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Film School vs. Work


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#1 Christine McDermott

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Posted 09 September 2009 - 04:37 PM

Hey everyone,
I have a few questions about the necessity of completing school before working professionally.

I'm currently a senior in the film program at Temple University but for the past year and a half I've also been working professionally as a 1st AC. Up until this new semester school hasn't rarely gotten in the way of work but at this point I've had to turn down jobs, including a few indie features, because I couldn't miss more than a week of classes. Since this change, some fellow crew members have suggested I drop out and just work. So my questions are: has anyone else been in this position? Should I leave what I've done for years when I'm nearly done or should i just accept that life gets in the way of work sometimes and finish up?

I'd really appreciate any insight. Thanks!
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#2 Rob Vogt

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Posted 09 September 2009 - 04:53 PM

Talk to your department. My friend was scheduled to be the underwater operator for a feature but would've had to miss a month of class because they were flying him down to Florida. The Dept head got him excused for all the film department classes he missed. By the time senior year comes you should be done with your core classes right? Those would be the hardest to get excused for.

Most people here I'm sure would say that you've already made enough connections to get work, and that's the main reason to go to film school, but I believe a degree is important, after all the time and energy you've already spent, you might as well just finish the program. If it starts to seriously get in the way of work to the point where your department head cant excuse you any more and your border-line failing, then it's still early enough to withdraw from classes and maybe make a part-time schedule to finish.

If you have any aspiration for a masters when you're connections start to slow down, then this degree will become even more valuable.

I'm assuming that this is for undergrad...
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 September 2009 - 04:57 PM

You know what I think, Chris.
Work may falter (and will in winter I'm sure). Finish up and before you know you'll be out too and missing that whole no paying back student loans thing. Might as well finish what you start.
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#4 Tony Brown

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Posted 11 September 2009 - 04:39 PM

You know what I think, Chris.
Work may falter (and will in winter I'm sure). Finish up and before you know you'll be out too and missing that whole no paying back student loans thing. Might as well finish what you start.


Film school students are working as 1st AC's and underwater operators?

What happened to learning the craft? What happened to being a 2nd AC / Loader?

Is this a $$$ issue?
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#5 Vincenzo Condorelli AIC

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Posted 11 September 2009 - 06:40 PM

personally im very glad that the film school i attended, the london film school, at that time (not so long ago indeed) was truly a film school, not a video tv or film-look like school. i've learned to load 16mm and 35mm there, when i started to light for film i had my one light prints screened on a big screen: that was a tremendously important learning experience. i've also edited on the steenbeck and tracklayed a soundtrack on that (what a nightmare...).

i could work as spark or gaffer in many productions each term, besides my main term exercise and all the limitations we had there - for sure other schools in london have better and more up to date premises, huge studios, green screens and all the rest - were fantastic stimulus (not only for the camera department) to be creative and inventive.

even if now i'm still at the very beginning of my career and i learn something new everyday, i will never forget the first time, in school, i lit a studio to shoot the beautiful double x 35 mm (i think they still shoot it). i was so unaware - careless to a certain extent - and daring, i think i've not done anything more beautiful than that yet.

i thank that school for having me taught what film is by giving me the chance of using it the "old" way. now i work for production mostly shooting hd (especially documentaries) but i've learned to shoot on film and i think it does and it will always make a difference.

so it really depends on how your school works and what it can offer to you different from what you'd get outside on a pro working enviroment. a film school who lets you experience what it means to be in a senior position of camera dept. while shooting film within a crew of 20-30 people is a very good experience in my opinion.

during my fifth term i faced the same dilemma you did when i was offered to shoot a documentary in the sahara. luckily i managed to convince the production to postpone the shoot so that i could do it during the term break and i did not have quit school. since then, thanks god, i never stopped working till today, even though i'm still repaying my student loan.

follow your instinct, but don't underestimate the value of proper film training and education.

Edited by Vincenzo Condorelli, 11 September 2009 - 06:45 PM.

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#6 Christine McDermott

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 02:49 PM

Thank you for the responses, everyone!! I think more than anything the insights reassured me that I should stay in school and work when I can.

I've only worked as an AC while in school for a little over a year and saying that I still have a great deal to learn is an understatement. That being said, I was lucky enough to be thrown in way over my head by being in the right place at the right time. After all, we all started out somewhere somehow. :)
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#7 Tony Brown

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 02:56 PM

Thank you for the responses, everyone!! I think more than anything the insights reassured me that I should stay in school and work when I can.

I've only worked as an AC while in school for a little over a year and saying that I still have a great deal to learn is an understatement. That being said, I was lucky enough to be thrown in way over my head by being in the right place at the right time. After all, we all started out somewhere somehow. :)



Fair enough Christine but being "over your head" is not fair on the production. thats not lucky, its selfish and foolish. Why are you not gaining experience as a 2nd or a loader. Better still, when not at school offer to go out on shoots and help out to get some floor experience.
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#8 Christine McDermott

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 03:50 PM

Fair enough Christine but being "over your head" is not fair on the production. thats not lucky, its selfish and foolish. Why are you not gaining experience as a 2nd or a loader. Better still, when not at school offer to go out on shoots and help out to get some floor experience.


Tony,
I understand you're point and you're definitely right, it is a risk. I knew that so I put my all into proving I wasn't. (Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't make mistakes.) Also, I should have mentioned that the shoots I have worked on have been low/no budget primarily, never major motion pictures.

Why are you not gaining experience as a 2nd or a loader. Better still, when not at school offer to go out on shoots and help out to get some floor experience.


Because they were low budget productions, I was working on a small crew where sometimes I was doing several jobs so I've learned about how to be a 1st, a loader, a DIT, a PA. I have gained some useful experience in the last year and a half thanks to those projects and at this point I feel like I would be taking a step backwards. By no means do I think that I am above doing any of those jobs, however. I would still apply for and work just as hard on a set in any of those positions but all of my experience has been as a 1st AC (and sometimes filling other jobs as well,) so I think it's acceptable to aim for that position on some shoots.
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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 04:41 PM

Tony, things have changed, at least here in the UK. Many of us wish fervently we could go and be second ACs and loaders then move up to first and operator and eventually be a director of photography. This career path simply does not exist anymore because we don't have a tenth of the size of industry that's required to support it. If you go and work for someone for free as a camera intern, you will still be doing it in five years (big broadcasters, I'm looking at you). You will be used and abused and you emphatically will not advance because there is nowhere to advance to.

I spent at least five years trying desperately to "pay my dues", working stupid hours for free, travelling out of my own pocket, trying to play by the rules. Eventually you say "sorry, this is stupid, I am being played for a fool". These days, what stops people working for free is not the sudden appearance of paying work - it's the realisation that working for free is utterly pointless.

A lot of the careers advice given out by currently high-end people is very well meant and received in the spirit in which it is intended, but it is often horribly out of date.

P
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#10 Sean Ryan Finnegan

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 10:09 PM

If you're a senior, I'd say just finish out. Even though degrees don't really matter in the industry (in fact, they make no difference whatsoever) it is still a college degree and it does prove that you've more to you than just experience. College degrees reflect a great deal more than just expertise in one's major - most colleges require a high level of understanding of argument, writing, rhetoric, and logic in multiple fields. It's nice to have, especially if you're that close to finishing. I'm certainly glad I finished mine.
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