Getting a Job in the Film Industry

Let’s assume you’ve either graduated with a film degree and have experienced making a film in some capacity (doesn’t everyone). If your reading this before entering film school, good, don’t! You’ll save more money and time whilst learning more, quicker by getting on the job training.

It is surprising how many people in this position don’t understand about how the industry operates in the real world. The first step in starting a career in the film industry is to know how the industry itself operates, from conception to exhibition. Even though you might be certain you want to work on camera a broad understanding of the industry and how it is changing will make you more employable throughout your career.

The film industry is generally recognized in 5 different sectors.

Pre-Production

Production

Post-Production

Distribution

Exhibition

There is an abundance of literature online that will go into depth about jobs and career paths in each sector. Whilst no one expected to know the ins and outs of every sector before starting out its worth considering what about the industry you like most. Is it coming up with the initial idea? The buzz of the shoot? The endless possibilities that can come out of the editing suite? Or is it simply that you enjoy watching films? If you approach the industry from the right angle you’ll get further, quicker and probably enjoy it in the mean time.

Look up relevant film companies in your region, aim for the larger ones first as they are likely to have more projects on the go. Watch the films they’ve made or projects they’ve been involved in and approach ones that you think you’d enjoy working for. Find out the right person to speak to before contacting the company. It is competitive but you never know your timing might be perfect and you could have a job in no time.

Expect to work hard for longs hours and usually, at least initially, for free. Try to learn as much of about the process as you can. It will help you discover what it is you actually want to do and at the same time develop other skills. Multi-skilled people will always have a more fruitful career in the film industry.

In the meantime continue to practice your craft. You first job as a runner is unlikely to start developing your skills as a camera operator so get involved with the independent film making community. Films are being made every day, some good, mostly bad. People are always looking to gather a crew to help them make their 3 hour opus.

The rate and which technology is changing, making film equipment cheaper and more accessible, means the film industry will be more and more competitive as the years go by. Emerging talent has more potential than ever of realistically making their first film.

Piracy and the Future of the Film Industry

I recently came across this tweet from Duncan Jones, the director of the little film that could, ‘Moon’:

“Dear BitTorrenters… so pleased Moon is popular with u; 40,000 active seeds cant be wrong! One thing. Will you please buy the DVD as well?”

Film piracy is no longer a hot topic; it has been around long enough to cool down a little. That has not, however, prevented it from continuing to cause a lot of problems for the film industry. Dodgy DVDs and increasingly, illegal downloads, cost the film industry massive amounts of revenue every year. A report in 2005 for the Motion Picture Association (all the big studios) estimated that the studios lost $6.1 billion a year and that the industry as a whole (theatres, cable tv etc included) lost $18.2 billion. At the time it was estimated that of that $18.2 billion, $7.1 was due to internet piracy. There are few people, I feel, who would disagree with the suggestion that that figure has risen. This loss of revenue will obviously cause serious financial problems for the studios and is certainly contributing to their current downfall.

The movie industry is not without clout however and it is responding to this threat with both with hard legal measures and also by raising awareness of the consequences of piracy. Recently the founders of the hugely popular illegal download website Pirate Bay were found guilty of copyright infringement and are looking forward to a year in goal. In Australia the film industry has accused one of the country’s largest internet service providers of encouraging pirates, its largest users, to upgrade their packages and turning a blind eye to their download content.

On the other, friendlier, side of the equation, the Trust for Internet Piracy Awareness in the UK has changed its campaign from the aggressive and accusatory ‘Piracy is Theft’ adverts to a kindlier thank you note for supporting the British film industry by not turning to illegal downloading.

Piracy, in particular, internet piracy can be assumed to be growing. Even if it is not, it is a significantly large enough problem at the moment for something to need to be done about it. Piracy needs to stop, or at least be controlled to prevent it from completely undermining the film industry (something that some people may be all for but that the studios (i.e. those with the money and power to effect change) most emphatically do not). The question is, why has internet film piracy become so popular?

Obviously the prospect of getting a product for free is plenty enough enticement for some. Others see it as the beginning of the end of capitalist materialism and a shining new future for the arts. These reasons do not account, I think, for the huge numbers of otherwise ‘respectable’ people who engage in this practice. The anonymity of sitting behind a computer and large number of other people doing it are certainly factors that encourage piracy. More significantly I think is the increase in technology that has allowed it to become so simple. Obviously hugely increased internet speeds facilitate film piracy but so too does the freely available and easy to use peer2peer software such as BitTorrent.

Behind all this, I feel is an increasing disengagement with the cinema as more entertainment is to be found in front of the computer (YouTube games, networking sites etc). Fewer people need to leave their computer to be entertained or to do the shopping or pay bills, why should they leave their computer to see a new film? Disgruntlement with Hollywood; poor films and the ever-increasing cost of seeing them, both at the cinema (up to £15, when it was £5 in my youth) and on DVD (and the yet more expensive BluRay) may also encourage people to illegally download films. Dominic Wells argues that people are using downloaded films as a test of brand value; i.e. that people will go to the cinema to see another film by same director or will a DVD of a film they have downloaded. This is certainly a much more economically efficient way for the consumer to find the film they want to own or pay to experience in the cinema. A look at the summer’s hit films show that it was not the star driven heavily marketed films that did well and created a buzz, it was smaller films such as ‘The Hangover’ and ‘District 9’. Some studies on the music industry (which has also been massively affected by online piracy) argue that pirated tracks encourage people to buy the song legally. However, some will see this as mere wishful thinking, arguing that people will never go back to paying when they don’t need to.

One final major factor that encourages piracy everywhere except in America is the delayed release dates that the rest of the world experience both in cinemas and for DVDs. Films are often available online before they are released in America but once they show in a cinema they are definitely online. A lot of internet buzz surrounding a film released in the US that will not reach Britain for another two months will encourage people to download it and be able to take part in that discussion. Most experts, such as Julien McArdle, who directed a documentary on the issue of piracy, agree that this is one of the most significant changes that could happen. McArdle made his film on a budget of about C$700 and is distributing it for free on the internet. Slyck.com has done an excellent interview with him.

With so many reasons to pirate films (the first and foremost of which will always be that it is free) it is no wonder that so many people are doing it. The internet is become such a powerful tool and platform and because it is open and free everyone the pirating community has been able to steal a lead on the film industry. The studios and distribution companies are, however, developing new models to allow them entry into this marketplace. So far companies like Apple have lead the way, selling downloadable films through their existing iTunes store. Other companies are providing similar services and being embraced by the studios; Universal Pictures UK chairman Eddie Cunningham when UK website Wippit started offering permanent downloads in 2006 said “I think what you’re seeing here is the beginning of a revolution in terms of how we can distribute digitally and I would expect you’ll see a lot more news of this type over the next few months.” The internet has also been embraced as a distribution tool by the independent filmmaking community. Downloading a film is cheap and simple and obviates the need for DVD burning and postage. It allows easy access to a global audience makes marketing and interaction with audiences a very fluid networked affair that can be very effective for the independent film.

There is general agreement however, that not enough has yet been done for the model of legitimate film downloading. Many different people have as many different ideas about it’s future. The basic split between them is whether you try and provide movies for free or not. Some promote the Spotify model of where you can stream but not download songs for free and accept adverts every five songs or so. Quite how this would translate into films is not yet known – it works for short films on sites where the advert is played before the film but one advert might not generate enough revenue for a feature and no-one wants their film interrupted. Dominic Wells argues that internet streamed but legally bought films will revolutionise the industry. The hypothetical case study he gives is that of the Bollywood gem trying to find an audience in the states. There are very few places he argues, where the audience population (primarily Indian) is dense enough for it to make financial sense for a cinema to show the film. Spread out across the country, however, are enough audience members to generate a significant profit. By being able to search a database of online films and find this Bollywood gem and then download it to their house for a small fee, this niche audience finds the film it is looking for and the film finds it US audience.

This sort of model will rely on superior technology and online infrastructure to that which we have at the moment however. Sky and other cable service providers are beginning to develop the household hub computer/T.V. complete with internet, standard television channels and demandable programming, but it is not quite yet a reality. Once this is in place and download speeds have increased yet further, DVDs will become outmoded and everyone will simply download what they want to watch. Simultaneous release, both internationally and between cinema and home-viewing (i.e. DVD or legal download) is a necessity for this to start happening and, according to Matt Mason, author of ‘The Pirates Dilemma’ says that can’t happen “until DVDs/Blu Ray are well and truly dead and buried” He goes on to say that “we’ll see the studios using file sharing sites more to promote films, and content deals between the studios and torrent sites are already happening.”

This model, for my money, is the most likely to prevail. What will be interesting to see is how content is managed on the internet. Which content providers (such as iTunes) gain ascendancy and how will they select films to make available to their subscribers? Studio films will of course have no problem being found but independent films will probably remain somewhat slightly more hidden. I imagine that there will be content providers dedicated to smaller and independent films and internet word of mouth will be used to promote them. Theatrical release will be less common for independent films but people will still be willing to go and pay for the cinematic experience of the bigger, more effects driven studio productions. Film will become a much more home-based experience. Piracy will fade away because it will become simpler and easier, as well as less guilt inducing, to watch the latest releases through the legitimate system.

Advantages of Joining a Film School

The film industry perhaps has the stiffest competitions that any industry can provide. You can have talent, contacts and the resources to get into the inner circles of the industry and still not make it. None of this work well alone and they don’t even work well together if the most important thing is missing – discipline. If you think you have enough talent to sail through, think again. There are numerous facets to the industry that you may remain ignorant about till you join a film school.

Leading film schools offer multi-disciplinary courses which would give you a wide range of options to choose from. From acting, editing, cinematography to directing you have the whole wide world of entertainment to specialize in. Some schools offer select courses and focus on either one or a few disciplines. While others have an umbrella approach where they start from basics like film history and film theory and go to advanced courses where you can specialize in a particular branch like production or acting.

Advantages of Joining a Film School

Courses – Film courses range from acting, directing to even writing. In a film school you will get a disciplined approach to each field and graduate from the basics to the advanced courses giving you an in-depth knowledge for future.

Network – The entertainment industry is very closely interlinked. Everyone knows everyone here. Most schools create opportunities for their students to meet eminent personalities and the key people behind them. This will be your first stepping stone to creating your own contacts.

Internships – At the end of the courses, the schools put you onto paying internships in the film or TV industry where you learn the ropes from rung one. Your creativity can then find fruition in multiple areas and help you get into various careers with animation studios, film studios and production companies, television channels as well as advertising agencies.

Career Options

Film making – Film school training will help to get easy entry into a career of film making. You will learn all aspects of making a movie from shooting and development, physical production to post-production. It will also include training in financing, distribution and film marketing.

Acting – A focused course in acting is aimed at bringing out the natural talent and blends it with discipline, professionalism and creativity. Many seasoned actors have found their first footing into the industry after their film school training. Many television production houses directly recruit from films schools to get fresh faces for their shows.

Television technology – With the onslaught of television channels there is no dearth of programs to create and manage. You can get training in all aspects of broadcasting technologies, television production and marketing.

Animation and gaming – Animation and game design are the newest big things in cinema and entertainment. With a film school training you can learn the latest digital techniques to create animated films or games in 3D or 4D. These courses usually start with cel animation and then go on to digital courses giving you all-round training.

Technical courses – These include a wide range of disciplines from visual art and design, cinematography, editing, sound and audio engineering.

Writing – Creative writing courses in the film industry can lead to several career options – screen writing, film criticism, film journalism and writing film and television reviews.