Angela Abel is a senior at Baylor University in Waco, Texas who is studying Film & Digital Media and Business Administration. She is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Lambda Pi Eta honors societies. This fall she is participating in the prestigious Baylor Communications in New York program and is a production intern at Christopher Webb Films in Brooklyn, NY. She is an aspiring cinematographer and loves music, art, nature, travel, and life.
If you’re like most people, you probably love watching movies. Whether they’re super hero films, action movies, horror stories, documentaries, indie art, or something else entirely, movies intrigue us, inspire us, and influence us. If you’re a film major, you’ve probably realized this by now. Perhaps you want to leave your own mark in film history. Or maybe you have something important you want to say to society. Or you might even be an artist simply desiring a means to create by way of the flexible, ever-changing, almost limitless medium that film is.
Whatever the case, the film industry is one of the most difficult ones to break into. And while no two stories of people who’ve “made it” are just alike, there are some essential things you can do to greatly enhance the chances of attaining your dream.
1) KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING IT FOR
When people initially choose to be a film major in college, it’s often for the wrong reasons. For many, it was a default when they were forced by a councilor or parent to declare a major. For others, it was a backup plan when they found alternative majors too hard or tedious. Indeed, a lot of people think majoring in film means watching movies and getting to make cool stuff with high dollar equipment provided by the university. But anyone truly serious about it knows, or soon finds out, that it is so much more.
Like any major life decision, in order to be successful, you have to know WHY you’re doing it. You have to have a goal in mind and a strategy for reaching it. Is it money, status, self-expression, education? Do you want to use your film skills for humanitarian, political, or creative purposes? Likewise, what impact/influence would you ideally like to have on people with your work? These are all important questions to answer so that you may know the proper path to take and choices to make.
This is in regards to the specific division of film you want to go into: Do you want to be a director, cinematographer, editor, set designer, gaffer, camera operator, or something else? There are hundreds of jobs available in the film business and it is important to research and figure out which one you believe suits you best.
When you start taking film courses, my advice is to be open-minded and explore a little bit of everything. Even if you’re sure screenwriting is not your thing, take the class anyway. It is good to be well rounded and any experience you get helps you to understand the film world as a whole.
When I first started to really think about what my career after college would look like, I almost made the mistake of not specializing. I love editing, color correcting, directing, and cinematography. I thought, when I finally got to L.A. after graduation, I’d simply show off my skills as being good in everything and people will place me where they need me. Thankfully, a good friend of mine who had already graduated and worked in L.A. warned me that this is not the case. You must choose a skill and perfect it, otherwise you’ll look undecided and only partly competent in scattered areas and no one will want to hire you. If you specialize, you can then advertise yourself as an expert in one area – this is how the system works.
3) GAIN EXPERIENCE
The plethora of opportunities to gain experience is possibly the greatest advantage to studying film in college. There are always student films you can work on, friends’ projects to help out on, and, of course, production classes to take. Experience is important for any job, but in the film industry it is a necessity because that’s how one learns. You can study film in the books all you’d like – and it is helpful – but you can never really learn until you do it yourself. If you want to direct, camera op, or work with lighting, set experience is especially important because it is a whole world within itself.
4) BUILD YOUR REEL
When you start applying for internships or careers in the film industry, employers are most likely going to request to see your reel of previous productions you’ve created and/or worked on. A professor of mine once told me that the most important thing I could do to break into the industry was to always have a camera in my hand and to consistently be shooting things. Create short films, do photography, whatever it is, just make it happen and avoid idleness. Having a reel not only shows employers your potential, but it also shows them that you have noteworthy experience and that you’re not lazy.
Lastly, and arguably the most important, is to network with others. For better or for worse, the film business in particular is one with the slogan of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Take internships, meet people, and introduce yourself and what you have to offer. Prove your competence and don’t be afraid to ask for connections. Also, make a LinkedIn profile and use that. There are numerous networking opportunities that will present themselves to you but it is your job to notice and take advantage of them.
With a lot of work and a lot of patience, breaking into the world of film is a chance of a lifetime. Many new opportunities and endless creative possibilities await. I wish you this best of luck in your endeavors and hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful.