Film, Video & Photographic Arts

For some people, it was a big-screen movie that struck a chord with them, convincing them a career in the film industry was something they wanted to explore.

For others, it may have been the allure of show business that first caught their attention, causing them to explore the kinds of jobs they could hold in the industry.

If a job in the film industry sounds appealing, what is the next step toward actually achieving that goal?

While it is true that some people “make it” in the industry without any formal training or education, others have to work a little hard in order to experience the same success. For those people, a degree in one or more disciplines of the film industry may be necessary.

Degree Options

The type of degree one chooses to obtain should be based on the career path within the film industry they intend to pursue. There are several options in the film industry, including actors/actresses, film and video editors, producers and directors, television researchers, media planners and even screenwriters.

If strong writing skills and an active imagination are natural abilities, then a career in screenwriting may be the best fit. For those who read a book and immediately have ideas for how to turn it into a big-screen blockbuster, planning and production is a good option to explore. Once an area of concentration has been chosen, then it will be easier to choose a school and a program which best suit an individual’s career goals. For those who are having trouble deciding which area of film they wish to work in, a general studies in film option would be best in order to provide experience in all areas.

An associate degree in film, which can be obtained with roughly two years of full-time schooling, will provide the basics of the knowledge required to work in the film industry. Courses such as film appreciation, the history of film/motion pictures, film criticism and interpretation, scriptwriting, planning and production, digital filmmaking and film direction generally are included in an associate degree program.

A bachelor degree program will provide all the same basics as an associate degree, but also will provide students with opportunities for more hands-on experience in the film industry. Some programs accomplish this through internships, while others hire teachers for their programs who are professionals in the business. One of the biggest advantages to attending a film school is the opportunity to network with professionals who already are established in the business. Those connections can help get budding careers off the ground.

Alexander James, of Atlanta, has recently launched his music and acting career. Atlanta is one of the biggest hubs for musicians, especially those with roots in rap and hip hop.

James has no official training in the film or music industry, but has managed to land some small roles in both stage and film productions through networking. “I professionally began acting in November 2012. I did some acting as a child, but nothing professionally,” he said. “I never received any formal training. I studied other actors and developed my own style.”

Within the last six months, James has been cast in the lead role of “Hollister” in an independent film called The Blanket. The movie has not yet been released. He’s also landed roles as an extra in the movies Single Mom’s Club, Addicted, Ride Along and The Good Lie. He also was an extra on the television shows The Game and Being Mary Jane.

James said that even though he doesn't have a formal education, he highly recommends obtaining one if possible. “Be patient, stay loyal to yourself and whatever your craft is, get as much training as possible.If this is what you want to do, then you will perfect it. Perfection can only come with training.”

Future Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for all aspects of the film industry is well below that of other occupations, at roughly 7 percent. With advances in technology and the advent of more automatic equipment, production companies are able to cut back on the number of employees they are hiring.

Annual salaries depend on the kind of job one possesses in the film industry. Camera operators (TV/Video/Motion Picture) are expected to earn on average $40,000 annually. Film and video editors fared slightly better at $46,000 annually and film and video editors made the most at $50,000.

Actors, on average, can expect to earn less than $20 an hour. That statistic does not apply to famous actors who have built a reputation over the years, and with it, the ability to command higher salaries.But those who are just starting out should not expect to make the same kinds of wages.

One area of the film industry which continues to thrive,however, is the production/direction end of it. Demand for qualified producers and directors is expected to grow by 11 percent until 2020, which is keeping pace with the demand for all other occupations. Producers can expect to earn around $68,000 annually. 

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