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A Career in Filmmaking

So, you want to make films?  Do you sometimes dream of having your name mentioned in the same company as Steven Spielberg (Jaws); Spike Lee (Malcom X); the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix); Mira Nair (The Perez Family); or noted independent filmmaker, Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust)? 

What does it take to be a filmmaker? What do you need to know? How do you prepare yourself? Creativity, desire, motivation, focus, sensitivity, self discipline, patience and determination are a few of the necessary attributes one must have to become involved in the art of filmmaking.  In addition, you must be a unique storyteller.   

So where do you begin? Perhaps researching colleges and other post secondary institutions that specialize in filmmaking would be an appropriate beginning. Filmmaking is complex, expensive, and time consuming.  It can also be a big business. Potential filmmakers spend many years perfecting their craft while studying all aspects of this very popular art form.

What are the criteria for determining and selecting which film school is right for you? How early can one begin legitimate study in this field? What course selections are considered required study? How has technology affected filmmaking in a creative as well as financial sense? What are the career possibilities in film after graduation? What options exist? Can a respectable living be made in filmmaking? How does one know that the art of making films is right for them or whether they are right for the art of filmmaking? These and other related questions are routinely asked by those who are planning to make filmmaking a career.

The following responses to these questions, along with other significant observations and comments, have been shared by several professionally qualified filmmakers and educators in the filmmaking industry. Responses to the questions have been gathered and recorded in the following general format:

"Some film schools stress the ‘Hollywood Collaborative' method of filmmaking. The creative process is divided among many people. Other schools stress a more individual fine arts approach, in which a single filmmaker has control over all the creative aspects of the process."

"There are an increasing number of film and video course offerings available in middle and high school programs that, in some cases, are quite sophisticated. Specialized high schools for the arts attract many students to their programs that, in content and quality, prove to be excellent prerequisites to many programs offered at the post-secondary level." 

"Most people think of feature films and television when they think of filmmaking. However, employment opportunities also exist in corporate informational and training videos, webvideos, video games, and commercials. A very important career opportunity in this field is teaching.  It is imperative the industry prepare qualified teachers who are abreast of the ever changing technology and the impact it has on our individual lives."

"Introduction of low cost equipment has opened up new creative possibilities along with enhanced career opportunities. The mystique of this particular field lies in the unlimited possibilities of new career directions in related areas. Discovering and/or developing ‘off-shoot' careers is a continuing phenomenon in the filmmaking business."

"Many successful filmmakers may not have initially become involved in filmmaking or even perceived themselves as potential filmmakers. Others were focused from the very beginning and recognized, early on, their passion for this form of creativity. It can be motivated through a childhood experience with a camera or through child's play that opens the door to discovery. No matter how it happens, when it happens, you know. You may not be able to articulate what you feel but you know that filmmaking is what you must do to be completely satisfied."

"A committed filmmaker studies all aspects of film including the history of film. Knowledge of the basics of filmmaking….then, and now, is mandatory. Understanding the equipment and how to use it as a tool for helping you create, is an integral part of your education. Knowing the nuances of lighting, movement, set design, language, pace, communication, costume, and the respective history of each is part of the foundation on which you will continue to build."

"Communication is crucial. Your work must not only reach the depth and breadth of your audience, but they must internalize it, feel it, and react to it. The filmmaker must understand the psychology of his/her audience. The filmmaker must provoke emotion and stimulate thought. The filmmaker must be able to communicate on all levels."

The above are only selected responses that hopefully have provided a wide swath of information from a diverse group of professionals. Careers in filmmaking are as available as its most eager, committed, and passionate pursuer.

…….aaaaand CUT!

That's a Wrap!

Editorial provided by Dr. Harry D. Clark, Admissions and Alumni Affairs Officer at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. He was founder and principal of the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and has served as President of the International Network of Performing and Visual Arts Schools.

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