What would say if you gave a commencement address to film school grads?
It's that time of year and I've been listening to a lot of commencement addresses, both serious and farcical. I fantasize as to what I would say to those wanting to enter the biz in 2014 without parents in the biz. I suppose I would have to sound optimistic when I know the truth. Hmmmm....
My view is from the trenches. Since I hire a lot of Millenials as freelance, and I'm not sure if today's cohort are even called such, I am privy to their trials and tribulations and for the most part: They aren't making it. I see this in the dozens of instances where I call a "kid" and they've been swept out of the biz due to the problem of having to make a real living, usually by their late twenties. I see them having to cobble together a bunch of other ways to pay the rent: Uber driving, bar tending, dog walking, whatever...so many times they aren't available or have to get "permission" to work my days.
When you back out the staff, sit in front of a computer all day jobs, what is there available to them? Internships are for the nepotistically connected. There is just too much competition now for them: everyone wants to be in a cool/fun profession and the masses have chosen Video. I'm not sure how much they thought through how to make a living once their parents cut them off? The last few years I witness young people in our biz not being able to “make a living” as the previous waves of newcomers, at least from what I can see of their personal lives.
WiIth video services now being a commodity, like nail salons everywhere, and rates depressed due to oversupply causing a buyer's market, I don’t see how young people entering the biz now can buy a decent car, not have a roommate(s), save up for an engagement ring, pay for some of the wedding, accumulate 20% down for a house, afford a baby, save for their kids college, take nice vacations, put money away for retirement. All the "normal" things my generation in the biz was able to do because in the Good Old Days video was so damn profitable. If they aren’t from a wealthy family, marry into one or have a high salary spouse, I just don’t see how young people can attain a solid middle class lifestyle in this biz, and eating ramen noodles gets old by one’s late twenties. It seems that it can be a cool thing to do from graduation to about 28…As someone who regularly puts crews together I see a decline in young people being able to survive financially into their late twenties/early thirties, when they get past the ramen noodles phase. Perhaps in LA or NY their chances of survival would be better, or in post where there's more sit down staff jobs? But then you have to spend your day in front of a computer...
Many young crew ask my advice but it's really too late, they needed someone to steer them towards a profitable future when they were picking their major, not at graduation. Going for your passion isn't going to pay the rent. If the passion thing doesn't work out you're kind of screwed from what I've seen. This is a very Darwinian field of endeavor. Of course they can all find some form of video work, but will they make enough regular money to survive into their thirties in this biz? Not from what I've been seeing, especially since The Crash.
So that's my take. Fortunately, no film school administration has asked me to give their commencement address! I would set them straight. Go back for a biz, engineering or healthcare related degree. If you have 20-30 years experience in the biz what would your commencement address be? (Not including staff post jobs.) Don't write this instant, think about it for a couple of days
Millennials have a slightly different value set than say, boomers do. Take cars, for example: For Boomers, owning a car was a right of passage, it was where you did all your teenage canoodling, how you got to the workplace if you didn't have good mass transportation, it was where you slept if you were out of a job, etc. Your first 2-3 part time jobs pretty much went to buying and keeping a car fed and watered and insured, so that that "symbol of freedom" actually kept a lot of kids stuck in their parent's homes an extra year or two, until they raised a nest egg to move out. We didn't have instant continuous and asynchronous communication with friends, peers, social networks, if we wanted to hang out, we had to physically travel to some place like the mall or driving laps down at the "strip" area of downtown
We also had a lot of unstructured, unscheduled time, we weren't ferried to appointments for playdates, judo classes, pilates, etc.
Polls of today's high schoolers show they don't own a lot of cars, and they don't care to: many of them skipped it and depended on ride sharing, taxis/uber, or Mom and dad, putting the car money --- somewhere else. Investments or the bank, if they were squares. Into buying a lot of electronics if they were trendy. Telepresence means they may not roam as far and wide physically as my generation might have, but might have hundreds more in their social circles.
This car thing is just one dimension of the differences in the class of 2015. They graduate in a world where the economy lacks a lot of the minimum wage openings we could have chosen from in our youth. They're not competing just against other teens for that summer work, but against retired seniors, the disabled, working moms, newly arrived immigrants, and middle-aged people who've been laid off.
All this to say that they look thru a different lens than we older types do. Their values and choices may seem strange, out of context.
Ned's right about our industry tightening. When I got in, it was still more or less a techno-priesthood, like the early computer industry. You needed a college degree and internship or practicum work experience to get in at most places and that weeded out a lot of casual applicants. The gear was expensive and so the number of places to work was small as well. The betacam and later the DV revolution blew that model apart and democratized a lot of production, created a bigger market but at the same time lowered the bar for entry, just like the digital publishing revolution did for people in graphic design and print. My brother used to make a living servicing and operating huge Heidelberg 4-color web presses: those are all now feedstock for making Japanese car parts. The printed inserts they used to make for newspapers are now... well, newspapers hardly exist now. I feel lucky about the ride I got out of this industry, hitting it at a peak when my skills best matched what the industry needed and wanted at the time, and now I'm closer to retirement age, I feel like the last part of this movie scene:
And yet, the business is certainly not DEAD, in many ways it's brighter than ever. There's money and fame to be made, still, and there is the potential for expansion and inclusion and invention and innovation as never before... but like the car thing, it isn't going to look anything like what we're used to.
This is off the commencement topic but I avoid crew who don't have their OWN car. Many of our gigs are in the suburbs and if someone doesn't drive Chicago a lot, they don't know where the construction is, how rush hour, snow or rain will slow them down. Based on my many years of experience with people renting or borrowing cars they are invariably late. Even when I tell them to leave really early...
As to what you say about: "There's money and fame to be made, still, and there is the potential for expansion and inclusion and invention and innovation as never before... "
Where? How? Who? That's too general to tell a grad. That sounds like a commencement address for a growing field like IT. The growth of video is like a hockey stick but income is way down. Us older types are more insulated since we have connections and relationships. These kids don't.
Yeah, I remember your transportation rant from before, and you have a point, however, I would counter that in the depths of a big city like Chicago, if you wanted to time it door to door, often it CAN be faster using public transportation or a cab, than owning a vehicle, if you also take into consideration parking and loading/loadout times. I remember using cabs to haul a umatic beck between two different hotels in the loop one time, and it would have been twice as much time and four times as expensive to use my own car that time. Need to get to the airport fast? The CTA "el" train Blue Line gets you there for about five bucks in 30 or so minutes, about twice as fast as taking the expressway, and no parking hassles.
As to specificity of my beliefs about the future of the industry, I DID say the old farts like us might not be able to recognize it from here. We're like Moses at the top of the cliff, unable to follow his tribes into the Promised land.
Some 6 year old makes over a million dollars a year on Youtube unwrapping toy packages - I never would have thought of that on my own, but someone did. Kahn Academy is an amazing resource nobody really thought of before in terms of scale, but it single-handedly revolutionized college and university online teaching. A lot of the future video business may be peer to peer, or use other models we're only just now beginning to think of.
Think about Neils Bohr the physicist, responding to a radical new theory on atomic structure. He said: "Your theory sounds crazy. But is it crazy enough to be true?" From where you and I sit, the stuff that is coming is all going to look completely crazy. That's one way to know it will work.
Well, most gigs are not downtown, nowhere near mass transit. I've developed my crewing preferences based on experience, which can not be denied. Those who do not drive a lot are chronically late. Can't argue with facts.
I have two kids in their late twenties in similar over saturated fields: Environmentalism and Adventure Travel, so I see them going through what the young folks in our biz are experiencing. Similar to video in that it is heavy on unpaid internships and volunteering, no money except for those who majored in engineering or science. Most others are still hungry in their late twenties. If you aren't making it by then you need to reboot in something else.
[Ned Miller] "they needed someone to steer them towards a profitable future when they were picking their major, not at graduation"
Which brings me to the fundamental amorality of the growing number of for profit schools teaching "valuable skills" needed to get a job in the field. Or in animation. Or game design. (In particular "Partially Put To Sea," to name one of the bigger ones without using their name.)
REALLY? I'd like to see the numbers on just how many of the kids going through this so they can work in a "cool" field actually GET to work in the field. These schools are only to happy to take Mom and Dad's money, the state's subsidies or far worse the student's personal debt.
As I said. I find this area to be amoral, generating a large number of broken dreams.
This used to be the deal with "Radio schools" that taught you how to be a D.J. and make Big Money, but that was long ago.
FS is I think more legit than most. They have prerequisites and fundamentals and a core curriculum at least. No university OR trade school can 100 percent guarantee you get hired immediately, of course. Ultimately, it rests on each individual to apply themselves and work as hard as they can to land that job.
[Mark Suszko] "This used to be the deal with "Radio schools""
Remember "Ted Baxter's Famous Broadcaster's School" on one episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Good stuff.
[Mark Suszko] "FS is I think more legit than most."
Ehhh... I just don't know. Maybe, maybe not... varying opinions there. I've known quite a large number of people who went through FS. They fall into two camps.... one group (I'd say about 15-20%, in my observation) that thought it was the greatest thing since sliced cheese, and the rest who think it was a giant load of crappola. There's almost no gray area in between, based on the people I've talked with. One guy who I know who is probably FS's biggest fanboy imaginable, well I've seen a good bit of his work and it's... it's... what's the word?... "not good." Of course he's just one example.
Then again my own film school education is not worth the parchment it's printed on.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
[Mark Suszko] "This used to be the deal with "Radio schools"
Yea, I remember an "Institute of Broadcasting" that was around here in the 1970s. I'm certain that the vast majority of its graduates got high paying jobs at gas stations and convenience stores.
Some of us however went to the six week crash course for passing the test for the FCC's First Class license - a requirement for working at many stations. It was taught by an ex-military instructor as if the entire class was in the military. Not sure how much of the education in 1930s and 40s radio technology has (or even had at the time) much relevance, but we sure as hell could pass the test and get the license.
As to "Partially Put To Sea," not being among the worst still does not forgive the pretense that there are lots of jobs in exciting fields if only one has the degree that they offer.
Without commenting on the specifics of Full Sail -- I've been there and been impressed as hell. Phenomenal facilities, the best of everything you can imagine. Did you know that they require painting and drawing before they let you touch a computer for art? Exactly what you'd HOPE for from a program that takes the ART of this field seriously. And from what I hear from our Orlando-based friend Bob Zelin, FS grads are taken very seriously indeed, at least in FS's home town.
FS is also a long, long way from its reputation as a trade-school degree mill. They actually have 49 degree programs, including some graduate degree tracks.
[Nick Griffin] "As to "Partially Put To Sea," not being among the worst still does not forgive the pretense that there are lots of jobs in exciting fields if only one has the degree that they offer."
This is no different than USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Or Harvard Law School.
Remarkably, the unemployment rate for graduates from a 4-year undergrad program is only 10%! That's pretty freaking fantastic. Law school grads are a percentage point less employed, 11%.
But the thing for lawyers is that only 63% of the jobs they find within 9 months of graduation require passing the bar, ie, ANYBODY could theoretically be hired for those jobs, no law degree required.
The larger issue for lawyers and others is finding a job that will cover their debt service. Did you know that student debt is the ONLY debt that can NOT be waived through bankruptcy proceedings? What we do to students in the US really is criminal.
I happen to know this number because I just looked it up -- 84% of FS students graduate with debt. This is considerably higher than average, which hovers around 70% nationally. THAT part is BAD, plain and simple. It creates a drain on our economy that will exacerbate our slide down the economic standard of our peers -- but it doesn't speak at all to the lure of this industry, except to the extent that people are willing to roll the dice on their future on that scale.
And that's the thing. These programs are driven by student demand, and not just at Full Sail. I had intimate experience with this at Avid. I saw first-hand that media programs were growing by leaps and bounds, often the fastest-growing programs in these colleges, virtually NONE of whom you've ever heard of. They aren't beating the bushes for these kids. Those kids are beating down a path to THEM.
That kind of demand turns into new buildings, dorms, student activities, and all the other things that enrich the lives of colleges and universities. And when you pursue the support for your top programs, it leads to new fundraising opportunities -- which is GOOD. This is how it's SUPPOSED to work.
There are NO programs that promise anything less than a bright future. And the fact is, the future's pretty bright for most graduates of most programs in any field. It's hard to imagine that we'd live in a world where the success rate is much better than 9 out of 10.
So really, as we evaluate the current or future state of our industry, Full Sail has little to do with anything, imo, except to the extent that they burden students with debt at such a higher rate than normal...which is already high enough to pose a potentially insurmountable obstacle to our national economy's future soundness.
Let's beat Full Sail up for THAT.
But not for painting a bright future for our industry, which has in fact never been brighter. Which will be the topic of the commencement address I'm working on. :-)
Glad to hear that there are some positive things about the school that I did not mention by name. I especially like the idea of taking art classes before attempting art on a computer.
[Tim Wilson] "but it doesn't speak at all to the lure of this industry, except to the extent that people are willing to roll the dice on their future on that scale."
But it doesn't seem to be an informed roll of the dice. Where are the guidance counselors and college advisers who should be discussing reality with these young innocents? One of my daughters would like a career in journalism and she was advised by multiple working news professionals to pursue a degree in almost anything BUT journalism. Their argument was that, as long as she is a good writer, learning about other subjects that she can bring to a journalism career is far more valuable.
[Tim Wilson] "But the thing for lawyers is that only 63% of the jobs they find within 9 months of graduation require passing the bar"
Tim has, as usual, researched the stats so it's hard to disagree on his specifics. BUT, even today, having a JD after your name means a lot to long term success even if one hasn't passed the bar. I've seen multiple JDs over the years doing quite well in business because they are able to deal with levels of complexity that many others are not.
I too agree that the current state of student loan debt will be damaging for the country as well as the individuals. Hopefully people will start listening to Elizabeth Warren and do something about this. Speaking of which, has anyone noticed that some of the most interesting ideas in the current pre-election run up are coming from the extremes of both political sides? Maybe we should have a Bernie Sanders/Rand Paul co-presidency. (Sorry to get all political.)
Cliffs Notes: I'm in my mid/late 30's, graduated w/a degree in radio/TV production in '01, and have been gainfully employed (for the most part) in various parts of post production (primarily editing) in Los Angeles since 2004.
Whenever I talk to kids in HS or college my pitch is usually the same. If you want to make a lot of money do something else. If you want job security do something else. If you want the odds of success to be in your favor (or at least not overwhelmingly stacked against you) do something else. If you don't handle rejection well do something else. There is no logical, objective argument to be made that makes getting into this industry look like a good idea. If nothing I just said gives you pause then screw it. Charge into an over saturated market full of low ballers, grinders, wannabes, thieves and liars and go for that brass ring. To hell with the odds. To hell with logic. Just swing for the fences. Disillusionment will get you killed, but if you go in knowing you'll have to claw tooth and nail for your very existence then you might just make enough money to cover rent.
Crash and burn in your 20's because for most people that's the only time they won't have the added responsibility of a spouse, kid(s), mortgage, comfy lifestyle and a 'good enough' paying job. When I moved out to LA from the Midwest pretty much everyone I worked with was like, "Good for you. Looking back I wish I would've taken the same leap of faith when I was your age." I'd rather go broke failing than wondering "what if...?" the rest of my life (in fact I actually did go broke failing before I was able to turn things around).
Even if I was working at Burger King or won the PowerBall I'd still be editing. I can't not edit. I can't not create. Many years ago my father-in-law asked me, "So, what's next after editing?" It was a sincere question. He comes from a business background and in business culture there is a clear hierarchy/ladder to climb. I said something about editing on bigger/more prominent projects, etc.,. but I was only half paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth because in my head I was like, "What kind of question is that? Would you ask Eric Clapton, "'Hey, so what are your plans after this whole guitar playing thing?'" No, I'm not drawing a parallel between my skill and Mr. Clapton's, but just that I can't not edit anymore than a professional musician will stop playing music. Even when I'm retired I still see myself editing projects here and there (I'll take those 'no-pay' CraigList gigs 'cause, why not, I'm retired).
Going slightly political for a moment, besides the problem of student debt, the majority of the job growth recently in the US has been at the low end and the largest employers in that sector are fast food places. Good, middle class jobs are disappearing in all industries, not just the entertainment industry and the number of college graduates working at minimum wage jobs has doubled in the past few years. Someone mentioned IT, and anything computer related (software development, video games, VFX, IT, etc.,) isn't any better off. Hell, Disney World just laid off a few hundred of their IT staff and replaced them with people they hired in India and brought into the US on work visas (to add insult to injury, if you wanted the severance package then you had to stay on and spend a few weeks training your replacement).
All the more reason for grads to swing for the fences, IMO. If you are going to be stuck struggling to pay the bills no matter what you do you might has well chase your dreams in the process.
We've been at this, what? Most of 20 years? (The WWUG was founded in June 1995! I started in 96.) This may be the first time I've disagreed with you. LOL But ever so gently and respectfully, I do.
[Nick Griffin] "But it doesn't seem to be an informed roll of the dice. Where are the guidance counselors and college advisers who should be discussing reality with these young innocents? "
I talk about this a lot in my commencement address, but, spoiler alert, I think this is a FANTASTIC time to be getting into POST.
What I don't recommend is the model you and I came up in. Get a degree, get some experience, start your own business doing everything. We're still around, and many of us have a good 20 years left in the tank...but this ain't the time to start doing THAT. After we're gone, I can't imagine that there'll be more than a tiny handful of people following in our footsteps.
But for somebody who wants to EDIT, or somebody who wants to SHOOT, there have never been more options. I'd counsel anybody with drive to get into this business post-haste.
(SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)
But it would be working for The Man. Anybody who has an easily crushed entrepreneurial spirit really would be better off doing almost anything else. But a young creative person? Absolutely. Pedal to the metal. Flip the nitro. Go go go.
I'll go ahead and give you the intro to my commencement address.
"Nothing about my experience is of any value to you. Nothing about my path to success will provide you any insight for your own future. The world I came up in is gone. For all the good it will do you in your own career, it might as well never have happened at all.
Can't wait to hear the rest, can you? LOL But that there's my bottom line. There's never been a better time to get into this industry...unless they want to do it the way you and I did, in which case they're doomed. LOL
[Nick Griffin] "...pursue a degree in almost anything BUT journalism. Their argument was that, as long as she is a good writer, learning about other subjects that she can bring to a journalism career is far more valuable."
I don't have a problem with that advice. I have two degrees, and am not doing anything related to either. And I LOVED getting both of them, and do in fact use a lot of things I learned. Just not on purpose. LOL
But that's not the same as telling her not to get into journalism I think.
Maybe in context that's what they were saying, but to ME, the question isn't whether you can get into journalism with a journalism degree. The answer is yes, of course you can, making the question not really worth asking.
What those guys are saying is, there's nobody like me moving up the ranks. Of course not. Guys like us are fading away. What they SHOULD be saying is, the way I did it probably isn't going to work for you. Which is true.
The question that implies is yeah, but how do I get there? The answer is NOT, "Study anything BUT journalism." Not unless there's a hiring manager somewhere saying, "Wow, I like everything about this young woman but her journalism degree. I HATE when people with journalism degrees apply for my journalism jobs."
The larger question is, how narrow is the "journalism" target. If it's "The Atlantic or bust," sure, lotsa luck kid. But graduates of communication programs are working in lots of other areas. They just have to be willing to write for the joy of writing in something like PR or marketing, and save the journalism for their tumblr. I'd have to count to be sure, but I think the vast majority of PR people working with the COW have journalism/communications backgrounds.
Learning the details of an industry is child's play. Knowing how to communicate can barely be taught at all. To the extent that it can, I'd vastly prefer somebody trained to write than somebody trained in my field but NOT trained to write.
You know what they're ultimately telling her, though? "Get trained in writing AND get trained in lots of other fields. A liberal arts degree, kid. THAT's what you want. Too much specialization will get in your way."
To which I heartily agree.
[Nick Griffin] "I've seen multiple JDs over the years doing quite well in business because they are able to deal with levels of complexity that many others are not."
Of course you have. I'm a firm believer in education, and for people our age, a law degree might have been a better bet than an MD.
But there's no getting around that the employment rate for lawyers is dropping, salaries are dropping faster, and the number of LEGAL jobs that require law DEGREES isn't just dropping. It's PLUMMETING.
Seriously, over 43% of the legal profession no longer requires a law degree. Add to that the 11% of JDs who aren't in ANY aspect of the law, and you've got LESS than a 50-50 shot at landing a job that requires a law degree! Only a 46% chance of landing a job that requires a law degree.
Less than 50-50! So how much is a law degree worth to TODAY's graduate? A truckload less than even 10 years ago.
Although one of the articles I read on this topic a few minutes ago says that the law profession never really recovered from the recession of 1991. LOL
So, getting back to the starting point of my commencement address: jaundiced old guys are terrible resources. LOL
In trying to de-jaundice myself by looking at actual numbers, and leaving aside any of the details I got wrong about the above: I feel pretty firmly about this. It's impossible for me to imagine a better time to get into this field, and I'm a pretty imaginative guy.
Quantification to follow, right on the heels of my commencement address. :-)
Some of you guys really see the glass half full, huh? I work cheek to jowl with the twenty-somethings in production (not post) and rates and prices are now so depressed they just can’t afford to go on into their thirties in the biz. Just reporting what I’ve been seeing, especially since The Crash, not theorizing.
A narrator I use for VO teaches at a local for profit broadcast school, the kind we denigrate, and a few years ago asked me to speak to his class about freelancing, finding work, managing clients, hassling to get your check, etc. I guess I scared them because afterwards he said next time please don’t hit them so hard, and I have not been asked back.
I think if someone has great computer skills there may be hope for them in our biz, perhaps in audio post, grading, animation, etc. and if the video biz won’t support them they can take their skill set to other fields. Geeks shall inherit the earth. The only other area I see a glimmer of hope is if a guy likes shooting, and his parents will buy him a package with basic lights and audio gear, and he has a vehicle large enough, then at least he has something to “offer”. Nowadays the parents can set their grad up for $8-12K and he’s “in business”.
One thing I try to hammer home to the young uns is that video is first and foremost a business, since after all, you’re using video to pay your rent, something they seem to overlook. Nowadays anyone who is Creative and Technical can make a great looking, effective video but the third leg of the stool is Business Acumen. When I got out of film school the only way to learn the biz was to be an apprentice in the true sense of the word, the Middle Ages sense of the word. I attached myself as a Man Friday to a highly successful DP and studio owner and he became my mentor and taught me the ropes. He taught me everything about running a film business including the two essentials: Getting Clients & Collecting Payment. These grads know nothing about how to run a business, even if it's a business of one, such as myself.
In sum, these kids are just thrown into the frying pan of the real video world once they graduate, their professors didn’t teach them anything about the business aspect probably because they don’t know themselves. These kids were not forewarned that our biz is now intensely overcrowded, how the low cost of entry and ease of equipment use has made it extremely difficult to survive as a freelancer or find a staff gig because there's an oversupply of newbies clamoring to be in it. If you do land a low paid staff job in your twenties there are ten people offering to do it for free. Those are the interns...
I would not want my 28 and 29 year old kids in this business now. They grew up on crews and worked quite a lot as my grips and PAs so if anyone might make it they could. Sure, they'd have fun in production, be able to brag at parties and on FB post their cool production stills. But survive? No way. At least not in the adult, middle class sense, past the ramen noodles phase which is where they are now in their late twenties. I’d probably have to dip into my savings to keep them afloat!
[Ned Miller] "Some of you guys really see the glass half full, huh?"
Meh. Some people see it half full, some people see it half empty, some people just see water in a glass and wonder, "In case of an extreme emergency, how long can I ration out the water in the glass?" My SO thinks I'm a pessimist because I don't get excited when I get hired for a gig. I think I'm a realist because I'm not going to get excited until the checks clear.
Just because something is grueling or crappy or mostly likely to end in spectacular failure is no reason not to do it. The chance of success or failure should certainly be *a* consideration, but not *the* consideration. Do your research, make a 10yr plan w/short, medium and long term goals and then make a decision. "Because it's there" (thank you George Mallory) is a totally valid reason, IMO, as long as you've done your due diligence.
I've had a lot of conversations in the past that we something like this:
Hey Andrew, I heard you are moving to Los Angeles.
Do you know anyone there?
Not really. A family friend I've met a couple of times is letting me crash in the living room of his one bedroom apartment though.
Do you have a job lined up?
Have you been there before?
Do you have enough money saved up?
I hope so.
So... what made you decided to go there?
It's the heart of the industry... and it's the place I'm most likely to fail.
The likely hood of failure was one of the main reasons I moved to Los Angeles. I've always been a sucker for tragedies and underdogs though. And stories that push people to the breaking point. I always love recommending "Swimming with Sharks" to people who haven't seen it yet and are curious about Hollywood. Though not necessary about Hollywood I think "Black Swan" is another good 'how far will you go?' tale though it is certainly less faustian than "Swimming with Sharks". I dunno. Part of me feels like if you've never reached a point of questioning your morals, your intentions and what you are willing to sacrifice for the continued chance at success (not success mind you, but just the opportunity to possibly succeed) you aren't pushing yourself hard enough.
To one of Tim's points, the industry (and the way to make a living) is changing though right now were are in an ugly phase where the old is starting to fray but the new isn't quite ready yet. For people that are finding success in new media check out companies like RockJump, Red Giant Films (not your father's corporate videos), FilmRiot and Corridor Digital. Many of these guys started posting videos when they were teens, found an audience, and went "Holy crap, we might actually be able to turn this into a business." Machinima (the genre, not the company) is also a relatively new entry into the medium. It's a form of animation that uses video games as real time animation engines. Red vs. Blue (which uses the Halo games and started in 2003) is one of the pioneers of the genre.
I do agree Ned that at least a business 101 class should be a mandatory part of any film/video program. That's certainly something I wish I would've taken when I was in school. You are going to have to learn it anyway so you might as well get it over with in college.
I think the industry is certainly expanding though, for better and for worse. Some of what used to work no longer works, some of what used to not work now works and some things that worked before still work now.
I guess I should have titled the thread:
"What would you say if you gave a commencement address to film school grads WHO PLAN TO STAY IN CHICAGO?" LA, and to a lesser degree NYC, the odds of survival are greater. I counsel young folks, especially those that love the narrative format, to get out of Chicago asap before they fall in love, get car payments, sign a lease, put down an anchor. Then it's too late. At that point one needs to make real money, steady money. The true beginning of adulthood.
As to business acumen, when I was coming up business courses, (just like proms, fraternities, etc.) weren't cool and I wish I had taken some. But our biz is more about entrepreneurship since we are mainly independents, at least in my universe. Fortunately I am entrepreneurial through my genes: on my dad's side no male had ever had "a job", for as long as anyone knew they all had small service businesses. When I met my mentor who was 22 years older than me, he said something to me that I always tell the rookies: "Forget what you learned in school. We're starting all over. Now here's how you do it..."
Some see a glass half-empty, some say it's half-full. An engineer says it's twice as large as it needs to be. A marketer says someone must be thirsty and how can I make a buck off of that. My wife says "Put a goddamn coaster under that, you animal; I don't need rings on the woodwork!"
Chicago is a great market to find video work in, as well as film production work. Though Oprah closed her HARPO studios there (gear auction underway this week), the Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Empire tv shows are going full-tilt in production. Two large film production centers are constantly in competition to host productions. Illinois has seen a lot of movie production coming in over the past few years, big blockbusters like Transformers, Batman, Superman, all shot stuff here. Jupiter Rising shot here. It's also a great source of fresh locations for mid-tier movies, rom-coms, etc. A huge talent pool in all areas makes it a great place for indies. The advertising biz remains strong in Chicago, so there's commercials to shoot. It's a major corporate and financial hub, there's an infinite amount of corporate, medical research, industrial type productions to be made. One of the fastest internet nodes on the planet runs out of downtown Chicago.
You have to work hard for any and all of it; it doesn't fall off the back of a truck and roll up your driveway.
But even stipulating to all of that, it's the potential new markets and new ways of using the internet that we don't yet imagine, that will really explode the business and create the next wave of video entrepreneurs.
Allow me to draw a few conclusions and observations from this thread.
The difference between a seasoned pro and an inexpensive beginner can be the success or failure of a project. Granted that may not be an either/or situation. There are usually degrees of difference but any sane individual will lean heavily towards success and attempt to avoid the things that risk failure.
An example close to home: In March & April I was producing a 12 minute video which required five shooters for talking heads in five cities across North America. I was able to do one of the shoots myself, but for the whole project I was the writer, producer & editor.
The best of the four outsiders was, as I have praised him here, the COW's Ned Miller. Given a terrible room in which to work he made the best of a situation none of us could control. He also was extremely aware of how the interview would be edited, meaning that he knew when to ask the subject to re-state or simply re-phrase his answers to the questions the client was asking over a speaker phone connection. Ned's knowledge and attention to detail made my job easier.
Contrast this with one of the other cities where the person to be interviewed told us, "Oh you don't need to hire someone, I know someone who does this." The client thought this was a good idea since he could save money. Needless to say this was a newbie with a DSLR. He knew enough to double system with a separate recorder for the audio but not enough to provide a clap or any simple means of achieving synch for devices started who knows how far apart. (Thank God for Pluralize.) Add to that the framing was extremely against one side of the 16x9 frame. The interviewee repeatedly stumbled yet was never asked to re-state any part of his responses.
Conclusion: Ned is a pro well worth his fee. The kid with the DSLR may have been far less expensive but his product was inferior and consumed more editing time than it should have. Probably because he'd not spent much if any time around and learning from those more experienced than he is.
COST is not the only and most important concern, getting the best result is and we should always be reminding our clients of this. Quality rarely comes from the cheapest provider.
Now, back to the original subject of this thread. If I am advising someone who wants to start in video or any related field my best advice, that many others have stated before, is you can't do simply one thing. Those days are over and have been for a while. (Although I fondly remember Mark's reference above to the days when we were viewed as "techno-wizards" because we could operate machinery that mere mortals could not.)
The best way to succeed, and especially survive the down times, is to be in multiple businesses. If you're an editor you better also be fairly good at colorizing and audio. Wouldn't hurt if you also had experience shooting. Also would be a good idea these days to be working in broader, semi-related areas.
Although I have a strong preference for video production my company also creates print advertising and brochures, web pages, trade magazine articles and more. Usually when one area is dry the others are not. If we weren't diversified we might have had a much harder time sticking around for this long. Acquire a LOT of skills, kids. You're going to need them.
Thanks Nick for the kudos! I'm blushing.
And Mark, I don't know much about the Chicago union scene which all these TV series work within. Perhaps there's lots of jobs but I have heard getting into the union isn't so easy, and the Chicagoans get the scraps that the LA people don't want. So perhaps there's a lot of work in that area I am not familiar with since I hang out in the non-union, non-fiction TV show, corporate video and indie documentary scene, primarily in production. Our new governor is considering rolling back the movie company tax breaks so much of this may evaporate shortly.
BTW, I am vehemently anti-film biz union because when I first started and was working a lot as a film AC, they wouldn't let me in. Only the sons and nephews were accepted. Females, minorities and the un-related were not allowed in. In fact, here in Chicago we have an expression: "We don't want nobody that nobody sent."
Well, they look pretty diverse to me
It's a nice overview of how the spin-off/trickle-down thing is supposed to work. In the cases of these folks, they make a basic living all year on smaller stuff, but when a big movie or TV show comes in, the income bump from the local spending makes their year, allowing them to invest in updated gear, or to pay down debt or expand, or just have a decent Christmas for the kids.
I can't speak to your personal situation and history with them. But if you want to make some good money, maybe you would revisit the idea of membership? Maybe the guy that did you wrong is long gone, and it's a new day with a new way? Be a shame if you didn't join now, just to spite someone who might even be dead and gone and whom does the spite really affect in the end, except oneself? Take a gamble and reach out.