Journey of a Student Filmmaker Part 2: The Adjustment
I am proud to say I am officially a graduate of The University of Alabama.
It’s been a strenuous, yet gratifying four years as an undergraduate. Few individuals can attest to utilizing their time in the most efficient manner. I honestly believe there stands little or no avenue I left untouched as I advanced towards my goals. In my previous post, Journey of a Student Filmmaker Part 1: An Introduction, I introduced myself, briefly explained my ongoing journey as a filmmaker, and informed you of my quest towards choosing the appropriate graduate school.
I finally made the decision. I will be attending The University of Southern California for their Cinematic Arts Program. This decision stemmed from a year long process between applying to graduate schools (USC, UCLA, AFI, Columbia, NYU) and waiting for an acknowledgement of acceptance. I was accepted into three out of five. USC and NYU were my top choices. After visiting USC and NYU’s campuses I found the atmosphere of California to be more to my liking considering I lived there as an adolescent.
As a graduate, one of the questions I’ve come to realize is poignant for most students is, “What’s next after graduation?” I’m blessed to say I acknowledged this question around my junior year in college which prompted me to begin searching for graduate schools. Still, I’m not beginning in the upcoming Fall. I’ll start graduate studies in the Spring which gives me a few months to contemplate the usefulness of the degree bestowed upon me. Filmmaking is a very arbitrary, yet balanced industry. A degree means nothing. No one cares if you graduated with a degree in film production if your skills are not up to par. In this arena of work, if your time spent in college did not garner you knowledgeable skills to work on a set, gaff, grip, write, or work as a competent Director of Photography your degree means nothing. Directing is irrelevant at this level. Everyone wants to direct, but no one will give such responsibility to an individual not tested in the field.
Which leads into my next realization. Your ability to competently work is only half the battle. You need connections or references that can vouch for your skill to receive work. I am currently working as Director of Photography for a low budget feature being shot in Tuscaloosa, AL. The director liked my body of work, but only found me after a good word was put in by a professor. It’s a conundrum. You need a strong skill set to work on a significant role on a larger film (Director, Director of Photography, Editor, Head Grip, Head of Stage Design, 1st Camera Operator, Audio Technician), but the only way to build a strong skill set is to work those significant roles on a larger film. No one is going to hire an individual who isn’t proven. No matter how talented, skilled, creative, or innovative you may be, you will start at the lowest wrung. A reference from someone “up-top” may help, but in many instances a reference just gets you into the door to grab coffee and run errands. Everyone has to earn their stripes, you are not the exception.
In the title I speak of “The Adjustment.” When I say that I mean an adjustment to life outside the confines of college, the realization you’ll start from square one proving yourself within the industry, the fact your degree guarantees no safety net of financial security, and the cruel reality you’re an adult paving out your own path towards succes.
It is quite daunting. I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking this route. I just want people to realize this is a path completely dependent upon how much you want your goal, and the people who will advance or impede it. Don’t worry, to leave on a lighter note, I’d like you to watch my most recent work in dedication of the students who graduated this semester with me.