So, you want to be a filmmaker, but you are wondering – what happens if it doesn’t work out? What happens if the statistics win, and I’m not the next Spielberg? Can I do anything with my film degree in other industries? While other degrees will make your professional path easier in the business world, film majors can be successful in other industries. After all, according to recent research by Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz, only about 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major.
I moved to California from Colorado to pursue a filmmaking degree at Chapman University. While I completed my undergraduate study, I acquired a student worker job in Chapman’s admission office giving tours and assisting with office tasks. Eventually, I even participated in some recruitment fairs as a student. After graduating, I joined the Chapman Admission office as a full-time employee, and my goal was to earn a Master’s degree (also in film) for free – a benefit of working at the University.
However, after earning my Master’s degree, I had already fallen in love with admission and marketing. My supervisor at the time, Mike Pelly, allowed and encouraged me to experiment with creating MySpace accounts, blogs, and other social media accounts for Chapman’s admission office. I didn’t know it at the time because these practices were not named yet, but I was participating in what we now know as social media marketing, content marketing, and inbound marketing. These are just a few of the marketing tactics that Pogona Creative excels at.
I’ve thought back to my film production training many times in my career, and I believe there are numerous advantages to a degree in filmmaking that are overlooked regularly.
1) Film Majors Are Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers
Research touting the benefits of experiential learning and project-based learning are plentiful. The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) reports that project-based learning improves problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It also has the added benefit of improving teacher job satisfaction, and it creates greater equity between students from different backgrounds, including various grades levels. Ironically, these skills are precisely what employers value most – even more than the college major. In an article for Forbes, Ashley Stahl reports that “93% of employers believe that critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills are more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate field of study.”
My film production degree provided me with the following skills, all of which I have used professionally:
- Budget management: Each film project has expenses. Equipment and locations to pay for, cast and crew to compensate (or at least feed), and post-production costs. Filmmakers are typically spending their own money, so the pressure to come in under-budget is very high.
- Leadership: A student filmmaker tends to be the director/producer, and managing cast and crew for a particular project is much like managing a 15-30 person staff. In fact, managing a good A.D. is like managing a manager. These individuals are often working for free, so learning to motivate your team is critical.
- Project management: Planning makes or breaks the production cycle. If the cast and crew arrive on set and there is no plan, the project is doomed. Storyboards, shortlists, shooting schedules, cast and crew assignments, and much more all need to be carefully planned to ensure that the shoot is successful and efficient.
- Critical thinking and problem solving: No matter how well you plan, some problem will arise. Film production majors need to be able to respond quickly to unexpected events and make good decisions rapidly.
These are just a few examples of how a film project develops skills that are critical in today’s workforce.
2) Video Is Eating Everything
According to Cisco, Internet video streaming and downloads will grow to more than 81 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021. Learning to communicate in this medium will be more and more important each year, especially for marketers. Your company needs to be able to communicate, share concepts, and tell stories visually.
Data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that video trumps reading as a leisure activity, and resources like YouTube make it possible to learn to do new things by watching others rather than reading instructions or books. Reading is and always will be beautiful and critical, and writing will always be one of the most essential skills for any employee. Still, being able to create video content in the future will be more and more useful each year, regardless of one’s industry.
My film production degree, for example, has provided me with the following skills:
- Create system/software training videos for customers, stakeholders, or colleagues.
- Ability to edit down a previously produced video for a company.
- Understand what pictures or videos to select to communicate specific ideas on web pages, brochures, presentations, etc.
- User-friendly presentations for institutional leadership.
3) Filmmakers are Detail Oriented
Every detail needs to be carefully considered when making a film or video. The angle that the camera shoots at tells us how to feel about characters in given circumstances, as does the lighting, costuming, and performances. Performance and tone need to match even when sequences are shot out of order – sometimes a month apart.
In video production, it is important for backgrounds and subjects (wardrobe, hair and makeup, etc.) to remain exactly the same throughout the duration of the shoot, or else these elements can appear inconsistent to the viewer, creating a jarring and unenjoyable viewing experience.
4) Filmmaking is Hard, and Hard Work Trumps All
One of my film professors would frequently tell this joke: “Filmmaking isn’t brain surgery. Brain surgery is easy.” While I can’t say that I exactly agree, the joke is funny to filmmakers because we recognize how much work, planning, and stress goes into the filmmaking process.
Filmmakers have to be imaginative enough to see a completed moment, scene, and film in their heads and organized enough to understand each element that goes into transforming those brainwaves into light that can be seen by viewers. Student filmmakers have to work tirelessly to:
- Organize thousands of dollars (at minimum) of equipment.
- Organize the logistics for locations, casts, and crews including tasks, breaks, call times, and much more.
- Meet aggressive and unforgiving deadlines in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment.
- Promote their work after it is complete to festivals, agents, and production companies.
Planning a film production is a lot like planning a big expensive wedding. There are many moving parts, and a high probability that something will go wrong that is beyond anyone’s control. The way out of those situations is fast thinking and hard work, and remember, the production phase is only one of three phases. Before that is pre-production, and after that is post-production. Hard work is what gets films made – more than talent, more than training, and more than intelligence. Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage, and filmmakers have it.
These reasons aside, it is still a great idea to have a degree when compared to no degree. According to data found in the Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 Report summarized by Liz Weston at Time, “…college alumni found that the vast majority of college graduates agreed that their education was worth the cost.” Plus, college graduates still enjoy a higher income than high school graduates, and that gap has been widening.
If you are sure that you’d rather be successful in the business world, it might be a good idea to consider a business degree. On the other hand, if you want to take a chance, your life won’t be ruined by majoring in film, even if you are not the next Spielberg.