Great, I got a film degree. Now what?
It’s likely that if you’re a film major, whether studies or production, that you became so because you have a pure and utmost love and respect for films and the art of film making. It’s rare to have a major, or to be within a degree program that fosters the pure love for a subject. For that, a congratulations are in order for discovering something that makes your heart swoon, and would make you feel like nothing more than empty and desolate if you did anything else. It may take lifetimes for people to discover what they’re truly passionate about, and you’ve done it while having had lived only a fraction of your life.
Now you’re sitting there (or standing) with either a brand-spanking new degree in your hand, or at the very precipice of escaping the clutches of higher education, and you yet have no idea what exactly you want to do. I mean you know you love films and filmmaking, and want to get into the industry, but you need the specifics. Well I’m sorry to tell you that I can’t give you a straight answer and guide you along the righteous path in which you’ll reach enlightened film nirvana. I can however outline all the technical and creative skills that you learned while getting your degree, and how you can apply them to figuring out what exact part of this humongous and ever-changing industry you want to be in.
You’ve met a lot of people, made friends, and probably lifelong connections.
While in your film studies or production degree program it is a given that you had probably met a whole hell of a lot of people, and you probably don’t remember half of their names. That’s alright though, because the people you do remember might very well be your closest friends and connections in the industry for the rest of your professional life. You’ve learned the expert skill of networking and presenting yourself (and all your wonderful talents) to the people around you, and they will take note. If one of your friends gets a job and they need someone to do something that you know how to do. Chances are that they will call you up. It works vice-versa as the network is only strong if there is an equal change among the people within it. With your smooth-talking abilities and exemplary ability to present yourself, you have set yourself up for a much brighter future than those who don’t.
You know a lot about films – a lot.
“Well of course I know a lot about films!” You’re thinking. Yes I know you studied film and know a lot about film itself, but you also know about how people react to certain films, and how to get people to feel a certain type of emotion. These skills are incredibly vital not just within the film industry, but others as well. How do you think people sell products? Advertising and marketing requires people to feel a certain way about a product or service in order to sell it. This is where your expertise in the field comes in. Not only do you know how and why people feel a certain way about a movie or a scene, but you also know how to make it happen and come to fruition. It is like the famous quote from the dashing ad profession Don Draper once said, “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” With the knowledge that you have gained you can create the type of content that evokes the feeling of love in order to sell nylons… or whatever else you want.
Film, culture, tradition… you know it all.
Throughout your stint in higher education you would have surely been exposed to films of different countries, languages, and culture. It could have been so terribly drab if you only watched films created in this country. While yes you might have seen Citizen Kane over ten times, and might have gotten it or not, you have ultimately been exposed to the wonderful cultures and traditions of places that were completely foreign to you before you started. You now possess the ability to understand and connect with people of different backgrounds through the common medium of film. Look at you, you little holistic and culturally sensitive person, you! Knowledge of external societies is a marketable skill to employ in the job market whether specifically in film or in others such as business or advertising. You wouldn’t believe how many deals were signed or advertisements that aired without the consultation of someone with your new expertise. It had seemed like the whole world could have gone to hell. Good thing is that people now know that they need to step up their game and ensure that they are displaying the exact message that they wish to communicate. They’ll probably even pay you too!
Now what about a career?
Alright, so we’ve established that you’ve developed some overarching skills through your program, and have a couple marketable traits in your back-pocket. Now what about actually finding a career path for you in the twisty, winding world of show-business? The lights, glamour, parties, and pounds of hairspray are what you want to immerse yourself in. Well then let’s find out what exactly you bring to the table so that you can converse with the stars of before, right now, and the relatively close future.
Whatever you focused on in college should of course be your first point of entry. If you were into directing then you should flex all of your directing muscles and credits. Same goes if you produced, event planned, wrote scripts and screenplays, or even worked the teleprompter. It’s important to know what your best foot is and put it forward. There are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs that will pay you for an incredible amount of different things. Sure it might not be co-starring next to the likes of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, or even yelling at assistants to bring you almond milk mocha lattes with three pumps vegan hemp sugar, but it will probably pay the bills. Everyone starts from somewhere, and eventually you work yourself up and make a name for yourself.
Now that you know what you’re good at, and have a general idea of what you want to do we should talk about some entry-level positions that might meet your fancy. You probably won’t get hired on to be the special fx lead for Michael Bay’s new Summer Blockbuster right out of college and having taken a semester of visual design, but who knows you might. The thing about the industry isn’t so much as what you know, but who you know. Good thing is that you developed an innate sense of networking and being able to converse with people so that they know exactly who you are and what you have to offer. That being said, if you don’t hit your big break within the first month of you graduating, and want to work more behind the camera or with people, then here are a couple options:
1. Film Intern
“But I just got out of college and finished my internship requirement!” You might be saying. Yes I know, and you thought that you were done with the long hours and the type of pay that makes you decide whether or not you want to eat or pay rent. Sometimes you have to work at the bottom until you’ve proven yourself to the people around you. This doesn’t mean that your work isn’t as important, but this is the time to prove yourself within the industry to the people that can truly define how the rest of your professional career will look like. Just a couple months to a year of being subjected the cruel trials and tribulations of being at the bottom of the totem pole might set you up for a life of lavish extravagance, and work that you can truly be proud of in the future.
2. Production Assistant
Do you like doing just about anything and everything? Well then becoming a production assistant (PA) might just be the job for you. If you want to receive a truly holistic view and understanding about the film industry, then working as an entry-level PA will give you exactly what you want. Often regarded as the “worker bees” of a production, PAs will be working usually either in an office or on a set. The job is much like a usual film internship in that you’ll learn a lot of practically every single aspect of the industry, but you’ll usually be getting paid a bit more. If you want to pursue being a PA before doing anything else it is important to note that you’re work days will be extremely long and you will probably be stressed more than half, if not most, of the time. The good thing is that you’ll practically never be doing the same thing every day, and the amount of knowledge that you’ll gain and connections will be priceless.
3. Crew Construction
Are you more of hands-on learner? Do you like working with your hands? Then you might want to look into joining a film crew to become a set constructor or designer. If you watch movies or TV shows and wonder about how the immaculate buildings and structures with ornate intricate details all around are created, then this is your chance to be a part of that very process. People within this part of the crew tend to deal with the fabrication and determining the physical integrity of sets, no matter small- or large-scale. The tasks of those within the crew, usually the main constructor or builder, may also deal with the budgeting and hiring of external crew members and carpenters. If working with your hands and working up a bit of a sweat through the design and development of set sounds like it may be your cup of tea, then it is highly recommended that you give it a shot. Those working as a part of the construction team within a crew could be regarded as the unsung heroes of productions. The work, however, comes with a couple perks. If you do a good job, and can prove to the people that matter that you know what you’re doing, then work will often come a lot easier than other jobs within the industry. You might even get hired at a company and not have to hold as many of the stresses of having to find a job once a film or show is done shooting.
4. Production Coordinator
A bit of a step up of being a PA, production coordinators are those that manage the various production assistants around an office or a set. Production coordinators are one of the top people within the below-the-line production staff, which is practically all of the non-creative members of a film or show production. If you enjoy more of the interpersonal communication and management side of the industry, then this role might be ready to be filled out you and all of your wonderful communication skills. Production Coordinators, much like PAs, are hired only through certain parts of production and are thus the job is regarded as a gig-based job. This might spell trouble for those who can’t find work after a production wraps up. Being a production coordinator, however, allows you to flex your problem solving, organizational, and communication skills to those who could offer you future employment and potentially new opportunities. This role will allow you to grow immensely within a crew and give you insider access into the world of production.
5. Location Manager
Ever wonder how they found the perfect place within a production that fit the mood just right? Or made you feel a certain way and bring out a certain emotion within you? Chances are it was the work of a location manager. These incredibly ingenious people are the ones that not only discover locations that superbly fit within a story, but also deal with the logistics, permits, and all the other fun things that come along with shooting on location. Location managers and those that work under them work directly with the production designer and team, as well as frequently with the director in order to develop the exact vision of the creatives. Location managers and assistants differ from the rest of the production team as they are not involved in the direct filming of the production, and are only a part of the process when discovering and working out the logistics of a certain location where the set will take place. Location managers and assistants also are not required for post-production, and have time to either look for another job or relax after principal photography wraps up. They do have quite a stressful task before production begins, however, as they must find and secure the perfect spot(s) or location(s) for a set within tight deadlines. If you like traveling, and the business side of production, then you might want to look into becoming a location manager, or at least work under one for a while.
6. Program Researcher
Program researchers, or sometimes referred to as media researchers, work directly with producers and the production team when it comes to figuring out the specifics of a film or TV show. As a program researcher you’ll be able to input your ideas within the production and be a part of the actual creative creation of a program. These fine folks have exceptional organizational, planning, and researching skills. It is your job to sort of act as mediator between every other facet of the production to make sure everything runs smoothly. This being said, the job can come with a great deal of stresses courtesy of attempting to communicate between everyone and impending deadlines. Program researchers are paid about just as well as other entry-level positions, which frankly isn’t a lot, but the job allows for immense growth within the creative side of production.
The job of a producer varies greatly from the type of production, and what exactly is needed of them. The roles that they play can be vastly different from one another, and they tend to have quite a large understanding of all of the essential parts of production. Producers begin work long before production as they are the ones responsible in figuring out what exactly is going to be produced. They are also the ones with a hand on the financing of the film as they often are the ones that pitch a certain project to a studio, investor, or employer. They must also handle the finances and budget during the entirety of production. So, after finding out what to do produce, getting it produced, managing the finances, they must then deal with the distribution of the project once everything else is completed. Producers are the brave souls that are a part of the process from the very beginning to the sweet, bitter end. It is unlikely that anyone with no real industry experience will show up and be awarded the job of an executive producer, but there are various other jobs either being a producer or working under a producer that are ripe for the picking. There are various types of producers for pretty much every aspect or part of the production, from consulting producer, segment producer, edit producer, and field producer to name a few. Those working as producers might often be regarded as being a sort-of manager throughout production, but it is often more complicated than that. My favorite saying about producers is, “Producers may not exactly know how to do it, but they know who to hire that can do it.” There is also a quote floating around that pissed of a whole lot of Star Wars fans, but I think it is a perfect representation of an excellent producer, and that is, “The only good thing that George Lucas did was that he knew who to hire.”
Have you caught the writing bug and are just dying to create immersive worlds that suck viewers in and have them be a part of your own personal creation? Screenwriters are often the architects of the production, and create the blueprint in which the film or TV show will be built upon. It should be said that creating a masterful script is one of the hardest things within the industry to accomplish, and it is often case that many screenwriters never create their claim to fame or magnum opus. Every screenwriter is also incredibly different, and the role and process of being a screenwriter varies greatly between projects. It should also be of note that there are several different types of people working as screenwriters, and some of these roles see a lot more glory than others. If you’ve ever watched a sitcom and there was a bit that was sort of funny and then the laugh track came in and you thought that it was unnecessary, chances are a room full of writers worked on that. Staff writers are the people that work on writing your favorite shows and are constantly changing around ideas and throwing them at one another in meetings. The job of a staff writer can be quite challenging in having to create a consistent theme across various episodes or seasons, but still bring something new and fresh to the table. Another type of job that utilizes writing in the industry for those who possess at least a tidbit of comedic chops is writing stories or monologues for talk-shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Conan, or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for example. Some gigs require you to solely write and send in jokes for talk-show hosts to say, which can be quite beneficial for those naturally funny folks that can shell out joke after joke, one after another. If you want to become a screenwriter for major motion pictures, or maybe just even indie hits and cult-classics, the career path is far less defined than others within the industry – which is already a winding mess to begin with. If you have never written a full-size script before, or worked within the industry as a writer, staff writer or other, it is going to be quite difficult to find someone to read your script and declare it to be worthy of being turned into a film or TV show. For this reason it might be in your best interest to try and get some work within a studio or company as a staff writer, or other role that delegates writing responsibilities (and credit!), before attempting to shop your screenplay around town. But if you believe that you have the most amazing script that will captivate audiences all around the world (which most writers think) and make the studio lump sums of money then by all means try to get it produced. It might be wise to try to get some sort of representation via an agency first, so that you have someone with industry experience to argue on your behalf. Becoming a screenwriter can be one of the most rewarding but grueling careers that anyone can chase.
9. News Presenter
Do you bubble with charisma and draw people in with every word that leaves your lips? Are you a fan of journalism and getting the news stories that the world needs to know out to the public? You might want to look into becoming a news presenter. Those who work as news presenters tend to work on their own stories and act as journalists in discovering what exactly needs to be shared to the public. These people are professionals that anchor or co-anchor with other presenters on news programs. News presenters tend to have a tremendous amount of confidence and exude charisma, which is necessary when you are in essence publicly speaking to (possibly) millions of people every night. Viewers will have to trust the presenters who they receive their news from, so it is incredibly important for news presenters to present themselves in a fashion that builds rapport between them and the viewer. News reporters and journalists are held to a certain standard when it comes to their research and stories that all of those within the field must understand and abide by. If this sounds like something that interests you, you might be able to find jobs being a news reporter at stations all across the United States.
Much like several of the other roles mentioned on the list, it is probably unlikely that you will be rewarded the job of being a director on any major productions right out of college. It is also common that much like several of the other roles mentioned, you can work under directors and slowly build up your reputation and credibility to one day take the position of director. Directors, much like producers, serve a variety of different roles. They are a part of every single phase of the life-cycle of production, and it is ultimately their vision that will define how the final project looks. They work with practically every department head in order to achieve what they imagine the production should like. The role of a director begins with the script and the interpretation of the text and how to communicate the message in a visual manner. They then work to figure out the tone of the project, work in finding the actors and actresses, attend copious meetings with the department heads, work with the editors to assemble the project after principal photography, and finally work with the sound and music departments in order to achieve the perfect representation of the vision that they imagined. While it does seem that directors have a hand in every single aspect of the production from pre-production, through production, and finally post-production, they often don’t have main roles throughout every stage that would tie them up to aspects of the film that could be better handled by someone else. The true effectiveness of the director comes through in pre-production in their ability to communicate the way in which all production moving forward should be. Pre-production is the time in which the director sets the tone and idea of the project. The life of a director comes with an enormous amount of stress and responsibilities that you would not have even believed before, but the ability to truly be the main figure to shape the way of an entire production is something that cannot truly be matched to anything else.
Congratulations! Not only have you completed your studies in either film studies or production and have a piece of paper to prove it, but you’ve also read an extremely lengthy article that hopefully was helpful in at least some way. It should be of note that everyone’s experience within the film industry will greatly vary, and some people might acclimate well into the life, and others will not. If you don’t, you shouldn’t feel a sense of discouragement or failure, as with the skills you’ve learned you are marketable in several other industries. Now that you’ve reached the end, it’s time for you to go out and begin your future careers! Good luck and go forth.