I am new to this community and wanted any opinions necessary for what options I have in the future.
Firstly, I am Brandon Apps a 16 year old Sixth Form student. I study Photography A-level / Media Studies A-level / Business BTEC. I aspire to be a cinematographer in the future.
Me and a few friends have shot a bit of a movie before for a school project but really want to get serious about it now all wanting jobs within the movie industry be it editors/directors/cinematographers.
However, for my next step I was thinking about going to NFTS (National film and television school) near London in the UK. I am still open minded about this. So what I am essentially asking is there anyone who has followed a similar career and how did they make it to where they are now? What school did they go to, or uni? ect.
Any school - not just film school - is always a good idea.
Even in film schools (or at least the one's I've experienced) you get an education that is a lot broader than just what you might need to know for a film career. The reason, I think, is simple enough. Not many people will end up actually pursuing a film career after school. For all sorts of reasons, none of which need have anything to do with "failing" to establish such a career. Rather, people's interests and opportunities change. They might find something else that is far more interesting, or far more lucrative for that matter, to pursue. And many schools recognise this - that their students need to be prepared, not just for their intended career, but for life in general.
I agree with Carl, it's far more important to have a dedicated non-creative career path, then waste money on creative stuff for college. Anyone can make a movie these day's, decent cinema grade cameras are cheap and if you're talented enough, weekends are all you'll need to hone your skills. Very few (if any) graduates of film school, wind up being "filmmakers" of any kind. Degree's don't get you cinematography or editing jobs, you need a portfolio of work, to prove your worth. So that means, you've gotta start shooting stuff on your own dime, helping people create little projects here and there to build your skills. A really good industry trade school like Los Angeles Film Academy will teach you the ancillary technical things you may be missing. Most colleges or universities which teach film are all about theory and history, rather then hands-on experimentation. It's that experimentation time which is what you need to succeed and you've gotta be able to tell a good story.
All of that to say… having a backup skill set is the most important thing. Once you have that down, then you can head out to L.A. and take some classes as you build a resume in your backup skill set. This way you always have something to fall back on which can keep you a float. I didn't get here until I was 24 and it took me another 12 years to be a full-time filmmaker! During that time, I used my skills as a technical engineer type to survive outside of being a filmmaker. Without that backup skill set, I would have been screwed. The funny part is, I have lots of degree's and nobody has ever asked for them, nor do I bother putting them on my resume. The film industry is a strange world, it's all based on a feeling, on a snapshot of what your capable of doing and if the stars don't align, if you don't have exactly what someone is looking for, you won't get the gig. It's a dog-eat-dog world and it's very, very, very difficult to get your foot in the door, let alone be successful. The only reason why I've been successful at all is because I'm a technical guy and I've been able to make friends with some top people in the industry because of my technical expertise. That's not something everyone can do, but it's for sure a gimmick which has allowed me to be in the right place at the right time and make a living at doing what I enjoy doing most!
Thanks Carl and Tyler, you have really opened my mind to this subject and now I have a lot to think about. I will practice my skills, hopefully even help out in projects around me for the time being. I would rather spend the money on decent equipment rather than a school but only time will tell what will happen. Thank you both very much - and I wish you the best with the career you have pursued.
Brandon, be aware that at least oen of the two responses you've received is from an American who lives in a place where the situation is very, very different to that in the UK. The thing you need to be aware of is that there are practically no openings for creative camerawork in the UK. It's literally two or three a year, with several thousand people going for them. Nobody's leaving these jobs, the industry is tiny and collapsing rapidly. The likelihood of your ever becoming a cinematographer is probably smaller than that of your scoring the winning goal at an FA cup final.
Second, you can't "head out to LA". Many people in the UK would like to do that. The situation in Los Angeles is that getting into the film industry is merely extremely difficult, which makes it a lot, lot easier than it is here in the UK, where it is next to impossible. You are not allowed to work in Los Angeles (or indeed anywhere in the US) without a working visa or similar piece of paper. It's possible to get one of these if you have an offer of a full time job and if your prospective employer is willing to do the very expensive paperwork. It is, generally, not possible to get one as a self-employed individual, which is what most film and TV crew are, at least not until you have achieved a very large amount of success and start getting written about in the industry publications. Essentially, by the time you can go to LA and shoot movies there, you'll have more work than you can handle in the UK and it'll be a moot point. But, as I say, that'll never happen.
There are a lot of arguments as to whether you should go to film school or not. My feelings incline toward "no" in general and in the UK, it is almost certainly a complete waste of time. At best they will teach you filmmaking as it is done in the UK, which is to say, as it is almost never done in the UK. There isn't really an industry here. To put some concrete numbers on it, there are about 1200 members of the BECTU London Production Division's camera branch, of whom I would guess that 5% make any sort of living on the sort of things most people are thinking of when they consider getting into film work. That's literally one in a million of the UK population. And very few of them are cinematographers. How many directors of photography do we actually have in the UK? How many do we really need? Half a dozen? That's one in ten million of the population. Film schools are very, very happy to take your money and train you to do work that doesn't exist. I was speaking to someone who works at one of them not three days ago who admitted happily that they do that. A film school is a moneymaking business. They don't give a damn if you ever work in film - and you won't.
Basically, you might as well go to astronaut school to be an astronaut. The UK doesn't have an operating film industry, any more than it has a space program. If this seems unfair to you - and it seems unfair to me - go down to your local Vue or Odeon, or even HMV, and look at how many of the films available were UK produced. You can go to most cinemas here week after week here and never see anything with a British crew. We're absolutely steamrollered. We're beaten. It's over. The only solution is some sort of control over how many UK films are shown at UK cinemas, and no government we're ever likely to get is going to actually pass that law, so it's basically a waste of time.
Sorry, but the truth is probably more useful to you at this point. Do not spend money on a film education in the UK. It's unlikely to pay back anywhere in the world, but London is probably the absolute worst possible option.
Thanks for your extensive reply Phil, I don't plan to live in the UK my whole life - it's one of the things that i'd have to give up to pursue my career. I've been to the US about 15+ times in my lifetime, and I see myself living in the US in the future. I'm not saying that this will solve all my problems but it's one step forward right?
I'm going to make some short films, and some more and some more and just practice throughout the my current education. Over this time i'm sure my skills will expand and hopefully I will create a portfolio and take my next steps from there.
Well Phil you and I have discussed on here before how Canada is half the population of the UK and yet many people seem to make a living in film. Forum member Stephen Whitehead is a self made DOP and works non-stop in Toronto. Yes, he may be somewhat of an anomaly as no one knows what his secret is, other than the fact that he continuously hustles and won't take no for an answer.
I do agree with your points about the total domination of American movies at the domestic cinema and the need for a local quota, like they have in France and South Korea. In both cases it has been a huge success for the local industry. I also agree it will never happen in either the UK or Canada as both countries have governments that follow one simple philosophy, the US government says jump and the UK and Canada say, how high?
I will agree with Phil, Brandon, that simply moving to the USA will not open the gates of Hollywood for you. There are tens of thousands of film school grads already in the USA that do not work in film because they have not found opportunities. Please don't believe that LA is a magical panacea, in fact it may make things worse for you. Sure there may be more opportunities but there is also 10 times the competition as well.
There is a very long list of UK and Canadian citizens that have made it big in Hollywood that is for sure, but of course they are statistically small. Gareth Edwards has it made very far, very fast, maybe you'll be the next Gareth Edwards?
Canada can double for the USA. The UK can't. These days, the UK can't even double for a historic version of itself - that stuff goes to Croatia, Ireland or New Zealand. Unless they're making something completely studio-bound, there's very little point in shooting anything in the UK. Ever. Under any circumstances. It's just a very expensive place.
Actually right now is a bit of an aberration - you can go and see Fury, which was shot here. By a Russian DP, funded by an American company, written and directed by an American, starring Americans and telling an American story. And there's what, two of those a year?
One of the things I like about Los Angeles is that the standard of work is just so much higher. We've encountered situations time and again on this forum where Americans get very confused about what "independent movie" means. There is really no independent production scene here as there is in the US. This is particularly relevant to people like Brandon who would, ordinarily, need $50k and $200k and $750k productions to work on in order to become employable professional camerapeople. In London this just simply does not exist. And even beyond that, there's a culture of high expectations there that is absent here. In LA, people, even people working for no money, shoot for Transformers, and are happy to achieve Torchwood. In the UK, they shoot for Eastenders and get crappy wedding video quality stuff. The offset in achievement really is palpably embarrassing.
This has been the case for so long that we can no longer really claim to be good at making film and TV here. When I was becoming aware of it - through the mid-90s - we could potentially claim to have very good film and TV crew available here. Most of the people who were senior then have now retired and there is neither a training path for new people, or work for them even if there were.
All of these problems are more or less directly caused by lack of work. There's so little production work going on (the entire UK produces half a dozen feature films worthy of the name each year) that there's no way to support all the ancillary things that a working industry needs. Training initiatives are aimed at the wrong problem. If there were more things being shot, if there were more money flying around, all of these problems are more or less self-correcting. Likelihood of it ever happening? Somewhere near zero.
I'm heading to South Africa in February and that place is ready to explode with production work it has so much going for it, no unions, 10:1 exchange rate, 12 mos a year of sunny weather, and two types of rebates for film ranging from 25-35%. There's already a lot going in there and there is going to be a lot more.
As a "Young" French Cinematographer who just leave France for a possibly better future here in London! I would like to stand on one point you mention! You mention France and the law called (L'Exception Culturelle) Who allow French film to stand up in front of the Gigantic American Industry.
The thing is even it's allowing film to be shot and French production to survive on the other side of the mirror it means.
- Only a few people will work and probably always the same! Or there Friends No-place for newbies.
- People will have two or three Jobs on a set or over the all production. but of course get paid only for one because: "We are in a tight budget, you understand?"
(I start a movie as a scout Location, then a runner, then I join the set design team, then during the shooting I did my work as a Sparks and backward when the shoot was other)
-you work with a lot of pressure, because people make a pleasure to remind you there is 10 guys who could do the job better than you but they (the producer or your boss) are kind enough to keep you!
- and often production will take trainee not paying them and give them a lot of responsabilities even too much sometimes!
I'm not saying this worst than in the UK, I'm just saying seeing from outside this system seems good enough but after living Five years under I can tell you, the system is far from being perfect and it destroy people (physically but especially mentally)
Then again it's only my opinion.
So Brandon BELIEVE IN YOUR DREAMS AND YOURSELF and DO NOT let people tell you otherwise. Because the longer you are doing that job the less competition you will have.