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What programs should a student learn to be valuable?

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Matthew Brotchie
What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 22, 2012 at 5:57:30 pm

What programs would you tell a student to learn to have a competitive advantage over others? What additional programs should a student learn aside from Avid/Final Cut to make you want to hire them? Smoke 2013? After Effects? The entire Adobe Suite? Premier 6? Thank you for the input.

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Tom Sefton
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 22, 2012 at 7:34:32 pm


Not just program's either. Learn everything there is to learn from pitching an idea to writing a script, to switching the camera on and finishing the edit. Then learn how to deal with clients - when times are great, when they won't pay, and when you don't have clients.

Good luck!

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Matthew Brotchie
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 22, 2012 at 8:03:19 pm

Thanks for the Reply, here's my reel. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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Mark Suszko
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 22, 2012 at 8:38:06 pm

Learning Photoshop and AE are basics now, expected things. The specific NLE in my opinion isn't as important as knowing how to actually cut stuff. I would say, a well-rounded liberal arts background with some study of humanities, gives you the vocabulary of images and ideas to be able to work in this business effectively. Take some art appreciation/art history. Take some music appreciation, some photography. Take some graphic art and design theory, so your graphics won't suck, and so you know what's wrong with other's work. Take a film history/appreciation class. Take some physics or chemistry.

Then take some business classes: accounting and marketing and business law.

Based on my own observations of our youth today, they could stand to learn to use a word processor first. Horrible, sloppy communication skills, full of errors and unorganized thinking. People today write more than ever, only, the manner in which they do it with texting and facebook and tweets is corrupting and mutating their grammatical and compositional skills.

English, do you SPEAK it?

So much of this job involves client contact and communication. You are the interface betwen what the client wants and what the technology can deliver. You are the intermediary.

Here's another thing I'm telling the kids that tour my shop.
Kids don't know what they ultimately want to be, and that's okay. Used to be society kind of demanded you have that all figured out by senior year of high school. Who's really smart enough or prescient enough to make that choice at that age? Here's why maybe it's not as critical as we used to think:

In the 21st centurey (today) you can expect to have five entire careers by the time you are retirement age. Not five jobs, I mean, five distinct careers, each with it's own educational requirements and perhaps licensing needs. You never get done with school in this context, if you want to find meaningful and lucrative work. "Editor" may not be the last or only career you have in your life. Think about how the parts all fit together, keep learning new things, be adaptable. Don't let the job define you or be your only source of identity. Be the best "you" you can be, find what you like to do, then find people that will pay you to do that. The rest kind of falls into place. If you're still an editor 20 years from now, it might be a rare thing. People may walk up to you to touch you, to see if you're real.

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Matthew Brotchie
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 22, 2012 at 9:02:59 pm

Thanks for all the advice Mark, I will take it all to heart. Here's my reel, your feedback would mean a lot to me. Thanks!

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Mark Suszko
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 22, 2012 at 10:05:18 pm

The "Adult Swim"-inspired opening and closing titles made me smile. Reminds me that I'm yearning for more Veture Bros. They're up a few beats too long; get on with it.

If it was me, I'd take the time to motion-stablize the handheld camerawork in the piece where the couple is in bed. The shakycam adds nothing and just distracts from the quietude. Your DOP shot the love scene so darn dark, or maybe it's the encoding, but it makes "The Godfather" look like it was lit with kliegs. Can you play with the grading to bring out a *little* more there? And maybe turn up the tempo of jump cuts in that sequence as it progresses.

A lot of demos like this feature "thin" audio. I would do some work on sweetening that audio overall, and making it fuller, more present, with less ambience coming thru. Some parts of the two guys talking look like they were ADR looped, but the lipsynch seems weird somehow.

It's very long at 18 minutes; you're going to make people skim, like I did, ang they will likely miss youe best stuf, or cool details that way. Put your very best stuff up front.

The sections with the bands seem more like cameraman demos than editing ones. They aren't badly cut, but there's not a lot calling attention to how the edits reinforce the flow of the songs. I don't mean you should slavishly cut to the beat, but treat the switcher, whetehr live or virtual, as a musical instrument itself, and "trade licks" when the guitarists trade solos. Anticipate which musician is featured next and come to them a beat *before* they start their solo, in a few places, and see if you like that better.

The coaching thing needs overall tightening up of shots, you don't need to complete every exercise action, in eevr scene, necessarily. The eye and mind follow thrug on the overall line of action. And you can play with that, by leading the eye to follow a line or pattern and then you shock it by cutting against the subconscious expectation of what should "flow" there next. Like cutting when something has been thrown up, to something different, coming back down. Stabilize the shaky shots in that one as well.

That was a very brief and not at all thorough four-minute first impression. Not bad, you have material there to work with. Keep at it.

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Matthew Brotchie
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 23, 2012 at 12:34:53 am

Thanks Mark! Your critique is much appreciated.

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Kris Merkel
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 24, 2012 at 1:46:04 pm

Learn what you can in the time and access you have. Mark is spot on about not needing great chops on any specific NLE. The most important aspects in being competitive are knowing how to tell a good story, How to balance your checkbook and P & L sheets. Being able to think outside of the "Edit" box and creatively find ways to stay profitable when there is little work.

It's not about how fast you can Cut, but rather how well you can communicate.

"Think of everything in terms of building capacity."

Kris Merkel
twitter: @kris_merkel
Product Specialist, Flanders Scientific Inc.
Co-Founder, Atlanta Cutters Post Production User Group

2.2Ghz MBP core i7
16Gb RAM
CS 5.5
FCP7 and Studio
Blackmagic Design UltraStudio 3D
FSI LM-2340W

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Jeff Breuer
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 24, 2012 at 4:28:29 pm

I will second a couple things mark pointed out. Always learn about design principles. You really have to use both sides of your brain with this stuff. You need to know the sort-of engineering of how to use Photoshop, AE, etc. (how to keyframe, add a layer...) and then you need to know how to design (make a color palette or mood board, use rule of thirds, balanced images...) and you need inspiration to fill the blank page. Plus trends evolve so stay active on blogs and forums or read Communication Arts.

[Mark Suszko] "It's very long at 18 minutes; you're going to make people skim, like I did, ang they will likely miss youe best stuf, or cool details that way. Put your very best stuff up front."

Always keep working at it and be willing to listen to others, like you are doing now. So you are on the right track.

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Bob Zelin
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 25, 2012 at 9:46:28 pm

here are my stupid comments -

#1 - I don't give a crap about your reel. What are you trying to be - the next great creative director - even if you are, no one cares - not at the beginning.

#2 - call the company that you are dying to work for and try to get an interview. Find out what they want you to know. (it will be basic menial stuff that most of us dread) - and LEARN IT. Then call back and say "I am an expert in logging .r3d files" - or "I am an expert in" - whatever the hell they want. Then you are in. And once you are in, THEN you can show them your reel and show them that you are a creative genius, and that instead of doing rotoscoping, or whatever - you can DIRECT their movies/music videos/commericals, etc - but NO ONE is going to give you that opportunity until you GET IN - and you can't get in until you can accomplish the task that they want - what is that task ? HOW THE HELL SHOULD I KNOW - do you want me to call them and ask them for you? You call them - you ask them, and then LEARN IT - and then call back and tell them that you can do this horrible task that no one else can - or is willing to do - and then you are in.

And then, you are home free, and you will be the director, when the next schmuck winds up working for Home Depot.

Bob Zelin

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Matthew Brotchie
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 25, 2012 at 10:03:23 pm

Thanks for the no bull-shit advice Bob, much more practical then the "its just all about storytelling" line.

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Gary Hazen
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 26, 2012 at 3:05:34 pm

Regarding #1
Keep in mind that Bob is an engineer. Engineer's don't do creative. They don't give a crap about creative. If creative had a specific voltage then Bob could hook up a meter to your demo reel and determine your market value. If you want to be an engineer then don't worry about your reel.

If you have any intention to work in post then your reel matters. Most of the people that do the hiring for post positions care about the basics. It's an extremely competitive market. If everyone that interviews is willing to work hard, have a great attitude and do the mundane jobs just to get their foot in the door, then the only thing that sets you apart is your your *reel.

That said, I agree with Bob that they don't care if you're the next great director. Proclaiming yourself as the next "Great Director" shows arrogance more than anything else. There's nothing wrong with confidence, just don't over do it.

Regarding #2 (knowing your potential employer)
This is solid advice. Always do your research prior to the interview.

*Your reel is way too long. No one is going to endure 18 minutes.

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Damein Green
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 27, 2012 at 6:36:02 pm

To echo what a few have said, the reel is far too long. Personally, I wouldn't go anymore than 8 minutes. Anything over 9 or 10 is overkill.

Regarding what to learn? I'd learn how to shoot. If you already know how to shoot, learn again. Learn new techniques. Stay fresh on new technology.

Damein Green
Creative Producer

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Andrew Rendell
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 30, 2012 at 11:11:26 am

My somewhat limited experience is that no one watches more than a couple of minutes, tops, when they have a bunch of reels to go through, so there's probably not much point in making more than that. Although TBH you should probably ignore me on reels... in over 20 years cutting I haven't made one for myself yet.

Anyway, before anyone'll trust you with anything you have to get your foot in the door. Be the guy who spots what needs doing and does it without being told to. Be the guy who communicates openly and is a pleasure to be around. Be the guy who knows when to shuddup and learn.

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Tim Wilson
Re: What programs should a student learn to be valuable?
on May 30, 2012 at 6:28:50 pm

[Andrew Rendell] "Be the guy who spots what needs doing and does it without being told to. Be the guy who communicates openly and is a pleasure to be around. Be the guy who knows when to shuddup and learn."

This is a variation on Bob's advice, and for finding a job, it's exactly the right advice. Be willing to do whatever it takes, and be the KIND OF GUY that people want to work with. If you're not pleasant to be around, you won't BE around.

But the question was about what a student should be doing.

The answer is, not getting hung up about software. You can learn that stuff online for a few hundred bucks, and it's good stuff. If you're looking for super-practical connections between school and work, consider a trade school like Full Sail. These are much more than button pushing exercises. I love that Full Sail requires drawing classes before you ever touch a computer. They teach visual approaches to ART, which is critical to you if you want to be an ARTIST.

Werner Herzog is one of my favorite filmmakers, and he hosts a rolling educational seminar called The Rogue Film School. When asked what an aspiring filmmaker should learn, he says, "I tell them to read, read, read, read, read, read, read. Only those who read own the world. Those who are on the internet or watch TV too much lose the world. I give them a required reading list that has nothing to do with cinema. I tell them to read Virgil, to read Latin. To read Latin is to understand the genesis of our culture, of the Western world."

Because that's the thing. Any monkey can learn After Effects. You might have spent the last 4 years of your life learning Final Cut Pro - oops, there may never be another FCP editor hired again. (Kidding...mostly.) Who knows? Who cares? That's the easy part.

But you will read more in school than you may for the rest of your entire life combined. You will NEVER replicate the opportunity to LEARN EVERYTHING. Be a STUDENT.

Look, you might even discover that you'd rather be a geologist than a filmmaker...but I can tell you that the best job I ever had in production ($300K/yr gross, which worked out to $100K net or so) came from GEOLOGY and BIOLOGY. I was shooting, editing, producing, and to be honest, I'm not sure they ever saw a frame of my work before we started. They certainly never said "We've seen your work and we love it." They heard I was reliable, professional, nice to work with (I shit you not), and while we were talking, I blew them away with my knowledge of the earth sciences. Sold.

Here's another thing. What job do you want? If you want to get into graphics, After Effects is barely a starting point. If you want to get into editing, you sure as shit better learn to be an assistant editor first -- and the most valuable software for an assistant editor is Microsoft Excel.

In fact, Walter Murch's assistant editor got in touch with me once. You know what software he spends most of his time in? Freaking FILEMAKER. I didn't even know they MADE Filemaker anymore. But he said that Walter's tool of choice is actually index cards, so you can imagine how much data his assistant has to manage.

And yes, on a movie set, to this day, the primary DATA gathering tool is PAPER. Oscar winning DP Dave Stump ASC refers to it as "metapaper," and while he's trying to build computer and device-centered approaches (included devices embedded into cranes, etc.), he knows we're many years away from that.

Do you want to be a monkey or a manager? I don't mean monkey derogatorily. Because there are some people who only want to DO effects, or editing...but if you want to be a post supervisor someday, well, you need management chops. You need to be able to work with vendors, like people who make miniatures. Maybe YOU want to make miniatures. Yeah, some previz software...but most previz is done with PENCILS and PAINT...oh yeah, and there's a pile of clay, now get to work.

The fastest growing field in production right now is DIT, digital imaging technician. It's a lot more than, say, an X-ray techician, in that you have to know EVERYTHING, including where you stand in the production workflow THAT DAY. Your closest associate on the set may be the assistant director: you need to be this place, at this time, and you need to be ready to shoot this much footage.

And you know what the most important tools of an assistant director are? A clipboard and a walkie talkie. But it's real work! You have to know how much time this particular team is going to take to light a scene, and how much of that the DP needs to be there for, and know exactly what time the DP needs to be ready to shoot, and where in that process the director wants to be there, and a million other things that have zzzzzzzzeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrooooooo to do with software.

The last story I'll tell you about is Tony Hudson. All he ever wanted to do was operate puppets. He started with Sid and Marty Kroft (if you're old enough, you know that this is like coming out of high school and starting on a Major League club. NOBODY does that. Tony did.) He talked his way into a job in Lucas's creature shop. (Can you talk your way into a job?)

Among his jobs was designing and operating the whales in Star Trek IV. When Lucas started moving digital, Tony learned what he needed to learn on the job. One of his favorite accomplishments was the Jeebs head blowing up in the first Men In Black movie. He did every frame of that all by himself. No crew. Just him.

Then he got the chance to work with Ray Kurzweil, so he came to the COW and taught himself FCP. Then he moved back to Lucas as a manager, and now his job is running the place he used to work.

So what do you need to learn in school? You need to LEARN HOW TO LEARN. Read. Learn at least one foreign language. You'll be amazed at the way it can reshape your brain if you let it.

Then do the software stuff on the side at any number of wonderful online repositories. You may never NEED a reel...but don't look like a moron if somebody asks you for one. Be ready. That's the point of all this.

Last last last thing. The job that I had when I ran my own company didn't even exist when I was in school. The idea of somebody owning a meaningful computer or even a pro video camera was preposterous. I don't mean to sound like this was ancient history, in the sense that, less than 10 years after this was true, I was in fact running my own company with these exact tools that never existed -- editing software, I/O, media drives, none of it. (I graduated in 82, started my own company in 90.)

So ask yourself, which tools might exist in 10 years that don't exist today? Or don't exist in a form that you might recognize or be even vaguely accessible? Because THAT may be what you build your career around.

Some links to get you thinking:

David McGiffert, assistant director of King Kong (1977), 4 films for Sidney Pollack (including Tootsie, for which he was given an associate producer credit), all three Back to the Future pictures, Witness, The Fisher King and many more.

Todd McMullen, DP. His first job? Martin Scorsese's Casino. (Why? Because he was a nice guy.)

Tony Hudson, from puppeteer to ILM management

Von Thomas, A DIT Tells All. I asked him to write this when he posted a picture of the DIT cart he built, but it turned into a much wider discussion of what a DIT needs to know. By they way, Von's cart includes Cartspresso, a built-in Braun espresso machine in the same bright green as his cart. People keep him around because he's good, he's NICE, and he's fun to be around. And he's good. :-)

Think bigger than than I think you're thinking based on your first question. If you're already thinking big, think bigger.

And read.

PS. Just for grins, here's Herzog's Rogue Film School "About Us" page. Highlights:

"How do you sensitize an audience? How is space created and understood by an audience? How do you produce and edit a film? How do you create illumination and an ecstasy of truth?"

"Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully. The athletic side of filmmaking. The creation of your own shooting permits. The neutralization of bureaucracy. Guerrilla tactics. Self reliance."

"Censorship will be enforced. There will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your Boundaries, and Inner Growth."

"Related, but more reflective, will be a reading list. Required reading: Virgil’s “Georgics” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”. "

You get the idea. Read it slowly. Read it more than once. Think bigger.

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine
Twitter: timdoubleyou

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