After Film School: A Guide to Employment in the Film Industry

Filmmaker working a camera

So you’ve graduated film school and the future is exciting but intimidating. You’re not sure where to start. What’s next? What’s the job market like? How do you find work in the film industry?

 

Optimizing Your Resume & Portfolio

Before you start sending out your resume and demo reel, consider tailoring your portfolio to reflect a specialization. Ideally, you’ll have gravitated towards a certain field during your time in school. By tailoring your portfolio, you’ll be cutting out irrelevancies and emphasizing your expertise in your chosen specialization.

 

The Job Market

British Columbia is one of the top places to be for anyone looking to work in the film industry.

The Vancouver Economic Commission estimates over 40,000 people work in film, full and part-time, in BC. Known as Hollywood North, BC is the third largest production centre in North America, with a constant flow of work from American studios and networks due to tax credits and the favourable Canadian dollar.

 

Where to Look

If BC is a film production haven, where do you find work? Some production jobs are listed, but many aren’t. Here are some places to look:

  1. Facebook pages
    • There are many Facebook pages dedicated to hiring independent filmmakers. Filmmakers will create their own community for hiring purposes.
  2. Networking
    • Introverts, strap on your social face! Filmmakers network intensely. Take a look at Women in Film and Television in Vancouver, DOC BC, Celluloid Social Club, Cold Reading Club, etc. Projects often arise from like minds finding a mutual passion. These jobs may never be advertised.
  3. Craigslist
    • Check out the Gigs and Production Jobs sections on Craigslist. These jobs are well paid, but beware of listings that ask if you are “adventurous”—it might be the porn industry!
  4. Job Boards
    • One search on job boards like Indeed.com will bring up many listings for compositors and other VFX positions.
  5. The Union Department
    • The Union department is the pool of eligible labour that big feature films and TV series will pull from. The unions control access to these jobs to ensure large producers have trained and qualified crew members. Once a student has met the union criteria, they’re often placed in a “hiring hall system.” This is why you don’t see these jobs advertised.

 

Doomed to PA?

As you look through these resources, you might be thinking: I’ve got the knowledge, the skills. I’ve made movies before. Do I still have to start as a PA?

It depends. There are two types of filmmakers: those on smaller, independent projects and those on larger scale feature films and TV shows.

On smaller, independent projects (such as documentaries, music videos, corporate videos, and commercials), film school graduates can step directly into higher qualified positions and begin at a higher professional level. They often start their own companies right away and pitch for development funds or jobs. If their film gains recognition (e.g., through awards or festival screenings), graduates can then swiftly move up the production hierarchy.

Working on independent projects means you have greater creative freedom and control. You have more power over what the final product looks like.

On larger scale feature films and TV shows, graduates are often required to start at entry-level positions because these are unionized. It might feel frustrating, but the reasoning is sound—the large, rigorous scale of these productions means more is at stake and requires more on-set experience. Students used to small productions will still find themselves facing a learning curve in a large-scale production.

A film student with the right attitude will have significant advantages over PAs who don’t have the same education. They’ll perform faster and better, and when promoted, will already have the skills needed for the next position.

But you don’t have to sell your whole soul to one or the other! For many graduates, the union path allows them to make good money in the industry and provides access to a network of people and resources to feed their filmmaking passion and do their own projects on the side. Any aspiring filmmaker should have a feature film concept or script ready to go at any time.

As you network, remember the people you meet are people who can support your indie film in different ways. This is how many indie festival darlings are made!

 

There isn’t one single path towards a successful film career and this can feel both freeing and daunting. But with a solid arsenal of skills and knowledge, there’s life and employment out there for any hard-working graduate. Good luck!

Is Film School a Waste of Time?

Is there a good reason to invest time and money into film school or can it all be learned on the job?

On-set learning is better suited for those who are happy to stay in one department with one specific skill set. Those who desire to move up in the industry and have greater control over the creative process should be equipped with a wide, practical understanding of the entire production process. Having gone through the full production process already, film school graduates are well-rounded filmmakers who will already have the skills needed when promoted.

Film school offers a safe environment to make mistakes while learning and honing a craft. Making mistakes on set can ruin reputations, compromise the success of the show, and become safety catastrophes. That’s a lot of pressure!

It’s also easier to work and be creative with a strong foundational understanding of the organizational aspects of filmmaking. Learning as you go can increase inefficiencies and disorganization that ultimately wastes money and detracts from the artistic potential of a film.

Film school also affords students opportunities to expand their creative ambitions. Students often don’t know where their passion and talent lie early on. Many come to film school initially wanting to direct, but not everyone is suited for it. In fact, they may discover a new passion for Production Design, or Cinematography, or Producing etc.

Even if their passion is directing, students benefit from learning the possibilities and limitations of all departments. Directors are the creative leaders—a leader with limited knowledge relies on everyone else to dictate what’s possible instead of the other way around.

Safety is an especially under appreciated aspect of filmmaking when it should always be the top priority. To bring their visions to life, filmmakers blow things up, bring wild animals to set, crash cars, set people on fire—one accident can end careers and lives. Training is critical in this area and cannot be self-taught.

Graduates of film school leave with two important things: a network of colleagues and the support of the school. After months of working together and building relationships of trust and interlocking skills, graduating classes often go on to make movies together. Alumni benefits may also let them use the school’s equipment for their projects. These relationships mean graduates have a base professional network before they even enter the industry.

It’s hard to say that film school is a waste of time. It may not be for everyone, but it’s advantageous for the ambitious, passionate filmmaker who wants a leaping head start in reaching their creative and career goals.

A Never-ending Story: Julia Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky

https://vimeo.com/181789380

by Renee Sutton

At the mercy of the world economy and great forces of nature, Julia Ivanova’s latest NFB documentary was a story that just wouldn’t stop unfolding. While no filmmaker can be entirely sure where they will end up when they begin the process of making a documentary, Ivanova’s Limit is the Sky (2016) was pulled from the editing stage back into production, three times.

This non-traditional environmental film follows how the rise and demise of Fort McMurray has affected some of the younger residents. “It’s a portrait of Fort McMurray, and of Canadian millennials searching for money, identity and success in the heart of the Alberta oil sands,” Ivanova said. She said her focus was not on the shifting political landscape, but instead on the stories of the people that it affected. What Ivanova didn’t anticipate was that it would take four years to complete the film, as new events and tragedies important to the story occurred in the process of editing.

“Three times I thought we had finished the film, and three times we had to continue filming,” Ivanova said. She first began editing in 2013, but was compelled to move back into production and continue filming after oil prices crashed in 2014. With this new material the production had again come to a close, when three weeks later in May of 2016, the devastating wildfires hit Fort McMurray and the film went back into production again. Ivanova said this film was unlike most others she had made because “the plot was dictated by the events and the world economy.”

Ivanova’s passion for documentary and storytelling is glaring. Luckily for the rest of the world, she is also passionate about teaching and sharing her collective skills and experiences. She is a well-loved instructor at In Focus Film School in Gastown, Vancouver, where she shares her wealth of knowledge with documentary and narrative students. “I really push the idea that film is a visual storytelling… no matter whether they will be making documentaries or they will be making narrative films,” she said. Ivanova added that her film crew is often very small, meaning that she participates in many of the production roles and can offer her students advice on any subject, from conception to editing and everything in between.

According to Ivanova, by providing a deeper understanding of issues, making documentaries can contribute to how audiences make choices in their own lives. “[Documentaries are] helping them to form an opinion and helping them to understand other people, like a segment of society that they don’t have access to,” Ivanova said. She said it’s the stories of people that she really loves to explore and share. “I think that this is very fascinating, that you can go to places or meet people that you would never have a chance to encounter, within an hour and a half,” she said.

Limit is the Sky is an official selection at DOXA 2017, you can check it out in Vancouver during the festival from May 4th-14th.

The Ins and Outs of Filming a Sex Scene

beginnings of a sex scene
Sex, drugs, murder, and copious amounts of profanity. Watch enough student films and you’re apt to see each of these elements play a part, sometimes all within the span of a few minutes. Aside from making excellent points of reference for a drinking game conducted at a short film festival, there is a legitimate reason that directors and actors are attracted to R-rated material for their films: when done correctly, it can demonstrate the competence that comes from successfully navigating a creative challenge.

Today we’re going to focus on the sensitive subject of nudity and sex scenes, and how to handle them professionally on set.

 

  1. ASK YOURSELF IF A NUDE/SEX SCENE IS NECESSARY

Before you begin preparation on a scene that requires one of your actors to strip down to little more than a modesty sock, ask yourself if such a scene is absolutely necessity to your film. It can be easy to write a nude scene into a script or treatment, but actually making it happen can complicate the process of casting, shooting, and screening your film. Consider possible alternatives, and whether or not a lack of nudity and on screen sex would have a negative impact on your film.

 

  1. START WITH THE AUDITION

The first step to working successfully with actors for scenes that include nudity or sexual content, is to make your intentions clear from the very beginning. Specify in your audition notice that the role will include nudity, and explain the nature of the scene– whether it’s sexual in nature or not. The initial audition with the actor should be entirely about their acting ability, and absolutely should not require any hopefuls to appear nude for the camera.

Shortlisted actors can be requested to return for a callback, and if any nudity is required of them at this point it must be explicitly stated. Only required crew members should be in the room during this time, and if footage or photographic images are taken at this point, it must be with the actor’s permission.

 

  1. SPECIFY ALL THE DETAILS IN THE CONTRACT

Contracts are an extremely important part of this process, as they protect the rights of both the actor and the filmmakers. Put into detail exactly what kind of scenes will be filmed and the amount of nudity, especially what will be required from the actor and what will actually be shown in the finished film. There are many ways to cheat nude scenes that allow the actor to remain partially dressed, so it’s important to work with the actor to determine what is necessary for the film and what they are comfortable doing. It may go without saying, but there is no actual penetration or genital-to-genital contact during a scene like this, as all sexuality activity is simulated.

 

  1. DURING THE SHOOT

When it comes to the day of shooting your scene, there are several things you can do to ensure the actor and crew are comfortable on set, and the aforementioned contract is not breached. First, the set should be “closed,” which means that only crew members that are indispensable will be present, and no outsiders will mistakenly walk in during a take. A robe should be close at hand for the actor to wear between any pauses during filming. To avoid overly graphic crotch shots (and possibly a NC-17 rating), the wardrobe department can prepare flesh coloured pads, underwear, or a bodysuit to minimize the amount of the body actually shown.

 

Shooting these kinds of scenes can be a very vulnerable moment for actors. They are putting their trust in the director and crew to behave professionally, and not do anything to demean or exploit them. Sex is a natural part of life, so it makes sense that they should sometimes be included in our storytelling, but the actual act of filming these scenes can be very awkward and potentially embarrassing. Use your good judgment, respect your actors, and use this opportunity to be a positive role model for the rest of the crew.

 

  1. LEARN FROM OTHER FILMS

When considering whether or not to include a scene that includes nudity or sexual content in your film, look into the experiences of other filmmakers to see if it seems like it’s worth the work required. Most of these links contain materials that are NSFW.

Some great accounts include:

The Independent: This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)

NY Times: Shooting Film and TV Sex Scenes: What Really Goes On

Marie Claire: What it’s REALLY like to do a sex scene…

Vulture: Three Actors Reveal the Awkward Truth of Shooting Sex Scenes

Mess Nessy: How Sex Scenes in Film/ TV Really Work

 

 

It may come as a surprise that film scenes with sex and nudity are really quite technical and awkward. Communicate with your actors and crew, act respectfully and put everything into writing. If everything goes right, you’ll have some great footage, a happy cast and crew, and a salacious scene that’ll get audiences talking.