I reckon there are four main ways in which you can get some film work and then carry on in your chosen career. Please don’t nail me to these, however, as they are only my own deductions. I am hoping, though, that they may give you some help.
The production route is followed by people who want to be junior or senior producers, or who want to get so far, and then veer off into directing. This ladder, of course, starts off with Production Assistant, progresses through Prod. Coordinator, Assist. Directors 3, 2 and 1 and ends up in the paradisaical levels of Unit Production Manager, Line Producer and, eventually, Producer. Directors often shift, after AD level, to Second Unit Director, and then to Director.
Of course, there are many sub-levels between these ladder rungs, and the titles vary between, e.g., the UK and the USA. I get lost when it gets to the Third Trainee Assistant’s 2nd Second Assistant Director .... but, hey, there a livings to be made between these rungs! Also, one hasn’t to forget the difference between Assistant Director and Director’s Assistant ... no no no!
These days, this career ladder would often be preceded by a degree in TV & Film, or something similar, e.g. Media and Business Management. A point to be aware of, of course, is that, if you want to be an employee, unless you are in spitting distance of LA (or at least the Hollywood studio offices) where the studios will employ you full time, you will have to work for a TV production company (who may also have a feature film arm). If you want to venture directly into feature films, again, unless you are working for the studios, you will basically need to be a contractor. Film production companies are basically, usually, one, or two man companies who put projects together and you will need to chase these projects for contracts. Of course, when you are a producer, you generally set up your own company, at this point, and then its playtime! This usually where people develop a bad cigar habit, and lose their hair.
"He’s not here? Never mind, we’ll go on to the incontinent dinosaur scene.”
The technical route is usually followed by people who want to specialise in a field: these two fields are usually video, or audio. This ladder starts off with Grips, progresses through such as Boom and Assist. Electrics, to Gaffer and Recordist. The top technical levels are usually cinematographic and, therefore comprise such as Assist. Camera 2 & 1, Second Unit Director of Photography and DP, or Cinematographer.
The in-between rungs get really very technical and so are a bit beyond me. Grips sort out cameras and associated equipment. They fix-up rigs, lay tracks, set-up and operate Dollys and do all that fancy engineering work. I saw, a few years back, the cabling van for a Woody Allen set in Holland Park, London. This van was the size of a removal lorry and was packed to the ceiling with cupboards, shelves, boxes, bobbins and rolls of cables for electrics .... maybe the big budget films have “Cablers” as well. This latter role, if it exists, would come under the Gaffer, or chief electrician.
Many techies go straight onto this career ladder as Runner, or Grip. If, however, you are aiming high and wanting to move fast, you would take a Bachelors’ in e.g. TV & Film, and then a Masters’ in Cinematography. There are diploma courses in audio engineering, as well. Again, these jobs are more likely to be in television, if you want employment, or available as contracts, if you have the get-up-and-go to chase them.
“You’re joking, right? She’s whispering into his ear, next to the jack-hammer on the motorway!”
Arty creatives such as costumiers, fine artists, sculptors, model makers, prosthetics, etc., basically follow the production route, in effect. They start as assistants and work their way up to the head of department. Most of them come under the Art Director, but the ultimate HOD is the Production Designer. Again, TV is for employees and most film work is for contractors.
This “creative” ladder is also climbed by writers and directors. A writer hawks her scripts around from no-budgets to low-budgets to, hopefully, Hollywood. She may also take contracts as a Re-writer / Reviser, or even Emergency Script Doctor (silly sums, but 24-hr writing). Many writers also want to be directors and so will only make their script available if they can direct it. Most directors get their directing contracts this way. A few, however, such as Angelina Jolie, can get a chance to direct by buying-in as an Exec. Producer (investor).
Spielberg started as a studio employee from college, directing commercials, then TV, then film. Cameron worked his way up to Art Director, Second Unit director, and then Director. Whatever route you take to film directing, however, you need to be very handy with a script, able to manipulate it in your head and be familiar enough with the techie side to make your shot lists.
“Are you sure?”
This route has two approaches: the first is to make a short and then, if you get backing, make it into a feature, and then, if your backing continues, make feature after feature, until, sooner or later, one of your films makes a profit. This is dependent upon serendipity, e.g. a producer likes you from the beginning and backs you throughout, or your marriage to a hedge-fund manager. This was the route that Peter Jackson followed, with the NZ Film Commission’s CEO, Jim Booth, backing him from the beginning, and then Jim Booth setting up his own production company.
The second approach is that of desperation. You have to make your usual six, or seven non-profit-making features before you fall into profit. You do not, however, have that hedge-fund manager, but you do have lots of acquaintances and friends who are similarly desperate for credits and portfolio content. You all, therefore, work together on this basis, put in for film festivals and load onto VOD distribution platforms. You are hoping that if you keep going, sooner or later, investors will find you and you can then make a living out of this insanely challenging approach, which of course is carried out while you are full-time studying, or working.
“Don’t complain! Many hands make light work.”
Any career-ladder which you choose in this business is subject to flux. Also, you can hop from one ladder to the next. I have only managed to infer these ladders by reading up about what other people do, and then plumping in desperation for the ladder number 4, as I want to make a living as a writer / director and I also want to produce my own films. You will each have your own abilities, levels of tolerance and amounts of drive, so you will each choose your own ladder and speed of ascent. Good luck with your choice, though, dear reader, and be aware that, although this surely must be one of the toughest industries in the world to get into, it is, perhaps, one of the most fun.
Other Stage 32 Posts by Rose Goldthorp:
The Anthology Feature: And Why You Should Get Involved in One
4 Solutions for No Budget Film Problems
Development Hell and How to Avoid It
Rose Goldthorp (www.rosegoldthorp.com) is about to start her final year in
'Communications, with Film & TV' at the University of Auckland, NZ. She is a
company director of her own feature production company (www.darkrose.co.nz).
This forthcoming year (2019), Rose is making her features no. 4 & 5.
Rose is looking for film makers who want to work collaboratively with her, on her
feature project no. 5, "Middle Earth Uncovered" (www.projectmeu.com #projectmeu).
She is inviting film makers to make small bags of scenes, from her screenplay; film
composers to write / record one, or more songs using her lyrics; and other artists to
sell (when she has built her shop) their related trans-media products on her web sites.
Rose describes Project MEU on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/rosegoldthorp/projectmeu-advert
Rose is a writer / director / PM / editor at the moment, of course, because her early films
are No Budget narrative features. She welcomes any and all approaches from similar mad minds.
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