Four Myths About Working in Film

By Barton Bond, director, Clayton State University Film and Digital Media Center

While interest in the possibility of many high-wage jobs in the state’s burgeoning film business is strong, many Georgians don’t realize or understand the real nature of the industry.  Here are four common misunderstandings about working in film.

Myth #1 – In, For, At and On
The first focuses on four prepositions: in, for, at and on. When someone works in “film” they don’t work for a studio; they work at a studio or on location for a production. Studios are just spaces – like malls. 

A job on a film lasts as long as the film is in production. Typically feature films shoot for 30-40 days over the course of six to eight weeks.  Series can go as long as six months.  If they are renewed, that six month stretch repeats.

So technically, when a production is done shooting, the workers are out of work. Therefore in order to be steadily employed in the film business, a worker must constantly be networking in order to get lined up for the next “gig.” If you are a good worker you will become very popular, well known and therefore less reliant on self-marketing.

Myth #2 – The “Regular” Work Week
What is it really like to work on a set? Every production, even the smallest no-budget Indies, are on a very tight time schedule. Unlike start-up in retail or even some manufacturing, a film must be productive from the first minute it starts shooting until the last shot is captured.

All film workers on a set are expected to know what to do with a high level of precision starting on their first day on the job. There is none or very minimal orientation or on-the-job training, shadowing, mentoring, job sharing, probation etc.  Everybody on a set is being paid a fairly high wage and is expected to know how to do the job they are being paid for.

To that end, stating hourly wages for on-set film workers are in the mid-$20 range for the first eight hours.  But nobody works just eight hours on a set as every shooting schedule is planned around 12-plus hour days, five days per week. So in a “regular” week, a worker will typically put in at least 20 hours overtime at a rate of time-and-a-half. 

When films get behind, they lengthen shooting days to 14 hours and six days/week.  There is no vacation time or sick leave.  If you want to take time off, you just choose not to work on the next project for a month or so.  Conversely, in those down times between pictures, many film workers get on commercial or corporate video productions.  Some work as stage hands or on events.  Again networking is vital.

Myth #3 – Y’allywood and Unions
Even though Georgia is now calling itself “Y’allywood,” the business is still dominated by the culture, process, procedure, hierarchy, history and business practices of Hollywood.  For workers, that means that in Hollywood, when productions are getting lined up to shoot, they rely on the film unions (there are many in LA) to line-up their labor force. In Georgia, union membership is not required to work in film, but it is a fast and reliable path to employment. Unions also negotiate contracts, provide benefits and protect workers in areas of safety and work hours.

Myth #4 – No Training or Education Needed
There are many very specific skills required to being able to work in film. These skills are very hard to acquire on a working set.  While there is information on-line, but there is really no substitute for training and hands-on experience. This is true for any production area – sound, wardrobe, hair, make-up, set decorating and props, set building and prop making.  And then there are the jobs like camera assistant, script supervisor, data wrangler, dolly grip (and many more) which have no parallels in the civilian world.

Currently Clayton State University offers Georgia’s only non-credit program designed to train workers to get on the sets of films and TV productions. The six-month Digital Film Technician Training program gives students essential basic skills to be able to perform at an entry level on a professional film set.

About Film Training at Clayton State University

Clayton State University offers the only dedicated film crew training program in the state and one of only two in the nation. The six-month program has a track record of putting students into the film union as well as helping others establish themselves as independent business persons in film-related businesses.  For information about the program, go to www.clayton.edu/film-and-digital-media or call (678) 466-5085.

In August 2015, Clayton State will roll out its newest academic program, the B.A. in Film Production, which emphasizes post-production. The program will also include content relating to pre-production and production, and the post-production focus will help students attain skills in; storytelling, compositing, editing, special effects, motion graphics, and sound effects. For more information, complete the form below.

On the graduate program level, the Clayton State MBA program offers a Sports and Entertainment Management concentration that includes classes on entertainment marketing, the economics of entertainment industry, and the legal issues surrounding entertainment. For more information, complete the form below or visit http://www.clayton.edu/mba.

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