The film industry is undeniably exciting, but getting there is not an easy feat. The film industry is so much more than acting and directing, so let’s explore what making a film is all about, what kind of career paths it offers, and what they require to succeed.
The film industry is definitely the thing for you if you're a creative and dynamic person, just keep in mind that the hustle won’t end once you get in, and it does not provide the stability of other industries.
In this highly competitive industry, you won’t become the next Tarantino just by graduating from a film programme at university. What you have to do is identify and take advantage of all opportunities so you get yourself on the set.
Volunteer, shadow directors or professionals from other departments, and get an entry-level job, whether it pays a lot or not, whichever works, just make sure you excel and get noticed by other people on set for the great work you're doing (even if that work only implies carrying water to the actors).
So, what’s the best way to get into the film industry? It won’t feel like a comfortable walk in the park, and you should be aware of what you’re getting into beforehand. Attitude and passion matter most.
In an interview given to Film Courage, director Shane Stanley explains that the main reason a lot of film graduates don’t end up making films is missing the right attitude and expecting jobs to come easy and be well paid form the beginning.
“If somebody can’t pay you to do something, and you have an opportunity to make new contacts, learn and be on a set, something good will come from that.” (Shane Stanley)
Once you do break it in, of course, the jobs can be some of the most fun and exciting in the world. Especially if you love films, the entire experience will make your efforts worthwhile. Clearly, the intense competitiveness to work in this industry isn’t based on nothing. But be aware of the reverse side of this coin.
For many, it is a full-time freelance job
Film industry jobs are most of the time freelance opportunities. They come with a lot of instability: once a project is finished, you don’t know when you’ll get the next one. Your work-life balance is also going to be quite unbalanced. You might work 12 hours a day for a few months, followed by zero hours for a whole year. In another interview, Andy Rydzewski, who is a cinematographer and producer, says that this is true even after you work on big, successful projects.
So, if your love of making films is greater than the challenges of this industry and the lifestyle suits you, how do you get into the film industry? We will explore what making a film entails and what kinds of jobs are available.
Let’s start by understanding the process of filmmaking. Making a film, from start to finish, has three separate phases:
Pre-production (the planning that takes place before filming)
Production (principal photography, when filming takes place)
Post-production (the editing of the movie that takes place after filming is over)
While some roles are involved in all these steps, there are many which are specific to only one of the three phases.
1. Pre-production: Writers, Directors, Producers, Art department
Pre-production starts once the script is written and the budget is secured. This is the planning phase and takes place before filming. It can last a few weeks or a few months depending on the scope of the project.
During this phase, the film as a project is planned so that everything is already, settled and goes smoothly when filming starts. Actors are cast, location scouts find and secure the filming locations, art directors decide the aesthetic approaches and producers split the budget into categories of expenses. Everyone involved is basically breaking down the script, scene by scene, so that they know precisely what money, resources and people are needed to make the scene.
People working in the film industry are sometimes divided into two categories: above the line and below the line. The first is the decision-makers and the stars of the film. They are the most involved in pre-production:
Usually, the writer will finish their work before pre-production. For a feature film, you have three ways of earning a salary as a scriptwriter: you write the script in your own time and hope someone will like it and buy the rights; you sell a pitch and then you get to write the script; you are assigned to write the script because you already have a solid portfolio and enough connections in the industry to earn that trust.
For a TV series, writers will also be hired to work on individual episodes that need to fit into the larger story which is already decided.
All in all, it is not an easy career and most scriptwriters do other jobs for a long time before they can afford to live from writing scripts. Well, to be honest, this is kind of typical for any writer, regardless of the medium they work in.
If this is where your passion lies, you need to know the specifics of building a story for film or TV, so a degree in Writing for Film or Creative Writing can certainly give you an edge by teaching you the craft better and developing your critical thinking.
The director is arguably the most important person in a movie although you’ll never see their face when watching the end product. This is also one of the highest-paying jobs in the film industry, alongside the leading actors and producers.
You could say the director is the boss of the film. In pre-production, he/she makes the most significant decisions, envisions the overall creative vision of the film, chooses the actors, assembles the team for that production, and overall keeps it all together.
It’s the best job for highly creative people who can hold an entire film in their minds and want to see it realised on the big screen. However, it also requires a multitude of skills, communicating with the actors being among the most important, and it comes with its own challenges. It is especially difficult for women to lend a directing job. According to Statistica, in 2011, only 4.1% of directors in the US were women. But luckily the situation is improving, reaching a percentage of 21.8 % in 2021.
A degree in Filmmaking is highly recommended in this case, although you should keep in mind that nothing will replace the experience you’ll get on set, regardless of your role there.
>> The First Assistant Director (1st AD) is another important role in pre-production. The person who holds this job title organises the shooting schedule.
The producer handles the business aspects of the film. They can hire a director, a scriptwriter, and other leading members of the creative team. It is also their role to find the budget for the film and take care of all logistical aspects of production, from start to finish. It is a suitable role for someone with a more practical and business-oriented mind.
Apart from the main Producer, who manages the production team, there are also other types of producer roles involved in pre-production:
- Executive Producer
- Line Producer
- Production Manager
- Production Coordinator
- Production Assistants
You would benefit from a degree in Film Studies, Cinema Studies, Acting, or even Journalism, or Communication.
The title of this job speaks for itself. The Location Manager is in charge of finding the right locations for filming, as well as obtaining the permits to shoot the movie there.
This role doesn’t require a degree in a film-related field, and it’s easiest to go up in the ranks of the location department. The other people in the department are:
>> Assistant location manager: who organises the location scouts.
>> Location scout: who visits the actual locations, walking around and taking pictures.
At this phase, the art department is responsible with deciding the look of the film which includes visual art style, settings, costumes, and makeup. All these elements together must form a cohesive look, one that forms the visual identity of the film. However, there are several important people working in collaboration to achieve this.
The Production Designer is the head of the Art Department and the one who brings it all together in a unified look. They will also create designs or sketches that set up the atmosphere and visual concepts of the scenes. The other people in the department will then continue to draw or paint them in more detail.
Apart from an Art degree and excellent drawing skills, a Production Designer also needs sharp management skills.
The Art Director is a bridge between the Production Designer and the construction team. He/she has to imagine and bring to life the sets, and the props, and have input on any other graphic elements of the film.
An Art Director also oversees the creation of concept art and needs leadership and multitasking skills to juggle all his/her tasks.
If you’re interested, you should look into Design or Fine Arts degrees.
The Set Designer is a more hands-on role in designing the set, meaning the structures and the interior spaces where filming will take place.
In smaller productions, this job is done by the Art Director, but big productions afford a separate person just for this.
An Interior Design or Design degree would be best for this job.
A Costume Designer is a Fashion Designer with a twist. The twist makes the job harder but also more fun. While in this role, the designer has to create clothing pieces like the fashion designer, they will also have a few additional requirements: historical period, movie genre (fantasy, Sci-fi, etc.), extensive wear of the same costumes (often daily wear for several months), collaboration with other artists such as lightning artists to achieve the required visual identity of the film.
Another thing to consider is that in films, the costumes worn by the characters are almost as important as the actors’ performance. When we remember a movie character, we remember their costumes as an inherent part of who they are.
Start on this amazing career path with a degree in Fashion Design.
2. Production: Director, Actors, Effects Specialists, Camera Crew, Art Department
The Production phase of the film, also known as Principal photography is the step when the entire feature is filmed. Let’s see who are the main players at this stage.
Of course, the Director is a central player at this stage as well. However, the role becomes a bit more practical in nature as they have to coordinate the actors and everyone else as the scenes are filmed.
The director is again assisted by:
First Assistant Director (1st AD)
Second Assistant Director (2nd AD)
If you make it to the top, this is probably the highest-paying job in the film industry. According to Careers in Film, a famous actor or actress makes between
65K and 20 million USD per film, from which their agent keeps somewhere between 10 and 20%. Of course, not everyone gets there and acting is just as haunted by job insecurity as the other roles in the film industry.
But, unlike scriptwriters, actors and actresses have much more opportunities to audition and score a good role. For that, of course, they have to be really good and make sure they don’t miss any opportunities to audition.
You can start auditioning at any age really and they won’t care whether you graduated from university yet. Still, a degree in Acting and Performance will indeed teach you a great deal you wouldn’t be able to learn otherwise.
Special Effects Supervisor
Special effects or SFX means anything from explosions and car chases to natural disasters like earthquakes, rain or snow, puppets and robots added to the film. These effects are manual or mechanical in nature and the team creates them physically on set. They are different from VFX or Visual effects which are digital and created post-production.
The Special Effects Supervisor is the main person who manages the SFX team and has to coordinate the creation of these effects while making sure everyone on set is safe during the execution.
To do this job, you need to be a technical person, and you’ll definitely need a degree in a field like Engineering, Industrial Design, or even Animation. But the main thing is that you’ll need to be creative and really know your technical equipment, as well as be prepared to spend a few years working as an SFX technician before you can become an SFX Supervisor.
Director of Photography / Cinematographer
“The director of photography is an integral part of the storytelling process as they are the person who captures the director’s vision on camera.”
This means a special relationship between the Director of Photography (DP) and the director because the former can realise on camera what the Director imagines.
The DP, also known as the cinematographer, is in charge of the entire camera and lighting crew. Extensive technical knowledge of cameras, artistic vision, and an impressive portfolio are a must to lend this job. But before you can get there, you will gain experience in one of these lower cameraman or lighting technician positions, which are also very important in the making of a movie:
- First Assistant Camera (1st AC) - they have to focus the camera on the main subject
- Second Assistant Camera (2nd AC) - holds the iconic slate in front of the camera before each shot
- Camera Operator
- Film Loader
- Steadicam Operator
- Gaffer (chief lightning technician)
- Best Boy / Babe (assistant to the gaffer)
- Lighting Technician
- Grips (technicians in charge with setting up non-electrical equipment)
- Dolly Grips
A good place to start on this career path is a degree in Cinematography.
Production Sound Mixer
This is the most important sound specialist on set during production. The Sound Mixer has to record and mix sound, and also select the sound equipment. As this is a senior position, before getting this job, you might work as either:
- Boom Operator (in charge of microphones)
- Sound Assistant
Start off this career with a degree in Sound Design or Engineering
If the art department in pre-production is in charge with finding the visual identity of the film, the artists involved in production are more hands-on specialists who must realise the artistic vision in practical terms.
Is in charge of preparing and decorating the set during shooting.
Has to manage all the props on set.
In charge of the wardrobe on set.
Has to do the makeup for the actors (in fantasy movies this can become a really fun and complicated role)
In charge of styling the actors’ hair during shooting.
These professions don’t typically require a degree, but rather a professional diploma, like these ones in Hairstyling, although you can also earn a Bachelor's in Wig and Makeup Design.
Stunt performers are professional people trained to do daring acts for artistic purposes. They perform difficult and challenging physical feats, often replacing the actors during these types of action scenes. That’s when they become stunt doubles.
The person who casts and coordinates the stunt performers is the Stunt Coordinator. They are also in charge of designing the stunts and work closely with the Director of Photography and the Director.
3. Post-production: Video Editors, Sound Editors, VFX Artists, Music Composers
We’ve reached the final phase in the making of a film. Using the raw material from principal photography (production phase), the specialists working at this stage edit the video and the sound, but also add visual effects and music.
These film industry jobs are perfect for people who don’t enjoy being in the spotlight but can work wonders behind the curtains.
The Film Editor is the person who pieces everything together to create the narrative we see on the screen once the film is launched. He/she works with the footage recorded during production and collaborates with the Director and the Director of Photography to align their visions.
While you need a good artistic vision, it’s also essential to gain the knowledge necessary to edit film and video. The first step towards it should be a degree in Video Production where you will learn the essentials of video editing.
Once the video editing is done, the film moves on to sound editing. The Sound Designer is in charge of all sound in the film: diegetic (inherent to the world of the movie, such as dialogue, sounds created by characters, movement, etc.) and non-diegetic (an extra layer of sound, such as narration, or the musical soundtrack) alike.
While the Sound Designer supervises the entire sound post-production, he/she will work with a team of sound specialists, like:
Sound Editor (edits sound effects)
Foley Artist (creates sound effects)
Composer (writes the musical score)
While all sound in a film is very important. The original soundtrack is the most memorable audio element. There are many famous movie themes that people listen to, long after they’ve seen the movie. Think of Hans Zimmer’s score for Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator, or the latest Dune to name just a few epic examples. Of course, to become a Composer, you should start by studying for a Bachelor’s in Music Composition.
If writing music isn’t for you, and you’d rather stick to the more technical aspect of audio engineering and hope to eventually lend a Sound Designer job, the best way to kickstart your career is to study a degree in Sound Design.
Visual Effects Supervisor
Recently, VFX has become a world in itself in big-budget action-adventure films. The more daring the world of the film, the more VFX is necessary. Visual effects are all the digital effects added postproduction to show on screen things that couldn’t be physically filmed. Think about films like Spiderman, Avatar, or the Avengers: they are full of CGI (computer-generated imagery), and all that CGI is created by the VFX artists.
In postproduction, the lead of the VFX team is the Visual Effects Supervisor, while the other people are called Visual Effects Editors.
So, if you love tech and art at the same time, to say being a VFX artist is fun is probably an understatement. But you will also need to learn and train quite a bit. Start with a degree in VFX and remember to put in the extra work into building your portfolio and gaining experience.
So, now that you understand filmmaking better and, I’m hoping, you also feel more confident in knowing how to get into the film industry, don’t forget these important facts you learned:
- Working in the film industry means much more than just acting or directing. In fact, there are hundreds of people from diverse professional backgrounds which are essential to filmmaking.
- Attitude and passion are the most important things in this industry. Make contacts, get out there, do the work and build your resume hands-on. This is not an industry where school matters most.
- However, studying film can give you a critical edge: it will teach you how to think critically, how to notice trends and what else happens in the film industry.