Interested in a career involving the film or television industry? The options may be more broad than you think.
The 2017 THEME report released by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) shows that “the global box office in 2017 reached a new record high of $40.6 billion.” This year, the “report was expanded to cover both the theatrical market and the home entertainment market -- to reflect the many ways today’s global audiences consume creative content.” A clear increase in digital platform viewing has emerged. With providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, binge-watching has become a national pastime, and Americans now “spend nearly as much time watching video as they do on their jobs.” As the industry continues to grow, career opportunities, although competitive, will continue to grow as well.
Securing jobs in TV and film can prove challenging and the workload can be overwhelming at times, so pursue the career only if you are passionate about it and not because you think it’s glamorous. The making of a movie or a TV show goes through several stages, and although actors, producers and directors are the best-known career options, they are definitely not the only ones.
Check out five key opportunity areas for film and movie buffs that might pique your career interest.
1. Location Scout/Manager
Do you love exploring and finding interesting locations? Do you have exceptional observation and organizational skills? Can you imagine what doesn’t exist? If yes, a career as a location scout or manager may be the right fit.
Once a script is developed and approved, an early task is to find the location(s) where scenes will be filmed. As a location team member, you may be asked to find the building/street that best represents what the script asks for or you may have to imagine it. Along with finding a location, you will also need to confirm legal access to the place, ensure that costs fit the production budget and alert any residents to the filming schedule. Although no specialized training is needed, a degree in film may be helpful, and photography skills and knowledge of local regulations are key. To explore the career and gain industry insights, you may want to start as a location runner. You will then provide support to location managers by calling location owners, scouting potential locations and running logistics on filming day. Another way to develop skills for the role is to work in event planning, especially large events.
Helpful resource: Location Managers Guild International (LMGI).
2. Costume Design
If film and TV fashions appeal to you, consider a career in costume design. Costume designers make and maintain outfits and accessories for all characters in a production. You may need to create outfits per your own vision or follow strict guidelines to reflect the story being told. Once you receive a contract, you review the script, conduct necessary research, plan out the outfits, draw sketches (by hand and on a computer) and create. Interpersonal skills are a must as you will work closely with actors and other film employees. Most costume designers are freelancers so you need to be comfortable with an erratic schedule.
To explore the career, consider pursuing a degree in fashion design or television and film with a focus on fashion courses, including fashion history and computer-aided design. Art schools in New York and Los Angeles offer costume design programs, but a strong theater program at small liberal art schools could also add value. Working or volunteering with a local theater production or drawing original sketches and creating attire based on them can give you the necessary practice. You may also want to check out The Costume Technician’s Handbook by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Convey.
3. Lighting Technician
Lighting technicians or electricians control the lighting equipment to ensure proper recording of film or television productions. They consult with the director, study scenes to determine effects needed, prepare the equipment and identify the exact sequence of using it. Lighting technicians can recreate different environments, from sunshine streaming through a window to a campfire glow. They work both indoors and outdoors and need to be able to navigate rough terrain or bad weather conditions. The work can be hands-on and physically demanding. Those working in movie productions may travel frequently and to remote locations.
Depending on level of experience and seniority, lighting technicians break down into different roles, two of which are gaffers and grips. A gaffer is the head technician who hires the lighting crew and oversees scene setup. Grips manage the equipment, including what's used for lighting a scene. Many enter the field as production assistants or interns and build a strong network to help them advance. To explore the career, consider helping with your school’s stage productions, volunteering at a local TV station or taking an initiative to film a school event. You may also want to complete a two-year training program in electronics or broadcast technology, but advancement would likely require a bachelor’s degree in engineering or film production.
Helpful resource: IATSE-Local 728.
4. Special and Visual (VFX) Effects
A special effects professional focuses on the physical aspect of a set: Building, installing and operating equipment to set each scene. Depending on your preference, you may focus on makeup, mechanical effects or pyrotechnics. A visual effects professional, on the other hand, uses computer software to digitally enhance an existing scene or create a virtual one. For instance, the movie 300 was created largely indoors using a highly sophisticated computer program. The field has certainly come a long way since Georges Méliès built a model rocket and fired it at the moon. Today, visual effects artists rely on technical skills and a variety of digital tools to create the seemingly real environments of film and TV. To be a competitive candidate, consider a bachelor’s degree in computer graphics, computer science, art or illustration. The strength of your portfolio determines the roles you can secure. Experience with matchmoving, modeling, roto and basic composing are a plus, and you may be able to develop those skills and identify opportunities by taking courses in VFX.
Helpful resource: Visual Effects Society (VES).
5. Marketing and Publicity
Once a production is complete, the result needs to be promoted and that’s where the marketing and publicity team comes in. Roles in that department focus on a variety of strategies to ensure the movie or TV show is seen by audiences across the country and the world. Understanding local and global cultural trends and keeping abreast of social media developments are key for success in the role. A degree in marketing, PR or business can enhance your communication and persuasive skills and help you create effective pitches. In addition to creating a campaign to promote the film/show, marketing and publicity professionals also need to adapt those campaigns for different cultures. For example, in the movie Inside Out, the main character Riley refuses to eat broccoli, but for the released version in Japan, Pixar swapped the broccoli for green peppers because Japanese kids have stronger disdain for peppers than broccoli. Marketing and publicity professionals with cross-cultural knowledge will be an invaluable addition to the production team.
Helpful resource: Campaign.
Working on low-budget films can allow you to acquire experience in all five career areas listed above. You may also want to check out opportunities as a Netflix tagger to increase your knowledge of the industry and make some extra cash.
Additional resource: Careers in Film.