Reader Advice

Some of my oldish posts have been getting comments, recently. Not really sure why this is happening now, but they do bring up interesting points.

Sarah replied to my post “No, You Don’t Need to Go to Film School”:

You don’t need to go to any school, but film school is one of the few degrees that you actually learn A LOT (assuming you go to a good school…like say Santa Fe, which is where my brother goes). Also, a lot of people need college time to “grow up”, so consider that as well. :D Just playing devil’s advocate.

Is it opposite day? If you’re a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, you do need schooling, and a lot of it. Film and television? Not so much.

For one thing, no one asks to see your degree when you’re applying for a job. Never, ever. It just doesn’t happen. Secondly, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to make a film. Yes, we can argue all day long about the artistic merit of this film or that, but the truth is, quality comes from experience, aesthetic judgement, and inherent talent.

School can certainly help, but frankly, you learn a lot more by watching classic movies and working on sets. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at film school; I certainly “grew up,” as Sarah put it. But my degree is about the least necessary piece of paper I ever spent $100,000 on.

Also, Santa Fe? I’ve never heard of it. It may very well be a great school, but the name value is zero. Sorry.

* * *

Casey rejected my advice to lie during an interview

As a recruiter this is terrible advice and I see why it took you so long to get the positions you desired.

The reason people choose to interview you for a job is to do THAT job. They often don’t care about what you WANT to do they just care about what they NEED you to do.

The second most people (lying or not) say they want to do the job of the person interviewing them they’re eliminated from consideration. Imagine if you interviewed someone for your job and they admitted during the interview that they are gunning for you day one. Would you hire THEM?

Plus don’t like during the interview everyone can tell you’re lying, if you got hired before even when you lied it’s because they didn’t care.

Right off the bat, the fact that Casey calls himself a “recruiter” tells me he doesn’t work in production. There’s no recruitment or human resources on a show. It’s very different from the corporate world.

Everyone who works in production is more of an independent contractor than an employee (even though the majority of the crew are union). We’re hired based on relationships with department heads.

Of course, Casey is right that the person hiring you wants to know you can do the job they’re hiring for. But the thing about department hierarchies is this: everybody is basically doing the same job, but with a greater or lesser degree of responsibility.

The gaffer decides where the lights go and where the power comes from; his crew actually physically set the lights down. Which is not to say they’re drones mindlessly following orders; they have to think creatively and practically, as well. And after doing the grunt work for long enough, and observing what their superiors do, they eventually become qualified to take that position.

The same is true in the production office; we’re all pretty much just pushing paper around all day. The APOC checks the production reports, the UPM signs off on them, and I, the lowly PA, copy and distribute them. But if I also check the PRs, and ask my boss questions about things I don’t understand, I’ll eventually be qualified to take her position.

I have had coordinators tell me, to my face, that they won’t hire someone who wants to be a writer. They want someone who wants to be in the production office, to be an APOC, and even coordinator, someday. They believe a wannabe writer will just jump ship the moment a spot opens in the writers’ office (which is true); the wannabe won’t try their hardest within the production office, because they just see it as a stepping stone.

The stepping stone part is true, but that doesn’t mean I, or others like me, won’t try our darnedest in the here and now. After all, I need to keep paying the bills until my big break, so I need to keep my coordinator happy.

Not all coordinators see it that way (probably because not all wannabe writers see it that way). Hence, the lying.

As far as Casey’s second objection, that the interview might fear you’re gunning for their job? That’s not really a concern. If you’re lucky, you’re on a hit show for ten years, but that doesn’t happen often. Most shows are cancelled in the first season; most pilots don’t even get that. And, of course, if you’re talking about a feature, the shoot only lasts a definite, limited time period, anyway.

What I’m saying is, there’s so much turn over, there’s not really any chance for some subordinate to undermine you, get you fired, and then replace you over the course of a show. It’s just not a thing that happens.

Lastly, I’ve found a lot of people like to think of themselves as much mentors as “bosses.” They want to train little versions of themselves. They actually want a replacement. Telling them you want their job is a way of stoking their ego. And you can’t tell me a little sucking up isn’t going to help get you the job.

About The Anonymous Production Assistant

Yeah, right, like I'm going to tell you.
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6 Responses to Reader Advice

  1. Sean says:

    You don’t NEED film school, but if you have to go to college it the smartest degree to get because no one cares about your bachelors. However, people care about your masters and you need a bachelors to get a masters (which you need in order to get most non entertainment jobs) just in case down the road you unknowingly say a certain movie was awful to the writer and become blacklisted from the industry – then you can go back to school to find a new career. On top of that I went to a San Diego college where they make us shoot basically every weekend and we all learned from our own mistakes and successes. It helps to know how coil a stinger correctly and how to safely work with a c-stand. Film schools that only teach theory are BULLSHIT, but if it wasn’t for me meeting an alumni speaking to one of my classes I would be emptying trash on reality shows instead of directing background on studio backed feature films.

  2. Sam says:

    Everyone’s post has its merit. In every position, an employer or hiring manager is looking for a different thing/person. There’s no real right or wrong assessment of what your should do or not do- just different and helpful outlooks. It also depends on the job seeker as well. College isn’t right for everyone, but it’s helpful because a lot of jobs out here have a Bachelor’s requirement to apply. I suppose I agree more with TAPA, but that’s just my personal experience.

  3. Karen Frost says:

    I had to send my transcripts to apply for the ABC Program Associates Program, and they said education was very important to them in their selection process.

    And College of Santa Fe really is a good film school. Name recognition or not, they teach you how to do stuff. I am not from and have never been anywhere near Santa Fe, but I have heard of it.

  4. Heather Copeland says:

    This was totally accurate and made me smile to read. Thanks!

    -Set PA Copeland

  5. Jon says:

    So accurate. As Benecio Del Toro said in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, “Lying is not only encouraged, it’s rewarded.” — Don’t ever tell anyone you want to write when applying for any Hollywood production or office job. It’s the surest way not to get the job.

  6. A.J. says:

    I agree that you don’t need to go to film school to be successful in this industry, but it does help in some cases. I also disagree with Sean in that film schools that only teach theory are bullshit.

    Film school, theory based or not, can definitely give you a stepping stone into the business. Like a lot of things, you get back what you put into it.

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