The Focal Point

What Film School Didn’t Teach Me: Making It In the Industry

South by Southwest is loaded with useful panels. I attended one call Hollywood Lessons: What Film School Didn’t Teach Me, featuring recent film school grads who are making a go of it in the film industry. Here is some useful advice from the panelists: John Lang, Jennifer Cochis, Jared Mercier, and Deborah McIntosh.

What Film School is Good For

The panelists concurred film school is great for learning the craft aspects of filmmaking. It’s also key for finding a community of collaborators—people you might work with for years post-graduation.

What It’s Not Good For

Most film schools don’t have Professional Practice courses that teach the crucial arts of networking and etiquette: “In Hollywood there are no rules, but you break them at your own peril.” The industry has its own culture and practices, so be observant and learn them through internships and volunteering. One of the panelists volunteered at SXSW and made loads of connections that way. He also got to screen hundreds of short films and gained an understanding of what festivals are looking for and how NOT to make a short film. Most regions have several film festivals, so this is attainable wherever you live.

Information Resources

In addition to the obvious trades—Variety and The Hollywood Reporter—read Deadline Hollywood. These news sources might clue you into new job opportunities, for instance if they mention a new production is launching.

I was also heartened to hear many book recommendations. The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up gives you an inside view into the all-important agencies. You may not want to work at an agency, but need to understand how they work because they affect everything.

Hollywood Drive: What It Takes to Break In, Hang In, & Make It In the Entertainment Industry by industry veteran Eve Honthaner (Titanic, Tropic Thunder, and more) gives you honest insight into the realities of the film business and how to survive with so much uncertainty.

LA or Nay?

The panelists emphasized that you should utilize whatever resources you have nearby and work in the indie film scene. But if you are serious about a career in the business, move to LA and be in the thick of it. Panelist Jared Mercier moved to LA so he could get regular PA work; 600 work days (with pay of only about $130 per day) are required before you can get in the DGA and work as a 2nd AD, his goal.

Please Don’t…

Don’t show your first script to important people, because it probably sucks.

The Bottom Line

Everyone knows the film industry is incredibly difficult, and no one ever feels they’ve “made it”—you’re always looking for your next job. If you’re still serious about it, accept the uncertainty, network and play the game but don’t forget that you’re in it because you have a story to tell. Stay true to your voice and keep at it.

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   Joe Perez said on March 22, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Great sum up of what I’ve come to realize since I changed my major focus of getting an M.D., and decided to pursue my life long appreciation of film. The change started back in my time at Community College. Now, armed with my University Film Degree, some short movies, some Indie feature movie credits as a 2nd A.D. and Line Producer, I am realizing that school helped me to be more organized, methodical, and gave me skills that can be applied in all areas of filmmaking. From researching my story, to crafting how I want the project to unfold. What I’ve had to do though is fill in a lot of holes that a film education leaves out. Basically the industry stuff. But, since school taught me proper research skills, it is easier to critically analyze the data and come to conclusions that will help me in my approach to the craft of Cinema.

   jesse said on March 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Does the ‘move to LA’ advice apply to folk outside the US?

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