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Practical Realities: Jobs on every Hollywood Set

124

Replies to: Practical Realities: Jobs on every Hollywood Set

  • 43212344321234 Registered User Posts: 926 Member
    i know many people discourage getting degrees in majors you can do yourself with tons of practice, but the truth is, most people have a terribly hard time motivating themselves to do it, despite the fact that they do love it. it's just hard, period. for example, i knew i love writing and novels, etc. But i tried to write on my own for 3 years, and i just couldn't do it. i didn't know where to start, didn't know which stereotype was right, which was false. so i took a few creative writing classes, and it's boosted the amount i've written, making a quarter's amount of work more than 3 years. maybe i'm a bad example, but i do think going to school for it can help you achieve your goals more straightforwardly and probably quicker. just don't forget internships along the way.
  • luckygirl1791luckygirl1791 Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    I get that! It's like with my writing in high school--I do so sporadically, always saying to myself that if I got the chance to, I would dedicate even more time to it. But would I really? I don't think I'd get anything done. I'm pretty uncertain of my skills. Hopefully being schooled in writing won't "ruin" whatever talent I may have, but be a sort of discipline instead.

    Thanks for your comment--I'm taking any assuages for my fears that I can get!
  • 43212344321234 Registered User Posts: 926 Member
    i think going to school for it can really help motivate you and make you feel confident. there's way too many people out there trying to discourage others from doing it... but school is a great environment to develop the young artist. it does focus on the art more than the real world, but that's not to say there aren't other opportunities to go out into the real world while at the same time honing your abilities to achieve your goals in school. maybe some people do learn more just by doing it, but for things like writing, nobody's willing to teach you that for free.. not any good teachers anyway. and you can't really volunteer your time for that.. .well you can work for newspapers, magazines, etc., but they won't have time to teach you and help your writing skills.
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    << -- luckygirl1791 --

    Wow. So I've read a lot of this thread, and while some of what you've said is very frank, it doesn't much surprise me. And, of course, I have a few questions of my own.

    I'm an aspiring filmmaker. Okay, just kidding. I love writing and honestly could not imagine myself doing much else in life--so I want to be a screenwriter. I'm a senior in high school, awaiting college letters and such, so everything's pretty much in the air. But I applied to a few film schools, some of which I suppose are considered the best--USC and NYU. Would it be totally useless for me to go and major in screenwriting at either of these schools? I did know before getting into the whole application process that the degree would not matter if I actually got into the business somehow--that talent and luck would make a career and all that. But other than writing, I know basically nothing about the technical work that goes on in the movie-making process, and I thought that film school would be a great way to learn how it all goes about, especially in Los Angeles, where I could perhaps intern at television studios and such. I would feel a bit guilty about spending thousands of my parents' money on school if the degree would be so useless...would it be helpful to double-major in something else "practical"? I don't know, I just think of college as a place to learn about things I'm actually interested in--film, philosophy, theology. I know none of those degrees lead to any sort of job stability, which I'm okay with. Maybe impractical, but worth the risk for me. I don't know--what do you think? >>

    You ask if it would be "totally useless" for you to major in screenwriting. I don't know that I'd go as far as saying it would be "totally useless." The degree, yes, that is basically useless unless you intend to teach at some point. But entering an encouraging and potentially educational environment where you (hopefully) receive constructive criticism isn't necessarily a bad thing. That said, your "success" there (in terms of the education you receive and how it helps you become a better writer) depends greatly on the instructor you just happen to have. There are other great resources out there that will cost you a lot less that will help you learn the craft and business of screenwriting (listed below).

    A lot of people say they want to be Writers. But only the most inspired do the work, sit down, and write through to completion. If you are in need of plunking down thousands of dollars to "encourage" you to do that, then it's entirely possible that a writing career isn't for you. The business is very difficult and the competition is out there. The most successful Writers don't really have to work that hard to sit down and do it. They just do because that is what drives them. If you feel that you need to pay for outside "encouragement" to "make you" sit and write, then your chances of becoming a successful Writer once you leave the school environment will likely drop.

    School CAN help you hone your skills. I'm not suggesting that it can't, but that is dependent on the specific class and instructor. But there is no reason you can't develop your own skills on your own for much less money.

    If you want to learn the "process" that it takes to get a movie made from start to finish, again, there are different ways to do that that don't involve spending inordinate amounts of money on a film degree. Volunteering to work on student films that other people are paying for is a great way to get exposure to the process and watch others succeed and/or fail on a daily basis. But the student-film level can be very different from what a true professional movie set is like, so yes, at some point, finding your way to observe or work on a professional project is important...and again, that is something that a filmschool won't necessarily do for you (giving you the opportunity to meet professionals and go to real sets). Some schools CAN and DO do that. Most don't. So carefully research the curriculum of schools that interest you and ask lots of questions about any internship/and professional outreach programs they might have. And just a note about that...interning at "television studios" is not the same as working on movies and episodic television. Those projects aren't shot at television studios. The production offices are usually on studio lots (like Universal, Warner Bros, Disney, Fox, Paramount) and stages are either on the lots themselves or on other stages (like Raleigh near Paramount or in converted buildings, like Downey Studios which is the former home of Rocketdyne).

    If you want to be a professional Screenwriter, I urge the following for you:

    1) read every page of wordplayer.com

    2) read the book: Film Scriptwriting, Second Edition: A Practical Manual (Paperback)
    by Dwight V Swain (Author), JOYE R SWAIN (Author)
    # ISBN-10: 0240511905
    # ISBN-13: 978-0240511900

    3) write many scripts...shorts, episodics, and feature length. Practice and show that you are able to write for different genres and purposes.

    4) Research and possibly apply for Screenwriting Fellowships. A Google search will lead you to the variety that are offered.

    5) Enter your work into Screenwriting Contests. On occasion, new talent is "discovered" and developed this way by Agents, Producers, and Studio Execs.

    6) Work on getting an Agent. How? By having writing samples to show (the variety of scripts I suggested above). Most Agents and Producers DO NOT take unsolicited material under any circumstance. What that means is that if you mail a script to them, it will go instantly in the garbage or will be sent back to you unopened. This is to protect them legally. So to get in their hands so that it IS read (usually by a hired "Reader"), you almost always need to know someone ELSE who knows the Agent so that your work comes "recommended." How do you do that? By getting involved in the professional industry. Some people start as Assistants to Agents, Writers, and/or Producers. Some others work below-the-line on a crew and manage to schmooze their way into a relationship with someone in a "suit." There is no "one way" to do this and nobody will ever care or give you an extra look if you have a Masters in Screenwriting. What matters is who you know and your work.

    7) To learn how a movie is made, you can volunteer to work on low-budget indie projects and maybe even get paid something for it. Not really a plug, but I wrote my own book to help aspiring "filmmakers" learn how professional movies are made without having to actually go to set, so you could read that to help you. Or you can spend money on filmschool and learn that way too.


    As far as your major goes, you seem to be on the right track when you mention the things other than film. In film classes, you're going to study other films. But since you want to be a professional Screenwriter, you'll need things to write ABOUT. If your whole concentration is on "film," then your education will be so film-centric that you won't have the breadth of knowledge to write about anything except other films. So subjects like Philosophy, Theology, Myths, Literature, Sociology, Physics, History are all better suited to an aspiring Writer of any kind. If you can major in any of those AND still take some film production and/or screenwriting classes, all the better.

    You mention the term "practical" which delves into the realm of learning a trade. You seem to have a firm grasp on the concept of a university in that if you just wanted to be a "plumber" you wouldn't need a degree. So in the same way, to work "on set," a degree of any kind is certainly not required. Below-the-line jobs are essentially "blue collar" work. Highly specialized, for sure, but still basically just trades that are best learned "on the job." You definitely don't need filmschool for that.

    If you are interested in a "backup" career plan while you pursue Screenwriting, well, that's going to be something that you need to think about. The film industry is full of people who went to filmschool with hopes and dreams of becoming Writers and Directors and Producers. But for any number of reasons, they stopped trying or were stopped from going farther so they live out their lives doing something else in the business. There is nothing wrong with that, but know that this is the norm. The exception is the person who becomes a successful working Writer, Director and/or Producer. Don't let that discourage you if you have a goal. I only say this (and wrote the book) so that people can understand the arena so that they can make wiser choices along the way. You CAN achieve your goal of being a successful working Screenwriter and learning the realities of how this all works is the first step. After that, it's about your own passion, enthusiasm, perseverance, patience, and skill.

    So when you consider schooling for a "backup" career that you're doing while you pursue the goal of Writing, think sincerely about what else you wouldn't mind doing within the film industry and how THAT job might help you meet the right people who could hire you to write. Because the business is about who you know, target your education and career path in a way that puts you in the position to have opportunities to advance.

    One last thing is that you say that it is "worth the risk." Therein lies the difference between those who can survive this industry and those who can't. There are people out there who can't fathom how "we" don't have the security of a weekly paycheck or a regular office to drive to every day. We do this because we can't imagine doing anything else. There are no "backup" jobs...one, because we're not really qualified to do anything else... two, because this is what we want to do with the short time we have to live on the planet. People who have "real" jobs have trouble jumping away from the security blanket into the freelance world because they likely have lots of financial overhead to pay for. When you live a life of uncertainty, it is easier to not tie yourself down with "things." The less you have to be responsible for, the freer you are to pursue those "risks" that others can't imagine taking. So before you sink into debt, or buy an expensive car or get married or any number of other things that can tie you down into a "life," just get started writing and move to where you can work in the professional industry where you will meet others. By all means, go to a University where you will learn skills that you will carry with you for life, but know that the degree isn't the point.

    It really does boil down to this: if you want to be a Writer, then you will sit and write, not because you have an assignment due or because you feel like you "have to." You'll write because you can't imagine doing anything else. And, with preparation and knowledge about what it takes to be a professional in the industry, you could actually one day pay all of your bills (and more!) by doing it.
  • 43212344321234 Registered User Posts: 926 Member
    one thing i've always wondered how people start out is, when you first start out, you usually have to volunteer and work for free. but breaking in requires your full you, meaning lots of time. and especially in expensive cities like NYC, if you don't have a safety bank to fall back on (rich spouse, parents, etc.,), it seems impossible, or extremely hard. it probably isn't the place for hermits/anit-socials either.
  • DougBetsyDougBetsy Registered User Posts: 5,830 Senior Member
    one thing i've always wondered how people start out is, when you first start out, you usually have to volunteer and work for free. but breaking in requires your full you, meaning lots of time. and especially in expensive cities like NYC, if you don't have a safety bank to fall back on (rich spouse, parents, etc.,), it seems impossible, or extremely hard. it probably isn't the place for hermits/anit-socials either.

    College internships help with this. You have the safety net of food and shelter on campus, therefore it's "easier" to work for free.
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    There are a few Temp Agencies that work with various production companies so those wishing to get a start in the industry can be placed inside the business. You may be making copies or running around town, but it's a start and you'll have an income as you meet others.


    Brian Dzyak
    Cameraman, IATSE Local 600/Society of Operating Cameramen
    Author, What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood
  • ReadingFlutistReadingFlutist Registered User Posts: 109 Junior Member
    What would you say are the differences between screenwriting for television and for film?
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    << --ReadingFlutist --

    What would you say are the differences between screenwriting for television and for film? >>

    Narrative feature filmmaking is often described as the Director's medium. Episodic Television is described as a Producers medium.

    In narrative feature film, ideas can come from anywhere. If it's just an idea, a Producer will hire an established professional Screenwriter (WGA) to flesh out the story. If it's a complete screenplay to begin with, the Producer may push forward with the script as is (unlikely) or will ask for changes/polishes. Depending upon various factors in both cases, the original Writer may or may not be the one who continues with rewrites. Some feature films have just one credited Writer. Some have two or more (I think there was a movie in recent history that has something like ten credited Writers).

    For a feature, regardless of what the Screenwriter writes, the Director gets the freedom to make changes on the fly if he/she feels that those changes will make for a better film.

    In episodic television, the Producer is the one who controls the stories. Also called a "Show Runner," television Producers have the ideas, then hire multiple Writers to create each episode. While a feature is 90 to 120 pages with some fairly minor rewrites along the way, a narrative television program requires a pilot episode plus an entire season of 42-ish minute scripts. Once a show goes into its 9-month production run, multiple Directors are hired, each directing a few episodes each.

    Feature filmmaking has the cache of being the "top end," but the real MONEY is in television, as one can work more days a year and residuals can easily outdo any income from a standard feature release.
  • ReadingFlutistReadingFlutist Registered User Posts: 109 Junior Member
    How hard is it to break into television writing? I've heard that all you really need to do is write a good spec script and find an agent who'll send the script to producers. Is that true?
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    << -- ReadingFlutist --

    How hard is it to break into television writing? I've heard that all you really need to do is write a good spec script and find an agent who'll send the script to producers. Is that true? >>

    ReadingFlutist,

    I'm going to refer you to wordplayer.com, Screenwriting Column 19 by Terry Rossio. I'm not allowed to give direct links here, but here is a clue on how to find the exact page: .wordplayer.com/columns/wp19.You.the.Expert.html

    This article came to mind as I was reading your statement above about writing a good spec script... you make it sound so easy! :) Check out the whole article (and whole site), but here is a little of what Mr. Rossio has to say about this issue:

    "First, write a great script. Now, be very careful to have only one copy of it. Immediately upon writing FADE OUT, THE END, take that single copy and place it in a small, sturdy safe. Close and lock the safe. Take the safe directly to your basement, dig a hole seven feet deep, and place the safe in the hole. Refill the hole. Lock the basement door securely, and then go to bed.

    The next day, get up and go to the basement. The place will be lousy with agents, several of them already involved in a bidding war over your script.

    I'm being facetious, of course, but to make a point. The really hard part is step one -- 'write a great script.' It's like that Steve Martin joke where he says, "I know how you can make a million dollars, tax free!" He looks out over the audience, then says, really fast: "Okay, firstyougetamilliondollars. Then..."


    So yes, the first step is to write a GREAT script...and that is easier said than done. I was just in an office at Sony last week in Culver City shooting an interview. On the walls of this particular office were shelves filled with, what had to be, in the neighborhood of 200 screenplays...just sitting there, most if not all likely to NEVER be made into movies. And those are the ones that made it to that office. There are countless others that will never make it that far.

    So yes, write GREAT scripts. Make contacts in order to get your work seen. Then write more and get more contacts. Then, if the stars align correctly and you are very excellent at your job, then maybe you'll make a living as a screenwriter. I'm not trying to be discouraging at all, so please don't take it that way. Obviously it IS possible to achieve this goal because there are a lot of people who DO make a living as Screenwriters for film and television. It's just important to understand the arena you're attempting to play in so that you can make a plan and make wise choices along the way.
  • 43212344321234 Registered User Posts: 926 Member
    bjdzyak,
    this is a question mainly out of curiosity and for your opinion. would you say that, for someone who can write, it would be better to write a novel or a screenplay? both are surely just as competitive as the other, but there are pros and cons to each. obviously, it's not just as easy as deciding which one is better to write, so you set out for one and not the other. but if someone could write both, would you say they should spend more efforts in trying to get their novel published first, or to sell their screenplay first? screenplays usually bring in more money for the writer, even if it doesn't get made into a movie. but i constantly hear of the writer not getting any credit for the work. whereas, novels don't usually bring in as much cash, but 7/10 movies are adapted from novels, and novels do credit the authors. of course, this is something that write which suits you best, but which would you consider, i don't know if i would say "better", but.. more beneficial to the writer? i guess if you need a paycheck, screenplay, but long run novel? this is really just an open ended question. if someone can write, both mediums are great.

    from what i've read, television writers usually have more to do with the project, from pre-production and story boarding. but feature script writers usually have nothing else to do with the movie once their script gets sold until premeires. TV writers usually work with a group of writers, but feature writers are usually on their own. i would think both are equally hard to break into. any writing gig, for that matter.
  • bjdzyakbjdzyak - Posts: 41 Junior Member
    << -- 4321234 --

    bjdzyak,
    this is a question mainly out of curiosity and for your opinion. would you say that, for someone who can write, it would be better to write a novel or a screenplay? both are surely just as competitive as the other, but there are pros and cons to each. obviously, it's not just as easy as deciding which one is better to write, so you set out for one and not the other. but if someone could write both, would you say they should spend more efforts in trying to get their novel published first, or to sell their screenplay first? screenplays usually bring in more money for the writer, even if it doesn't get made into a movie. but i constantly hear of the writer not getting any credit for the work. whereas, novels don't usually bring in as much cash, but 7/10 movies are adapted from novels, and novels do credit the authors. of course, this is something that write which suits you best, but which would you consider, i don't know if i would say "better", but.. more beneficial to the writer? i guess if you need a paycheck, screenplay, but long run novel? this is really just an open ended question. if someone can write, both mediums are great.

    from what i've read, television writers usually have more to do with the project, from pre-production and story boarding. but feature script writers usually have nothing else to do with the movie once their script gets sold until premeires. TV writers usually work with a group of writers, but feature writers are usually on their own. i would think both are equally hard to break into. any writing gig, for that matter. >>


    Well, that's the funny thing about art... who can say what could be profitable enough (or at all!) so that you could, at a minimum, earn a living? People need food, clothing, and shelter to survive. Everything else is just gravy to help us "enjoy" living our too-short lives. So, if you can get someone to pay you for "art" (while you're alive!), then you're doing very well!

    I don't think there are accurate statistics regarding those who write and those who actually make a living at it. It's probably safe to say, though, that there are more who don't make a living as Writers than those who do.

    With that in mind, I can't really tell you which path to pursue apart from suggesting this: write what inspires YOU. What I mean by that (and this is only my opinion, for what it's worth), is that I've found that the best writing comes when the Writer isn't trying to force an idea to be something that it isn't. So, if you have an idea and you can actually SEE it play out as a movie in your own mind, then write the screenplay. But if you start writing a story and it comes out more "novel-like," then run with that. Some stories have too much "story" to squeeze into 90 or 120 minutes. If you can't or don't want to cut it back, then write it as a novel.

    So, that's the writing part. Well, it's the format part, but it's also VERY VERY important that your write a GREAT story.

    As far as the business decisions to make, you're right in that publishing and moviemaking are very competitive. I can't really tell you which has the higher odds because so much of your success has to do with your own talent and your own networking. A truly great Writer will probably get noticed eventually. Probably, but there are no guarantees.

    If you manage to sell your screenplay to a reputable company with the help of an Agent, then the issue of proper credit isn't something to worry about (too much). New Writers spend far too much time being concerned about their work being stolen. The fact is that it's far cheaper for a studio to simply buy your script and credit you than to go through a lawsuit. That's why hardly anyone in the business accepts unsolicited work... it not only is a helpful way to keep the numbers of scripts to a small percentage of what is out there, but only accepting solicited work protects them legally in case someone decides that the movie in the theater looks too much like the script they sent the studio. Creating a career in the film industry as a Writer depends greatly on your ability to write EXCELLENT scripts AND your ability to get it in front of those who matter. Writing is only a part of what it takes to have a career as a Writer.

    Publishing is a different industry altogether and one that is changing rapidly as we speak. Traditional publishing companies are reportedly not very profitable of late. There are a lot of books out there, but only some actually earn profit. Let's say that you do write an amazing novel and that it does get published. Depending upon the publisher, you may wind up doing much of the marketing yourself with little to no help from them. For this reason, the name of the game in publishing is how large of an advance you can command because the sales may not ever be enough to generate royalties. As a new Author, you won't have the reputation yet, so your advance won't be very large... you'll have to keep your day job for quite some time. And you have no control over the possibility of your brilliant novel being made into a movie.

    Most studios DO pay attention to new works...they buy the books and hire Readers to do "coverage" that goes into a file. If the book is selling well and the Reader gives it good enough coverage, then the book might get optioned. That's just a variable amount of money that locks the book into a deal with that studio/production company in the event that THEY want to make a movie from the book. An option is not a guarantee... it just keeps anyone ELSE from making a movie from the book. Then IF they decide to make the movie from the book, pretty much without exception, the book's Author will NOT be asked to write the screenplay. As the Author, you may get an invite to the set or maybe even get a cameo (Cool!), but you won't be invited to write the movie or give input to the Director.

    In most television, scripts are written by groups of Writers. Not always, but often. You'll be writing according to a pre-established format for the story and characters. And you'll be writing quickly, on a deadline. A standard one-hour episodic schedule can run about nine months so you'll be helping to turn out 24 to 36 scripts in that time.


    Ultimately, my humble opinion is that you write because you want to, have to, and love to... for your own reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with money. I wrote my own book, not for money (because there isn't much, I still work for a living!), but because I knew that I needed to do it... I knew that aspiring filmmakers out there needed to hear what I had to tell them. I wrote the book and I donate time to boards like this to help others so that they make wiser choices as they pursue their career goals. Mine isn't fiction, but it is a story that is told in a specific way in order to get a message across. And the story continues here and elsewhere. I write something nearly every day, but I, like so many other Authors out there, don't make a living from the writing. If not at a "day job," time is spent getting word out about the book via speaking engagements, media appearances, and other "marketing" efforts. The point here is that the life of a Writer is not just about writing. If you're not trying to tell the world about your book, you're out (away from the keyboard) building relationships with those who will publish/distribute your work.

    All Writers need to do plenty of other things in order to get their words in front of other people. The politics are just as important, if not more so, than the writing itself. You could write the most brilliant novel or screenplay in the history of the Universe, but if no one else ever sees it, then it might as well not even exist.
  • 43212344321234 Registered User Posts: 926 Member
    yeah.. i usually get the best ideas when i'm not actually writing, not sitting in front of my computer or notebook. they like to come when i'm working or trying to fall asleep. but sometimes i don't see myself doing anything else but writing, making it difficult to find another career, but wow, i can't even write when i'm trying.
  • supraman22supraman22 Registered User Posts: 23 New Member
    I am trying to find a college and I am most interested in cinematography, and possibly some directing. I was considering double majoring in film and electrical engineering, so that I could have a viable back up career. However I was wondering if it would be better to major in something else like business communications. Which is a better option?
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