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On Forging a Film Career: Education vs Experience

Let me preface this article by stating that I am no expert on this topic as I am still relatively new to the world of filmmaking, especially as it exists outside of pre-production.

I do have some experience as a screenwriter and production coordinator however, in addition to an arts degree and a HECS debt in the tens of thousands of dollars to prove it — I won’t even begin to go into how much my semester abroad set me back.

Point is there are definitely some things I would have liked to have known going in, and some things I would do differently in hindsight. So I hope this post helps somebody out there.

The Film Industry is an Interesting Animal

If your goal is to land a job in the film industry, what you need to realise is that the film industry as it exists is a business.

There will always be a gatekeeper — someone whose job it is to tell the people wanting in that they’re good enough, or not.

I think we need to be careful with how closely we associate our perception of ‘making it’ with the idea of external validation as this can set us up to fail.

Clear Pathways to Success do not Exist

Historically, having a degree immediately put you ahead of the rest of the pack, along with everyone else either wealthy enough or lucky enough to be in the same boat. In some lines of work, a degree is actually mandatory. Not so with film.

Yes, a degree says to others and to yourself that you know something about your particular area of interest, but it does not prove it. You’ll have to do that after — once you’ve been given the opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice.

It’s a catch-22. And this is where we learn that educational institutions do not impart the experience the industry expects. Does that mean they’re not useful? Of course not.

If like me, you can get what want out of a degree or short course and use what you’ve learned to go your own way, then I think attending an institution is definitely worth it.

You Can (and Should) Make Your Own Opportunities

I started Dichosis Studios to work round the system and found that being able to offer a service to those working in film to be an effective way of immersing myself in it.

That said, the independent film industry is unique unto itself. People here don’t risk their reputation or millions of dollars on a single idea — they just make the films they want to make, and many of them are successful at that.

Education and Experience Are Not Mutually Exclusive

By now I guess you’ve figured out the title I’ve chosen is a bit of a misnomer. These two contrasting viewpoints are inextricably linked and it’s impossible for me to advocate one over the other.

The key is to always be learning. Ask questions, read up on what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to fail. That last one is partially important.

Ultimately, I suspect a career in film is always going to be a struggle, until it isn’t. And I really know for sure is that you just have to get over the first few hurdles, by whatever means necessary.

Good luck!

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