Career

A practical approach to starting your film career.

When I was in high school, I had two strengths, Art Class and Business studies. Every other subject was either easy for me, and I didn't put in any effort, like design and technology, or subject like Maths and English I worked very hard just to keep an average score. 

When it came to university, my choices weren't so abundant however I received a scholarship to study at a small film and audio collage. This made the transition quite easy, I took the award and followed my passion for film. After two years I had average scores and went out to find my first job in the film industry only to realize the film degree held absolutely zero weight.


"Fortunately, I've met some amazing people that saw the work ethic and promise in me and help me move forward" 


In my first year out of university, I had 3 jobs in the city of Sydney. One for late night live tv show, another for a well-established post-production house and on the weekends I was a club photographer. Two of those jobs were easy to get, the running and assistant position at the post-production house was thanks to a recommendation from a friend already working there. When I finally burnt myself out running around doing three jobs I chose to focus on the role with the most potential. Naturally, it was working at the post house, focusing all my attention on this was my way into VFX or some other technical role within the post-production pipeline. I worked evenings and trained on the software and naively navigated the internal politics to a promotion.

Looking back I felt a lot of forces against me trying to pursue a role in the VFX industry; fortunately, I've met some fantastic people that saw the work ethic and promise in me and help me move forward.  When I graduated my film degree, I looked like the least likely person to go off and succeed, the issue, however, is that I'm utterly ignorant and stubborn and will work my way through it all to accomplish my goals. In 2015 Mad Max Fury Road was released, Id spent the first 2 years of my career involved with the teams working on this film and was grateful to be a junior VFX artist on the movie for over a year. Within three years after college, I achieved something I only wished, a blockbuster film credit.


"I want to share some practical ideas to help people navigate their professional journey"


Though this is an abridged and simplified retelling of my start in VFX, I have 7 years of this work behind me, and I have lived the journey of pursuing a career in film. This by far is a significant hurdle for people starting out to embark on their career in film. How do start, What studies should I take, what type of film role should I go for? The truth is there is so much to offer, many opportunities and many different ways to break into a film career of your own. I want to share some practical ideas to help people navigate their professional journey in the beginning. Either you're about to study for a degree, or looking for your first job in the film industry, or maybe your changing careers entirely. This advice won't solve all your problems, but it should help you along your way.


"The practical advice for finding your footing in the film industry is to meet as many people as you can, show your enthusiasm, work hard and be patient."

 


 

University versus Experience Whats more valuable?

Here is the deal, Experience is the only thing that will carry any weight when you're trying to be hired in the film industry. The good news is no experience is also acceptable for junior entry-level positions. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn along with a vast degree of adaptability will go very far as well. 

When I think about the university, I try to think about me having the same job I had at 20 but two years earlier. It's likely I wouldn't have survived, the university may not have given me the hard skills I needed, but it allowed me to time to do what most young teenagers need, grow up and experience life flying solo.

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My university provided a general overview of the film process, It was a 3-year bachelor and cover everything from script writing, shooting 16mm film to post-production and film business/marketing. It wasn't a terrible course, especially for those working out where in the film industry they felt best suited the specific career role they wished to pursue. For myself, I was interested in post-production and motion graphics. I had an introductory experience with after effects over two trimesters and a reasonably broad experience over the other subjects.

None of this was enough to qualify me for a job in a large post-production house. Upon looking back, I would have still chosen to study. However, I would think of went into a course or school that provided studies on a specific role. For example, many schools offer degrees in 3D modeling. Two years of dedicated time on software like Maya would have prepared me for internships and junior level roles in the VFX & games industries. 

These specific studies approach only works if you know what you really want to pursue. I also was able to continue my role without this degree by learning on the job from within the companies I worked. However, my entry into the industry was production running rather than junior level 3D or 2D artist work.  There are pros and cons to both, and I still believe an office level assistant job pays more dividends in the long run than any other role I have had since. 


"Be nice, Make friends & build RELATIONSHIPS"


The networks I have made by being involved in the office operations has allowed me to meet and form relationships that still benefit my success today and into the future. It's true to me that the most significant opportunity you can create for yourself is to make as many good relationships as you can early on your career. Make this your focus.


"Its my SUGGESTION That taking a assistant job or serving coffees for the dream company is better then taking the perfect JUNIOR role in a small company."


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While pursuing your first role in the film industry, it's important to think on the macro of what you want to happen. I would suggest taking an assistant job or serving coffees for the dream company, or relatively well-known company is better than taking the perfect junior role in a small company.  Using an opportunity to get in the door is your way of working towards the position you want, you don't need the dream role straight up.

What makes sense to me and always has is that its who you know and once the door opens its how you embrace the opportunity. A good attitude and work ethic will do you well. 

Ultimately your first five years in any industry is all about patients. Still today I must remind myself how early on in my career I am. Entirely there is no doubt I'm just in the beginning as well. However, I have momentum, something that you need to create in your first few years out.


"I absolutely hope this helps someone, a chance to see the mindset I took when I started and some ideas on what matters most in my opinion based on my experiences."


The practical advice for finding your footing in the film industry is to meet as many people as you can, show your enthusiasm, work hard and be patient.

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Using university as a right of passage or an earnest learning education in film is up to you, there are plenty of ways to enter the industry. The advantages of knowing what you want to do will speed you up in your process, and the benefits of not knowing what you want to do will allow you to try and taste all the different things you might enjoy.

I absolutely hope this helps someone, If not for a detailed guide but a critical chance to see the mindset I took when I started and some ideas on what matters most in my opinion based on my experiences.

 

Written by

Daniel McDonald