Hi Film Folk!
Today we’re talking about career paths. Are you thinking of making your first feature now or looking for work in a media-related field with a view to making a feature? Or are you only just graduating and not sure how to go about finding your place in the film industry?
The Film Doctor team think it’s apt to discuss the process of establishing your projects’ success, no matter what your starting point is.
The Self-Made Way
The “self-made route” is total dedication to your cause – making it as a Director/Producer/Cinematographer, etc. It is a route many start on, but not many finish successfully – or finish at all.
You have a film idea. You write a script. You scrape up some money together. You eat beans on toast for a month but invest in a decent DSLR or HD camcorder. You get a crew, get cast and make the film. You send it to festivals. The film receives some award nods. You get noticed as a Director and doors open for further opportunities.
Or, you write loads of screenplays. Go to industry events, writers’ summits, network as much as possible etc. Meet agents. Possibly get representation. Get loads of writing work. Some of the scripts become successful movies (if they get made). Big production houses and movie studios hire you.
Bottom line is, in any scenario, you seek out opportunities yourself.
Pros: You carve your own success – no waiting for people to notice you, you make them notice you. You make your own name, which then means your career is, largely, in your own hands. And you know that the amount of work & opportunity-seeking you do is proportional to your chances of early recognition & wealth – not dependent on company policies or internal promotions. The other ‘pro’ is the freedom to try as many things as possibles, in order to establish the one you excel in/like the most.
Cons: The main ‘con’ to being an ‘indie’ is money – i.e. the lack of it. Until you achieve any success, your existence will be getting by with some odd jobs, irregular freelance gigs and anti-social working hours. You’d work more than “play”, sacrifice holidays and, sometimes, personal life. You’d also find it almost impossible to maintain relations with people who don’t pursue the same ‘self-made’ path (or people not in the film industry).
The “getting out and doing” approach seems to be more welcomed/rewarded in the US film circles rather than in the UK – British independent film-makers find it hard to break through the “glass ceiling”. However, it is not impossible. If you opt for the “self-made” way, you need to be very proactive, resilient and persistent, and be able to spot the right opportunities and have faith in all your decisions.
The Industry-made / “Climbing-the-ladder” approach
This is for everyone who abides by the “traditional” working-your-way-up idea. Although creative enterprises don’t really operate in strictly hierarchical set-ups and you can skip a few “steps” of the “ladder” (being a runner isn’t going to make you a director – you are), landing a job in a relevant company can facilitate future career progress. Some departments that lend themselves to the “industry-made” approach: post-production (editing, sound design, SFX), camera, lighting, any work in TV rather than film.
In the film world, it would be something like this: You get an internship or work on “expenses only” film shoots. Then you become someone’s assistant/land a junior position in a media company. Spend some years in the same job “building experience”. Acquire ‘the right’ contacts (if proactive). Potentially decide to apply for something “higher” (if proactive). Eventually become a manager/head of department/production exec etc. Establish industry reputation. May or may not realise any of your own film ideas.
In another scenario, you remain someone’s assistant/junior for 10 to 20 years – because either you’re happy like that (there is NOTHING wrong with that) or because you’re plain ol’ lazy OR because you/somebody else talked you out of what you want because ‘that’s not realistic’ and ‘that’s not the way things work’.
Pros: Association with renowned industry organisations/names opens doors – so you’d be in an excellent position for chasing further opportunities, favours & insider’s perks (all of which is invaluable if you’ve got a first project on the go). You’d have access to key industry people – the effort in finding networking opportunities would be reduced, since you’d already have some of the contacts as your work colleagues. If you’re in the ‘technical department’, you’d get access to equipment. And, of course, financial security (as secure, as it can get in the creative industries).
Cons: You might never get to do your own projects. This could happen either because a). you get too comfortable / satisfied with your job position that you decide you don’t want/need anything else; or b). the job takes up all your time and you can’t get around to working on any of your own projects.
Of course, a full-time post isn’t necessarily equal to giving up on other plans – there are plenty of film-makers who’ve managed to use their “industry-made” profile for the benefit of their “self-made” project.
Quite often, people start out as “self-made”, indie film-makers but eventually ‘migrate’ into the other category. Some continue pursuing own goals & dreams, others settle into the “working for the boss” mode. Seldom, a well-paid exec leaves his/her post to support independent film ventures (Peter Jackson’s first producer, Jim Booth, did!) and becomes successful there too. Whatever the professional stage you are at right now, you need to know what you’re aiming for – in order to find the right career model.
So what is it?