Work in Film Production after School
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
It has been a year since I graduated from film school and I gained some prospective into the different pathways into film/video production careers through myself and my colleagues. Here, I list the pathways I see many of classmates from college. There might be more fields that I don't know is common after film school but here are the the most common ones I've seen.
The Question: Does the glamour stay as I thought the film industry would be when I decided to pursue this career?
Answer: Yes to some people, and no to others.
The film industry tailors to many different lifestyles. Being in the big time unionized sets, its a very specific lifestyle that most people don't expect. I am not trying to discourage people since their lifestyle might be perfect for this career; I am merely giving insight to those who are uninformed and naive.
- Rental House
- Production company internship
- Freelance (Music Video, Weddings, Events, Editors, Photography)
- Content Creator (Youtube, Podcasting)
- Union and Non-Union (Film and Television)
The rental house pathway is the pathway I decided to take. It offers stable pay, stable hours and predictable schedule. This work flow is like an office style occupation but it is more active, depending on the position you take in the rental house. So far I've experienced working in a camera rental house and a grip and electric rental house. I can't speak for the prop houses, location rental, and other departments with rental houses. These company (or corporations) follow the same rules as other office jobs, like pay raises and some have union benefits. This is the safest bet for those who want to be stable and have a contribution to the film industry.
The main benefit of being at a rental house if your aiming to be in the union, is the exposure to the union clients. Most people I know who became union started at rental houses. Since you are learning industry grade equipment and its proper use and care, you become a strong candidate to work in the film industry.
This pathway does not work with people who hate scheduled 9-5 (per say) jobs, working inside, and dealing with the corporate structure. In this branch, you are an employee of a corporate structure. I know colleagues who went to film school to avoid the corporate structure. But although this is the safest pathway, the environment is unlike a film set. This occupation can also be a dead-end job. It is hard to work away from, unless you decide to work up positions within the company. It is repetitive, and once you learn everything, it becomes a normal job that does not provide creative purpose.
Production Company/ Internships is a pathway for those who are willing to learn without decent pay. Some production companies and internships are paid but it is not enough to earn a decent living, specially in New York. This is perfect for editors, and production department positions as it deals with the creation of a project. This pathway is also perfect for those who want to become full time workers at the company they intern with. I know friends who are now full time production office worker at MTV and Paramount Pictures through their internship programs.
Again this will not work for people who hate the corporate structure. But if the goal is to work for a studio or network, this is the path to take. There is however fulfillment in seeing your name in the credits of a movie or a show.
Freelancing as an independent contractor is probably the most demanding and self fulfilling pathway since you are hired for you own skills. I am referring to those who work on Independent projects such as Music Videos, Commercials, Weddings, Events, Short Films, and many more. This includes Director of Photography, Documentary Producers, Editors, Photographers, Make-up artists, Production designers and more. What separates my term of freelancing to union shoots is that you are part of a smaller team that has most or full control of the creative work.
This pathway is perfect for those who are very passionate about their specialty more than the satisfaction of creating a huge blockbuster film. Yes, there is a percentage that eventually work on bigger shoots, win Oscars, and shoot with big time directors and actors. Here I'm talking about freelancing after college. With this branch, you can create your own visual portfolio and get hired for bigger shoots. Here filmmakers have ownership of the creative product which is why most people go to film school for. This is also a pathway into the union since eventually you'll work with union workers.
The downside of this pathway is the unreliability of finding consistent work, working with bad clients, possibility of not getting paid, being taken advantage of, and working long hours with a flat rate. Filmmakers can avoid this by having strong contracts, having a good lawyer, and knowing signs of a bad client. This is a very high risk high reward pathway, and unfortunately you learn by experiencing horrible experiences. You also have to know how to do your taxes since most freelancing work use 1099 forms, which are un-taxed pay and you have to file for each job you take. It is recommended to do your taxes quarterly but most people I know do it yearly. Make sure to have enough saved in case you have to pay a lot of taxes. I recommend saving 25% on each paycheck and make sure to claim all your expenses that allows you to live to get bigger deductibles. Ones you create a creative circle that bring each other on jobs, this pathway becomes livable and fun way to express your creative purpose.
Content Creation (Youtube, Podcasting). In this pathway you are in charge of the whole product. Positions in content creation includes, youtubers, podcasters, bloggers, and more. Here, you are in charge of growing your exposure as you are advertising yourself. You are your own talent. I know many famous youtubers that went to film school and excel in content creation due to their knowledge of creating quality visuals and products. The goal is to gain enough followers to create revenue through ads or through your own products. The benefit of this pathway is you are your own boss and you can take your content as experimental as you want. You are basically molding your own creative style through the visual art.
Many people who take this route get discouraged easily because it takes years to gain enough exposure to make money. Casey Neistat said that it is harder to get your first 10 subscribers than your millionth subscriber. The key is to be patient and be consistent. Consistency in uploads, quality, and exposure in social media goes a long way. This is still a new professional, only a decade old, that its becoming a decent way of making money. I'm sure there are more possibilities that can expand this pathway.
Union (Film/ Television)
To some people, this is the ultimate goal after graduating film school. When you eventually get into a film union you desire, there is a sense of accomplishment and awe that you are working with big stars and directors. Seeing your name in the credits of a big film or show is, what I've been told, an unreal experience. You are the top of the crowd and can call yourself a real filmmaker. From a perspective of Local 600 and Local 52, imagine working with the highest end film camera, and the biggest lights. It is an achievement many crave for. However, being on top means sacrificing many things.
The benefits and the pay of being in the union, to some, is the perfect way to earn a living. Being in the union means, you have health insurance, pension, workers comp, and a very big paycheck. Not to mention the experience of working in different locations, working with like-minded people, being acknowledged as a professional in your field. This lifestyle is perfect for those who live for the moment, whether amazing or horrible. Everyday is a different experience.
This pathway is not good for people who are trying to have a life outside of their work. With normal hours averaging at 14 hours, there is no time for a life outside of the film set. You only go home to sleep. Most people in the industry are either divorced or have not been married. It is such a demanding work, that it takes over your life. As one of my colleagues said, sure you earn a lot of money, but there is no time to spend it. Normal pay is to 12 hours, time and a half is after 12 hours, and double time is after 14 hours. To some this is perfect for making extra money, but to many it is an inhumane lifestyle. Work can be very hazardous after working 12 hours and driving home after a 16 hour days have been proven fatal. Unions have been trying to find a solution for the crazy work hours. American workers are demanding similar hour regulations as in Europe, which is an 8 hour day.
I see most union electric and grips that are in their 40s and 50s and unless you plan to only work in films and shows, then this doesn't seem too bad. There is little mobility outside of the film industry, and it can take over someones life. If you plan to have a career in the union, it is best if your spouse understands what the job entails. It is mostly dysfunctional family and damaged relationships. There are many relationships that lasts within the field, but know that you will only see your family twice a week. You would have to prioritize your job at times. The silver lining to some, is the duration of vacation in between shoots, if you are in a feature film.
It is a very rewarding job, but the glamor only lasts so long. Like anything glamorous, the shine fades and you have to deal with its everyday hassle. Now, before I've discouraged you to join the union, a lens tech I've met have told me his best experiences in life was in a film set, traveling around the world, bonding with his crew, and feeling the sense of fulfillment that no other occupation offer. Unfortunately, he had to step away from that lifestyle for his wife which was a decision he did not regret.
If working in the film industry is your main priority, then this is a perfect lifestyle for you.
Level Nine Productions