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First jobs in film

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John LovelandFirst jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 5:21:49 pm

Sorry if this is in the wrong forum.

ITT: Your first job in filmmaking and advice for a neophyte in the field.

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Mark SuszkoRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 6:01:03 pm

Never worked in actual "film", except as a student with super-8 mm.
First "paying" job out of school was as a salesman and then a producer for a failed high school video yearbook company, back when you had to ask if the customer used Betamax or VHS. Then I did freelance camera work, shooting little corporate gigs and small business projects, and then legal depositions, which led to shooting what these days are called "prospectus videos" or "Day In The Life" videos as part of lawsuit settlements.

I then got into government video and have been there ever since. I had started out of school thinking I would work in broadcast news or Michigan Avenue advertising, both of those are areas of incredible turnover and high pressure. The revelation about my government work was that I got to do the same kind of work, more often, and with more direct "ownership" of the work product, working at a higher level of decision-making, than working at TV stations or ad agencies where I'd only be a small cog in a bigger machine. Here, I do everything an ad agency Account Manager and Creative Director does, and more, in both TV and radio, and I do everything from writing to reporting to producing, editing, shooting, directing, etc. on commercials, PSA's training videos, documentaries, live productions, public affairs talk shows, etc. The variety is part of the attraction for me. Every week I'm doing something different but related.

Most of it will never be on any demo reel, though I have some local awards on the wall. The pay is just middling, the benefits are pretty good though, and I enjoy Public Service a lot. Much of the work is ephemeral and rather pedestrian stuff, compared to most people here. But some of it I'm still proud of, and some of it made and continues to make a real difference in people's lives, so I'm proud of that. And I've really enjoyed a lot of unique and interesting experiences and people met along the way. That aspect hasn't stopped either: It's still fresh and exciting every week. After over 20 years. And I'm still just beginning to learn everything.

Kids starting out in the biz often think it's only this or only that, and it only works as a career if you live on the East or West coast, but if you expand your view, you realize how wide the need for good production skill and creativity is, and that you can make a good living at it in far-flung places your ego or preconceptions may never have considered. Government and corporate work is out there in abundance, if you know how to find it or generate it. And independent niche production has created market spaces that nobody could have predicted a decade ago. You could very well CREATE your own job, a custom-fit. It's not just a choice of broadcast or Hollywood films. More than at any time before, your location is the least of your issues if you want to do creative work on your own terms.

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Donell HallRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 6:42:19 pm

I have been working about 5 years and I have done pretty well for myself. The thing is that I actually dont like working in "film" and TV, I think this is because I am the son of a life long cop and the grandson of a life time service man and firefighter.

Basically I have a chip on my shoulder because tv and movies dont actually "help" anyone. I am always looking for a way to use my video skills to help people and I just havent found that niche yet. What you said there interest me a lot though, can you go more into it? I would like to hear more.

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Shane RossRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 8:05:40 pm

My first film job was the Apprentice Editor. From there I moved to TV, mainly because the editor, who has the hiring power to hire the post staff...moved to Seattle. So I had to start over in TV Land. But I like it here.

Best advice? Be nice, gracious, do everything they tell you to. Don't act like the job is below you. Like "I'm the next Spielberg...getting coffee is NOT what I should be doing. I need to be shadowing the director!" should be getting coffee. If you want to be hired again and again...and move up the need to do every task assigned to you, and do it well. If you are seen as reliable, and amiable, fun to work will get hired again. And next time, maybe given more responsibilities.

Do your job without complaining. Complain when you get your girlfriend, spouse, cat, fish. Never on a blog, or twitter, or Facebook. THAT will sting you. Everything posted online stays online, and is discoverable.

Little Frog Post
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def

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Mark SuszkoRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 8:42:57 pm

Donell, it sounds like what you'd rather do is make documentaries and maybe public service programming for non-profits and charities. Maybe also training; you know, most cities have a dedicated cable TV channel accessible just to their fire department engine houses, and they use it to narrowcast firefighting training programming to the guys standing by in their ready rooms, waiting for a call. Someone has to make those videos and training materials.

You could be that guy.

Same for police departments, they have internal communications positions for "non-sworn" staff, making all kinds of training videos.

Teaching people how to do their jobs is fun to be a part of; you sort of learn along with them. Thanks to my participation in these kinds of things, I can tell you about how to plant no-till corn and soybeans, how modern hog farms work, how state troopers train, How forensic investigators REALLY work, how it feels to scrub into an operating room and watch an operation, how to fly a 2-engined plane in the dark and land it, how to inspect bridges for flaws, how to examine an infant for 15 diseases or malformations, how to tell when a levee you're standing on is about to collapse during floods, how it feels to go 100 miles an hour in a real back-roads night time police chase, or go 400 feet down into a coal mine, to see death row in person, how to know if a guy rigged an insurance fire in his car with home-made napalm, how SWAT teams take down a hostage-taker, to have been with or worked with or been around Desmond Tutu, Mickhail Gorbachev, Jim Lovell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Pre-President Obama, Leon Lederman, Gallagher 1.0, various governors and senators, and, on the creepy side, Richard Speck....

Government video covers such a wide amount of "stuff", it's hard to get bored. And even when it's boring (which a lot of the time, it may be), it's always doing something to help people or teach people. It's not only good for someone with mild ADD like me, who enjoys eclecticism and variety... But I think it's made me a better, more well-rounded and interesting person over time.

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Donell HallRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 10:25:19 pm

Thanks for the advice, can I ask exactly how does one get into government video? Who do I talk to? Who do I call?

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Mark SuszkoRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 10:44:42 pm

The government.

More specifically, your government's human resources department, every state and city is a little different. Try state and city services web sites or the state employment office. Generally, you'll fill out an application and take some qualification exams, along with submitting a resume and etc. You might also try hospitals and medical schools. Depending on your scores, you may get called for interviews. Persistence and patience are key when working with bureaucratic institutions. There is a lot of competition out there. Many of these operations have a preference system for favoring the hiring of veterans, if that helps. But that only adds a few points to your score, you still must demonstrate you have skills.

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Todd TerryRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 5, 2012 at 10:49:01 pm

My advice would be to learn to do as many things well as you can. Not only because it helps keep you valuable to an employer (which it does), but because being good (or at least proficient) at one thing often helps your ability in an entirely different thing.

I'm one of those "jack of all trades, master of none," cases. I'm not the world's greatest director, but I'm a pretty darn good one. Same for cinematography. I'm a pretty decent writer, editor, and producer as well.

I'm certainly not the best at any of those things, but I'm better at many of them because I can also do the others. In a former life before I settled behind the camera, I was an actor. Being a halfway decent actor helped me immensely in becoming a better director. Being a director helped me develop a better eye as a cinematographer. Being a director helped me become a better editor, and being an editor helps me be a better director. And so on, and so on.

Learn as much as you can, whenever you can.

Practical learning is best. I have a degree in film. I might as well use my diploma to wrap fish. Literally. I learned more about real filmmaking in my first four hours on a real film set than I did in four years of school. That is no exaggeration in the very slightest. (And compound that with the fact that those first four hours on set were with me as an actor, so everything I gleaned I was just learning by osmosis and by watching other people work)

My personal route to where I am was a somewhat jagged one. Like many people, I was making tons of bad 8mm films when I was a kid. I would have killed if video cameras had been available then. In college, while studying film I was also studying journalism, and summers I interned in the news department of a television station. When I graduated, I walked right out of school and into a job at the same station (and I'm the only person I know of in my class who immediately had a job).

I labored unhappily for six years as a television news guy, acting in film and television jobs when I could. I then bailed to the other side of the building becoming the Creative Services Manager as the same station (basically in charge of all the station's on-air self promotion). There I rediscovered the filmmaking bug, often kicking our "real" crew out of the way (probably rudely) to do lighting and camera setups myself. Fortunately these were guys who were either fairly inept and/or fairly lazy and were all too happy for me to do it, so I had many self-taught hours to get better at what I was doing.

I was eventually approached by a salesperson at the station, who wanted much better commercial spots for her advertising clients than the station's production department was able to deliver... so she surreptitiously hired me after hours and on weekends to produce and direct some spots. She left the station shortly thereafter to form an advertising agency, and had a couple of major clients who required a fair volume of weekly commercial production. She was really unhappy with the quality she was getting out of the production company she had hired to do that work, and asked me to check out their production quality and offer her some advice on how to make it better. I did, and my advice was to fire them immediately (it was indeed horrible), and hire me to do it.

And that's what happened... I left my job and started the production company I have now. I was a one-man-bander in my home edit suite for a year before moving in to our first "real" studio (and we have since moved again). We now have a few employees, and couple of contract workers, and some really great GREAT clients that we really appreciate. In the beginning we were doing tons of horrible schlock commercials for grocery stores all over the country ("This week, Scott Towels, buy one get one free!"), but it was easy trained-monkey work that paid really well. It was tedious though, I think our company record was producing something like 140 of those spots in one week. Fortunately now our work is a little more respectable. Clients now are more like hospitals, financial institutions, municipalities, and political candidates... although there is still the occasional car dealer thrown in there just to keep us humble.

Work hard, and learn as much as you can, and as many different things as you can.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Scott SheriffRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 6, 2012 at 10:45:03 pm

[Donell Hall] "Basically I have a chip on my shoulder because tv and movies dont actually "help" anyone."

Sure they do.
They can entertain, inform and employ. They contribute to the distribution of culture, and can be used to teach. Think how much less rich the average persons life would be without films and TV. Most people will interact with film or TV more in one day than they will public/safety service in a lifetime.

Scott Sheriff

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." ---Red Adair

Where were you on 6/21?

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Richard HerdRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 9, 2012 at 4:50:13 pm

I wrote coverage for a producer.

Advice for a newb: learn story.

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Kai CheongRe: First jobs in film
by on Jan 22, 2012 at 7:23:25 am

I wouldn't exactly call what I do as 'filmmaking', but I'm currently a working editor-producer helping to co-run a small production house that produces corp/marketing/branding/training videos and some TVCs.

My first taste of 'the industry' was a temp stint as an 'admin assistant' at the Branding & Promotions department of the new local broadcaster, before I entered university. I helped out at events, press conferences, summarized series synopses for the daily TV listings, monitored and made newspaper cuttings, organized and filed press kits for all sorts of movies...

My first 'proper' baptism of fire was a 6-month internship as an 'assistant producer' at a local production house. I did everything that was thrown at me - with or without consideration that I was a greenhorn by the thrower. That was definitely a trial by fire and for all that I've learnt, I learnt what I DON'T wanna be or do when I finally enter the industry professionally.

I started at my current job officially as an 'assistant producer' as well. I really wanted to be an editor but I graduated from a university course in Communications and whatever FCP I knew, I'd picked most of it up myself while editing my graduation film, so I wasn't feeling too confident of my abilities, versus those who graduated from the polytechnics. But due to circumstances, I ended up with the opportunity to edit the entire series of videos for our 1st project for the National Museum [after looking at the other videos in the permanent gallery, I'd dare say for a n00b's attempt, mine weren't too shabby at all!]...

... and as the cliched saying goes, the rest is history.

Looking back, there are lessons to be learnt in every one of these predicaments I found myself in and I'm still utilizing them one way or another now. I'd say a lot of it has to do with developing a can-do attitude, appreciation for what you have to do, patience to push through the shitty tasks and being open to learning from every opportunity, task, challenge, setback and failure.

Never think you're 'too good' to do certain things which seems entry-level. I still go on shoot sometimes and being a small setup, everyone gets their hands dirty - I still go on my hands and knees to wipe up stuff, help the crew lug equipment, buy food and drinks for everyone... I enjoy chilling a bit more when we have PAs on some shoots that handle that but even then, I'd recommend keeping your eyes and ears open to see where you could help out. On set, my philosophy is that the focus should be to allow the director and crew to get the best footage possible [as an editor, it's a way to pay it forward, too! ;)]

The stuff we work on is not always exciting [we do a lot of work for government agencies and not all of them are looking for groundbreaking, 'creative' stuff] and sometimes, client management can be a pain... but I try to tell myself that I'm thankful that I get to earn a decent living doing what I love... it's not always 'fun' but when the really fun/cool stuff comes along, I treasure them even more.

Enjoy the ride!

FCP Editor / Producer with Intuitive Films
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At Intuitive Films, We Create: TV Commercials, Documentaries, Corporate Videos and Feature Films
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