There are four common misunderstandings about working in film.
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.
The second clarification has to do with what it’s 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.
The third clarification is that, 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.
Fourth – 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.
Barton Bond is the Director of the Film and Digital Media Center at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia. He has more than 45 years of experience in electronic media and has been teaching film crew training for the past 10 years in New Mexico and Georgia.