There’s nothing quite like the naiveté of doing something for the first time. You’re nervous, anxious, excited. You bubble with anticipation for what surprises lie ahead.
Then there’s the actual experience of the first time and it’s usually not what you expect it to be. You probably can’t even explain what you expected to be like, but you know that it felt different.
Rarely do experiences turn out how we think they will or, if they do, there’s still a small element of surprise.
Starting your career in the film industry is like that too. Your expectations for life as a filmmaker are sure to be challenged and some of them will turn out to be unrealistic, like these these 7 listed below.
1. You’re going to be super rich and famous
Your friends and family love to call you the next Steven Spielberg or talk about how when you’re rich you can buy them a house, or a new car, or “don’t forget me in the credits!”
It’s all innocent fun and there’s nothing wrong with support for your dreams, but the chances of this happening aren’t quite as high as your family would like.
In fact, they’re infinitesimally small.
Thousands of people filter through the film industry each year in a variety of disciplines and yet there is only a very small percentage at the top who are well known.
Even then, their fame and riches are fleeting.
But just because you’re unlikely to be the next Quentin Tarantino does not mean you can’t be successful. In fact, you can live quite comfortably working in the film industry if you take the right approach because your skills are highly specialized and only a handful of people have them.
Besides, fame and riches are all relative to the context in which they exist. To you and I, people like Roger Deakins and Phillip Bloom enjoy a certain level of fame, but only because we interact within that realm. The general public isn’t really aware of who they are.
Fame and money are two symbols of Hollywood success, but don’t expect them to be yours automatically because you stepped on a set.
2. You get to hob knob with A-list celebrities
I get the impression that those outside of the industry think that showing up on set is like arriving at a party where you walk around, say whats up to everyone, and then sit down next to a famous celebrity talking to their agent and find out what they’re gonna wear on Letterman that night.
So maybe that is a bit of an extreme example, but regardless there are people who think getting a job on a movie equates into hanging out with Tom Cruise.
I’ve been on sets with well-known people and faces, but the majority of work that comes my way doesn’t feature any type of celebrity at all. And when it does, it’s hit or miss on whether they hang out with the crew.
If you work long enough in the industry, you will definitely have opportunities to meet and converse with celebrities, but it’s not going to be every show you work on and they won’t always want to hob-knob.
3. Every movie you work on will be successful
It’s a 99% guarantee that every movie you work on will be sold to you in some way as “having a real chance.” And in a way, that’s true, but in another way, the statistics are overwhelmingly against it.
In his article The Sundance Odds Get Even Longer, Adam Leipzig set forth this startling series of numbers:
As an example, let’s take the 2,613 feature films – up 29 percent from 2,023 last year – that were submitted to what has become the primary portal for new filmmakers seeking an audience, the Sundance Film Festival.
These completed movies make up the collective hopes and creative output of tens of thousands of talented people. But only 120 of these films — fewer than 5 percent of all submissions — were selected for screening at the festival.
If it’s a good year, maybe, just maybe, 10 of these movies, or 0.3 percent of the submissions, will be picked up for distribution within the United States.
What will happen to the remaining 2,603 movie submissions? For the most part, nothing.
The figures are astounding and disheartening especially when you consider they’re from 2005 and all of those projections have risen, but it’s the reality of a film industry that is ballooning budgets for big 3D IMAX event films while tightening their belt on smaller budget dramas.
Even if you work on a film with a great script, there is so much that can go wrong to tank the project.
However, with self-distribution models emerging every day and internet outlets like Netflix and Amazon embracing the indie film market, your movies can still enjoy some level of success, just not the red-carpet premiere success you might be hoping for.
4. You’ll get to take vacations whenever
Part of the draw to working freelance is the flexibility of it all. There’s no overhead for your employment because you determine when, where, and what you will work on.
At least that’s the idea.
But what tends to happen is the flexibility of freelance becomes a burden. Jobs will rise as quick as air bubbles in water and just as soon pop when they get close to surfacing.
In the film industry, no job is secure for the freelancer until they step on set for Day 1.
You’ll quickly find yourself planning mini-vacations and trips around the holes in your schedule instead of scheduling gigs around the trips you wish to take.
So, while you could theoretically take a vacation whenever, it’s more likely that the work you get will dictate your schedule instead of the other way around.
5. Everyone has a fair shot at the jobs
I didn’t want to include this on the list because I hate having to talk about it, but it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the human element of the film industry.
If you’re like me, you want everyone to get along, to be equal and to offer up help to whoever wants it. You think everyone should have a fair shot at the job. You may think that age, race, gender, and the size of your shoes has nothing to do with your ability to get a job, but the politics of hiring are more than alive on certain projects.
Let me repeat that: on certain projects.
I’ve experienced a bit of on-set politics and it’s not fun at all. It’s disheartening, tiring, and plain stupid, but it doesn’t stop there.
It makes me sad to say that women will have a much harder time finding consistent work in the industry than men. For whatever reason, there are certain sets in this male-dominated industry that treat women like they’re all Pippy Longstockings. Just read this post about a young woman who works as an electrician to get an idea of the level of ignorance.
With all that said, if you work for the right people, you will never have to deal with this. But be warned: there will be times when what should be fair isn’t.
6. You’ll enjoy every shoot you’re on
Filmmaking is a wonderful art. I love it, I have a passion for it, and movies are second-to-none in any form of entertainment. It would follow then that no matter where you are, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, that making them would be like riding a unicorn on rollerskates through a rainbow, right?
Wrong. Not every shoot is created equal.
You try to be as smart as possible and take jobs you think will be enjoyable and sound interesting, but that will only take you so far. The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes, you aren’t making a movie and instead you’re working a job.
The bad apples crop up every once in a while and you don’t ever see them coming.
If you truly love filmmaking, this will be just another bump in the rocky road of life and no big deal. Just don’t expect to walk off every set clicking your heels when there will be times you’re thinking, “good riddance.”
7. Your job is creative, fun, and therefore, easy
I saved the best for last: “Filmmaking is easy because all you have to do is make movies! It’s fun! It’s creative! You just think of things, point the camera, and start rolling!”
If only that were true. The part of that equation that is missing is the ridiculous amount of logistics that go into filmmaking. Even on a small set, the amount of planning, setting-up, and fore-sight required is immense.
Your job is creative and fun but it is most certainly not easy.
Working in the film industry and climbing the ladder in it is hard and it is tough. You’ll have to stay awake for 12 hours or more on a consistent basis, be able to lug heavy equipment around, and survive the barrage of unpredictable problems that always arise.
Of course, there will definitely be days that are easy to offset those days where you’re about to give up.
But don’t ever fall into the trap that just because you’re working on a movie means you won’t have to put in effort and work your ass off. That’s a one-way ticket to an entirely new career.
Unrealistic Does Not Mean Impossible
The caveat to all of this ranting and cynicism is that none of what is listed above is absolute gospel. Just because it is unrealistic that you will become rich and famous does not mean you can’t ever become rich and famous.
Your motivations, whatever they are, exist without the shackles of expectations or reality and your dreams are even more limitless than that.
But your ability to pragmatically temper those dreams with what is probable will help you make a successful career in film and hopefully, in that process, you prove me wrong on every single one of the unrealistic expectations listed above.
Are you up to the challenge?
Please tell me what some of your expectations were coming into the film industry and how they changed by leaving a comment. Thanks!