in the business and financial necessities involved, all of that art/process education is all just theory that will never have a chance to be practiced.

So, for anyone aspiring to create a career in the film industry, I always urge them to first figure out PRECISELY what job it is they want to do for a living. Saying "I want to make movies" isn't good enough. There are hundreds and hundreds of different jobs that have to be done to get a movie made and released.

The second step for the aspiring "filmmaker" is to investigate what having that job truly entails and what it is truly like to have. It might sound glamorous and exciting, but you can only know what it really takes by finding others who actually do it and observe them and ask questions. In fact, this should be the process for anyone who wants to do anything. ALL High School students should be required to "shadow" a professional BEFORE a university and major is chosen.

Then the aspiring filmmaker should learn what it truly takes to get there. It is highly possible that filmschool is NOT the right choice and not necessary at all. There are valuable things that can be learned by a higher education, but very few jobs in the film industry require a film degree. Cast and crew typically are never asked "where did you go to school?" or "may I see your film degree?" A film degree just doesn't matter. Ever. BUT, if a "filmmaker" wishes to be a Producer or an Executive of some sort, a Business and/or Legal degree very well could be a much better choice. Knowing the process of film production is indeed important, but getting that film degree is usually not necessary for anyone who actually makes a living doing this.

So, what I'd prefer to see is less emphasis on throwing random names of Universities in answers to questions and more concern toward what young people are really interested in doing and what it takes to get there. Going to a University is valuable for so many reasons, but it's more than an expense...it's an investment into a future. Those going to college are the consumers who are buying a product and it's important that they know what it is they are buying. Who would pay thousands of dollars for a product without knowing if it will deliver what it promises? And what most film students THINK they are buying is a ticket into the world of the professional film industry. But it just isn't the case.

College Confidential is an excellent forum for aspiring students to learn the ins and outs of higher education, but simply answering the question of "where should I go?" isn't always as simple as it seems.
Post edited by bjdzyak on
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Replies to: Practical Realities: Jobs on every Hollywood Set

  • stacymstacym Registered User Posts: 129 Junior Member
    thank you, this was a very informative post.

    as someone who does indeed wish to work in the media industry someday, it is a bit refreshing to see someone acknowledge that film school isn't the say-all way in launching a career in the business.

    of course i'm still looking into majors like rtvf at Northwestern and basically all the film studies courses of the colleges i'm applying to, but it's nice to hear that it's good to leave lots of doors open to other parts of academia..
  • LimaLima Registered User Posts: 352 Member
    Thanks a lot for this. I'm like a lot of kids in that I want to work in the film industry and have little idea what I'd like to do.

    On the one hand, I want to work as a gaffer, because that work really interests me, but on the other, I want to work at one of those big design studios like Lucasfilm. I was planning on figuring it all out during college. (Though I don't plan on getting a film degree, at least not in the artsy sense like at most colleges.)

    The people I know in the technical theater industry (more common here in DC than the film industry) have degrees from state schools in stuff like psychology. I'm just saying.

    Is the film industry like this or is there a major helpful for future crew members?
  • hazelorbhazelorb Registered User Posts: 3,238 Senior Member
    Most filmschools won't or don't tell these kids because filmschools are a big source of income

    Isn't this kind of the same phenomenon with art schools?
  • radio rabbitradio rabbit Registered User Posts: 190 Junior Member
    .. I've seen him around before...
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    stacym: Thank you! Understand that I'm not suggesting that Film or RTVF is useless. It's just important to recognize that a university degree in and of itself will not guarantee a job of any kind.

    Lima: Gaffing for a living can be very rewarding and it is just one way to rise up to the level of Director of Photography. But it is also VERY different from any work you would find at a company like LucasFilm, which has Pre-Production and Post-Production facilities. Any Production work LucasFilm does is completed mostly by freelancers, just like the rest of the industry operates. Having a variety of computer skills in editing and/or visual effects would be attractive for that kind of work.

    Hazelorb: I'm sorry, I can't really speak for art schools. Please understand that what I'm sharing is that most working professionals build their careers based on word-of-mouth and their skillset. It is nearly unheard of for anyone to be asked for their film degree.

    Radio Rabbit: I'm not sure what I've said to deserve your animosity..I was answering questions like the one's I've found here and elsewhere...I've spent far more time and money in my attempt to help others avoid the pitfalls I've encountered than I'll ever see in return.
  • GilGil Registered User Posts: 293 Junior Member
    It's a bit like the creative writing major... unnecessary, helpful if studied, but a bad, bad concentration. Most of the best writers did not major in creative writing. I actually compiled a list of the best 20th century English-language authors (based on critics' opinions, literary prizes, etc.) - it's subjective, but still believable to an extent. And I researched each author's education, and most of them (about 90% of those who went to college) concentrated in one of the traditional majors.
  • liek0806liek0806 Registered User Posts: 3,316 Senior Member
    As someone who attended art school for a while, not for film, and not as an art major, but a more practical major(design), I found your post to be extremely refreshing to see. Kids who go to these schools(top art and design schools, and film schools) go with an illusion that they'll be the next great. The problem with this of course is that your classmates are thinking the exact same thing as you. When a school shells out hundreds, even if at most its 50 students a year, that's 50 students from a top school thinking they'll be the next Steven in a couple of years. The problem with that, is that there's only one Steven out of probably thousands if not millions who pursue that career. Schools definitely take advantage of "those dreams" to capitalize on their reputation.
  • hayzehayze Registered User Posts: 249 Junior Member
    bjdzyak-
    so how does someone break into the business? How would a kid learn to be a cameraman or a grip or a gaffer? I work with a girl who's dad has made a living doing this (grip) and she says it is kind of kept in the family. You need someone to apprentice with and go from there. My oldest son is not college material due to a learning disability (we've tried twice) but he knows more about movies than the average kid. He is a projectionist at the local mall theater but would love to get a foot in the real door.
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    S, who's at a LAC, is expressing interest in becoming a film editor. He became interested in this after producing, editing and directing a film as part of an extracurricular. He is taking theater, video, and design classes to help pursue his interests. What else would you suggest that he do to pursue this goal?
  • johnwesleyjohnwesley - Posts: 4,610 Senior Member
    it's the same thing with acting. no one goes to college to "become an actor". you go because education is a valuable thing to have in and of itself. If, however, along the way, you can take some courses or even major in something for which you have a genuine affintiy -- like film, or art, or theater -- so much the better.

    P.S. there's also nothing wrong with being a well-educated actor (Paul Newman, Tommy Lee Jones, Dana Delaney, Jodie Foster, just to name a few.)
  • stacymstacym Registered User Posts: 129 Junior Member
    ^well educated actors: add stephen colbert, natalie portman, and conan o brien... lol, and what you said, very true. actually, i think the most successful (and respected) people in the media industry are the well educated ones anyway..
  • bluebubblesbluebubbles Registered User Posts: 868 Member
    I'm another example! Although I think I'm going to do something related to political science/law I am so fearful of regretting pursuing film business (marketing, production). The problem is, I'm not sure if I can do anything to change it now.

    I'm 90% sure I'll go to the UK and study IR (which I like) but I can't drop out or change majors because the UK system is very rigid when it comes to these terms.

    Is it possible to do some side work and outside courses and attend film school as a postgrad, even with a completely unrelated major?
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    <<--hayze--
    so how does someone break into the business? How would a kid learn to be a cameraman or a grip or a gaffer? I work with a girl who's dad has made a living doing this (grip) and she says it is kind of kept in the family. You need someone to apprentice with and go from there. My oldest son is not college material due to a learning disability (we've tried twice) but he knows more about movies than the average kid. He is a projectionist at the local mall theater but would love to get a foot in the real door.>>

    Well, the days of being an official apprentice are essentially over, but that is the basic idea.

    MOST filmschool curriculum is built around developing aspiring Writers (if there is a screenwriting program), Directors (by teaching film theory, studying older films, and making short films), and Producers (if there are film-business and/or film-law classes). For a person to have a formal education in motion-picture photography and everything that it entails (including the Grip and Electric aspects) isn't usually taught in a very meaningful way at a traditional filmschool. A student who learns everything he/she needs to know about being a Grip or Electric or Gaffer or Camera Assistant or Operator or Director of Photography in that environment tends to be learning despite the program and not because of it.

    So, given that, really anyone who wishes to work in one of the "crafts" (Camera, Grip, Electric, Sound, Script Supervision, Hair, Makeup, Wardrobe, Props, Special Effects, Stunts, etc) doesn't really need to go to a filmschool to learn to do those things even if the school does happen to have a class that teaches it. There indeed are a lot of excellent books on the shelves which can provide a decent enough foundation for the aspiring [fill in below-the-line job here] to learn. After that relatively brief home education, this person then goes out to find work. Now, as a new person in the profession, the odds are that he/she will find that he/she has to volunteer to work for free on student films at a local university or on a low-budget independent film that shoots nearby. Most low-budget films are being made by aspiring Directors and they are grateful for any help that will save them money.

    What the volunteer will get out of the situation is A) experience in watching others do the job he/she wants to do and B) the opportunity to meet people. There is almost no chance that if the Director of this project "makes it" that you would get to rise to the top with him, so the aspiring crew person is out to be nice and impressive with the work ethic to everyone so that when another project comes up and is in need of help, people will remember and recommend you.

    It can be a time-consuming process as you go from one movie to the next to the next, learning and meeting people. When/if you get on a project that actually pays depends greatly on how good you are, who you've met, and what kind of projects are being produced. There is a bit of "luck" involved, but with patience and passion, if you have enough money in the bank to wait out the slow (no or little $$$) times, then eventually, you will eventually make enough money to pay the bills.

    Unfortunately, the TOC on this site do not allow me to share the variety of quality additional resources that are available for those who wish to pursue one of the crafts. There are excellent books and websites for nearly every job on set, including Grip, Electric, and Camera. With a bit of "research," you can find my own site and find what it is you really need.

    Now, having said all of that, it is a good idea to get as much formal education as possible. No one will ever ask or care about a film degree, but being a crew member is not just blue-collar grunt work. There are specialty skills involved in addition to necessities of communication and logistics (scheduling, budgeting) that a higher education can help someone develop.
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    << -- Northstarmom--
    S, who's at a LAC, is expressing interest in becoming a film editor. He became interested in this after producing, editing and directing a film as part of an extracurricular. He is taking theater, video, and design classes to help pursue his interests. What else would you suggest that he do to pursue this goal?>>

    "S" should continue doing what he's doing, but also should go out and ask a professional Editor if he can observe and/or volunteer for a few days. Look for any kind of local production company that "finishes" narrative, documentary, and/or corporate projects. What's important is that he gets exposed to professionals who will help teach S more than filmschool theory. Editing is about putting the pieces together, but there are also political issues involved as well as a continual change of technology. Plus, it's a life spent in a dark room, so it is also a life-style choice. If you like the sun, don't be an Editor for a living! :)

    Depending on the opportunities near S, his first job will likely be as an Assistant which means organizing the field tapes/film, digitizing and just being there to help when needed. He can get a job like this by doing as I suggest above and going out to meet established professionals in a non-pushy way (as in, "Are you hiring?") Careers in this industry are built on word-of-mouth so the sooner S can get out there and start meeting people, the sooner he'll be working. Then, as he builds a reputation as a quality Editor, both in terms of skill and personality (those are long days in a small room...he'd better be very easy to work and get along with), Directors and Producers will hear about him and begin requesting his services.
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    << -- bluebubbles--
    I'm another example! Although I think I'm going to do something related to political science/law I am so fearful of regretting pursuing film business (marketing, production). The problem is, I'm not sure if I can do anything to change it now.

    I'm 90% sure I'll go to the UK and study IR (which I like) but I can't drop out or change majors because the UK system is very rigid when it comes to these terms.

    Is it possible to do some side work and outside courses and attend film school as a postgrad, even with a completely unrelated major? >>

    That depends on the school and what they allow so you'd have to speak with the schools you're interested in. There are A LOT of filmschools out there in the world (over 700 the last time I counted), but only a scant few really have in-depth curriculum that go beyond selling a dream to aspiring Directors. You should check with the schools near you in addition to schools in the US, like USC, UCLA, AFI, Florida State, and North Carolina. Again, I'm not permitted to give you the precise URL, but a search for my website will lead you to the comprehensive list of schools and their contact information. Get recommendations from others, but really, the very best thing for you to do is to contact the schools directly and explain what it is you are interested in, what your current situation is (school and life circumstances) and ask very direct questions about their curriculum.

    There are also specialty books out there for film marketing, finance, and law. A quick search on Amazon (for instance) will give you some great resources that you won't need a formal school to learn.
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