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Film making

Leaflet PA 02
July 2009

There are lots of different jobs within the film and video industries, most of which require technical knowledge and expertise, as well as enthusiasm. The work includes camera and sound operations, directing and production. Opportunities occur more often with TV companies than with film companies, especially for those who work freelance.

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Thousands of people work in film and video in the UK. An increasing number of roles in this area involve digital technology. Competition for jobs is fierce.

Depending on the job, you may need:

  • enthusiasm, commitment and a persistent, patient approach

  • a well-developed sense of colour, shape and composition

  • technical ability – an understanding of electronics, light and lens work and digital technology

  • to be willing to work long hours when needed

  • teamworking skills

  • decision-making skills, for editing films and videos

  • a creative imagination.

The film industry

British films have achieved some quite outstanding successes in recent years, but it is still a small industry. It is therefore quite difficult to get started in film work. An estimated 90% of people in the film industry work on a freelance basis rather than in full-time, permanent jobs. Periods of unemployment between projects are very common.

The pay can be good when you are working, although the hours are extremely variable. Jobs range in interest from those that are exciting and demanding, to those where long hours are spent sitting around – waiting for the right conditions for one particular shot. Employment contracts often have standard terms and conditions that have been agreed with unions, such as BECTU, for the benefit of their members.

Film directing

Film directors decide the creative style of a film and make the practical decisions that turn their vision into reality (choosing cast, crew and locations, directing rehearsals and actual performances, managing the sound, lighting and editing departments etc). Film directors need creative talent, leadership and communication skills and a commitment to film making. To get started, you could try gaining experience by working with TV companies, on advert production or by directing stage plays. You must be prepared to take any chance that seems to offer opportunity or experience, and be prepared to deal with criticism.

Producing

The producer oversees the whole film-making process from a business perspective; identifying a script that has potential then managing the teams of people and the finance needed to create the final product. An understanding of the creative processes is required. You can gain experience in a similar way to a director (see above).

Camera operating

A camera team is made up of the cameraman or woman, assisted by people responsible for lighting, focus setting, loading film – if traditional (analogue) cameras are being used – working the clapperboard and recording the number of takes, and moving the camera crane arm (the dolly grip). There is also an overall director of photography. Although opportunities exist for trainee camera operators with TV companies, the experience available on film/TV courses is useful. Experience gained with still-camera work is also helpful, and with the widespread use of digital technology, camera operators are now trained to work with digital video equipment.

Editing

The editor takes all the filmed material, sound recordings and computer-generated effects and arranges them into the final film, usually using specialist digital software. The editor decides on the sequence in which different shots will be put together and which footage will be cut completely, while bearing in mind the director's 'vision', continuity and the pace of the film. The role therefore combines artistic awareness as well as technical skills. The work can be highly pressurised. Film and TV courses may cover the skills required for editing.

Sound

A number of different people are involved in getting the sound right on a film, such as a sound recordist, boom operator and sound assistant. On location, the boom microphone has to be moved around to catch the actors' dialogue. The sound team must make sure that the sound picked up is of good quality, and doesn't include any unwanted noises! They also have to ensure that cables, and shadows from the boom, are out of sight of the camera shot. The sound must be 'mixed' for correct balance. Studio-based technicians may add further effects, such as music, using a computer.

There may be opportunities to start out working on short films or music videos, or as an assistant to an established recordist. Any experience of sound recording equipment is useful, together with a good basic knowledge of physics. See leaflet GE 06 for more details.

Costumes, sets and props

For costume or set design, you need to have had specialist training to stand any chance in this competitive area. For wardrobework, experience with a theatrical costumiers, or in a theatre wardrobe department, combined with a high standard of needlework, is required. The props master/mistressis responsible for making sure all the objects used within a set or on location are there when needed, and are right for the time and place represented. A lot of research, as well as collaboration with the set and costume designers, is required.

Electrical and lighting work

Technicians are responsible for set lighting and all the other electrics. A good background and training in electrical work is essential, plus experience in TV or theatre work.

Stunt work

Increasingly, stunts are computer-generated, both for financial and for safety reasons. The amount of work available to stunt artists is therefore declining. To be a stunt artist, you have to be both performer and technician – mixing dramatic skills with technical feats – with a range of skills, such as driving, parachuting, riding, gymnastics and martial arts. More information on stunt work is in leaflet Q 01 in this series.

Animation

Animators make animated film sequences and cartoons, using drawings, models, computer graphics or photographs. Further information on animation is provided in leaflet PA 01 in this series.

Special effects work

Special effects supervisors create effects which happen 'live' in front of the camera, and visual effects which are superimposed on the film afterwards. They need to be artistic and imaginative, with scientific, engineering, computing and electronic skills, plus a knowledge of the techniques of film-making. See leaflet PA 05 in this series for more information.

Other careers in films

Production secretarieshave a responsible job involving a great deal more than typing letters and answering the phone. A suitable background would be a secretarial/PA course, followed by experience with a broadcasting company.

Scriptwritersoften come from a creative writing background, although writing for film is quite different from other forms of writing. A script for a full-length feature film may have relatively few pages of dialogue, yet take two years to complete.

Casting directorswork closely with the director to find the right actors for the roles.

Continuity workand script supervisioninvolve keeping accurate records of every shot, from how long it takes to details of the actors' movements, working closely with the camera team and director.

There are many different roles involved in creating and constructing film sets, from riggers, who may move heavy lighting equipment and assemble scaffolding, to experienced plasterers, carpentersand sculptors.

Many people start in the film industry as runners. They almost literally run around ensuring that everything is where it should be, as well as running errands for actors, directors and technicians. Becoming a runner is a good way to gain experience and may help you decide which area of film you want to work in. To be a runner, you need to be organised, enthusiastic and prepared to work long hours. There's lots of competition for vacancies, and many applicants are graduates. Information about becoming a runner, and useful links, can be found on the Skillset website (listed at the end of this leaflet).

Getting started

As mentioned above, some people start their careers as runners. However, there are a number of other ways to enter the film industry.

Work and learn

Relevant NVQsat levels 2 to 4 and other work-related qualifications are available for people working in film, TV and video production and can be gained through assessment in the workplace. An Advanced Apprenticeshipin set crafts is available for carpenters, plasterers and painters working on film sets. In addition, a n Advanced Apprenticeship in creative and digital media is to be launched in 2010. For more information on Apprenticeships, contact Skillset, or young people can contact their local Connexions/careers service.

One entry route is through the Changing Technologiesscheme, offered from time to time (depending on the funding available) through FT2 – Film and Television Freelance Training. Full-time training is given to assistants within various departments such as props, camera, editing, production, hair and make-up, art, sound, wardrobe and script supervision. Applicants must hold at least a provisional driving licence. Other entry requirements vary according to the role. Competition for places is fierce and some previous work experience in TV or film production is essential. Trainees are paid a monthly allowance and are expected to live in London. For more information and to find out whether new trainees are being taken on, keep an eye on the FT2 website (listed at the end of this leaflet).

Further education

Courses in media and in film and video techniques are available at further education and specialist, independent colleges. Courses leading to BTEC National qualifications in media production, an A level in media: communication and production, an Advanced Diploma in creative and media (available in some schools and colleges in England) provide a broad introduction to the industry. For entry to courses at this level, you usually need the equivalent of four GCSEs at grades A*-C.

If you are particularly interested in camera or sound work, you could start on one of the courses mentioned above. Alternatively, you might follow a technical course that offers relevant practical experience and the chance to specialise in certain types of cameras and/or sound equipment.

For information about short courses offered by private training providers, contact Skillset or look at the Skillset Careers website for information.

Higher education

There are many higher education courses in film studies and in more specialist aspects of the work, e.g. film production. At least two A levels, or equivalent, are usually required for entry to degree courses. Some institutions recommend that you complete an art and design foundation course first. There are also HND courses, for which one relevant A level, a BTEC National or possibly an NVQ level 3 may be entry routes. Foundation degree courses are also available. Read the prospectuses of institutions carefullybecause many 'film' courses cover the theory of film, rather than practical techniques. It's important to look carefully into the technical facilities available at different institutions, and at the industrial links that courses can offer.

There are postgraduate courses in subjects such as film studies, directing and film production, which can be a way into the industry after a more general degree course.

N.B. In the  Skillset Screen Academy Networkthere are six screen academies and a film business academy. These are further and higher education institutions judged to be 'centres of excellence' by the UK film industry. Skillset has introduced a range of other initiatives to improve training within the industry.

Other routes

An alternative route is to get a job with a TV companyand then to move into production work where film is used on location. The chances of doing creative work in TV are probably greater than of getting work in commercial film production. Increasingly, independent companiesare producing film and video programmes for TV, and video studiosare making films for training and publicity purposes etc (see below). These also offer opportunities to get started in the film-making business.

Video/DVD production

Video production companies make:

  • promotional videos/DVDs for pop groups and record companies

  • education and training films – for general use or for individual companies

  • corporate videos/DVDs – for public relations and marketing purposes

  • feature films – some films are only ever released on video/DVD; others are made on video for TV transmission.

Video production houses are usually small organisations, so staff need to be able to undertake a range of tasks. There are no formalised ways to enter, although film courses with moving image/video options are available. Consult further and higher education course databases, websites and directories for information on specific courses.

Video equipment is expensive so technicians are needed as much in the video business as in TV, though they will not usually be as specialised. Most technicians learn their trade with a manufacturer or with a repair company. Usually, video companies cannot afford to train technicians from scratch.

Computer applications are important, particularly in the fields of computer graphics and animation, but also in processing and editing. There may, therefore, be some openings for computer programmers and engineers.

There may be opportunities for people with enthusiasm and persistence who are prepared to start at the bottom and learn as much as they can. If you have technical or administrative skills, or if you have artistic ability, companies are more likely to be interested in you.


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For Further Information

BECTU (The Media & Entertainment Union)– 373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT. Tel: 020 7346 0900.
www.bectu.org.uk

Equity– Guild House, Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9EG. Tel: 020 7379 6000.
www.equity.org.uk

FT2 (Film and Television Freelance Training)– 3rd Floor, 18-20 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TJ. Tel: 020 7407 0344. For information on the Changing Technologies training scheme.
www.ft2.org.uk

Skillset– Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. Skillset is the Sector Skills Council for creative media. Skillset Careerscan provide information and advice about film careers. Careers helpline: 08080 300 900 (in England and Northern Ireland) or 0800 0121 815 (in Wales).
www.skillset.org/careers
www.skillset.org/film

BFI (British Film Institute)– 21 Stephen Street, London W1T 2LN. Tel: 020 7255 1444. Website has a media course-search facility.
www.bfi.org.uk/learn

Working in Creative & Media– published by VT Lifeskills, £8.50.

Getting into Films & Television– published by How To Books, £12.99.

Contacts– published by Spotlight, 7 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7RJ. Tel: 020 7437 7631. An annual guide listing contacts in the entertainment industry. £12.50. Spotlight also publishes a register of stunt performers.
www.spotlight.com

A free online directory of film and TV companies and services:
www.theknowledgeonline.com

Another useful source of information including lists of relevant organisations and providers of full-time courses, workshops and short courses can be found at:
www.britfilms.com
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