Mood board for client’s film pitch which I designed and compiled in June 2013. Details blurred out.

In mid-June 2013, during a hectic spell, I joked online that ‘this is the first week I’ve actually felt like I work in the movies’. And out of that spell I’ve landed my best ever opportunity to do so for real. But nothing in this business is for the faint-hearted or half-hearted. Here’s what I’ve learned in my career so far about the personal awareness, qualities and skills you need in order to get there and stay there. For me, the real tests are yet to come, but at least I feel like I know what I’m letting myself in for, and how resilient I’ll need to be.

First of all, here’s a breakdown of the commissions and projects I was been juggling during the three weeks of June when all of this happened. They shed some light on the variety of work and aptitudes you might need in order to establish yourself as a film professional. If your skills are limited to only one or a few of these areas, that’s fine, being focused is good and strengthens your identity. But it also leaves you highly dependent upon commissions and approval from others, which will typically prove to be extremely erratic over time; you’ll need to be prepared for that, and able to survive regardless of what comes your way. Producers in particular need a good grasp of all of what it takes to get these elements right – and if you want a solid, sustainable job in film, producers are almost the only people who can put themselves in a position to get it.

Still from The Mourning After, my short film (2013)

  • Provided detailed input for a client’s new feature film at an intensive day-long Story Conference at his premises with another colleague.
  • Designed, at very short notice in an intensive timescale, ‘Mood Boards’ with which a seven-figure UK director could pitch his latest film proposal for an urgent opportunity. I was provided with the elements to help make up a template in Photoshop, and once that was approved I compiled the images he provided into the templates, to create a sequence of professional-quality boards to be printed at 300dpi. The graphics I provided included: template design and adaptation, 2x Mood Boards, 3x Primary Cast Boards, 3x Scene Illustration Boards, 8x A5 Director’s Notes, 4xA3 Director’s Notes, 2x Cinematography Boards, 1x Title Card. These boards took 4 days of work, 2 of which I was working past midnight.
  • And during the weekend when I worked past midnight twice and also worked past 9pm on the Sunday, I also provided an urgent Script Reading for a company in L.A.
  • Shared the usual dozens of items News From The Industry, Latest Opportunities and Members’ News which I compile every week for the Producers’ Forum and its members and followers – filmmakers and independent producers. Also, I promoted several events for them widely, and even took control of the IMAX Giant Screen at Birmingham’s Millennium Point to provide graphics I’d designed and film clips from speakers at the event. We had the founder of Distrify and a guy from Raindance there as speakers – it was a pleasure to meet them but I didn’t even have time to stay and get to know them properly! Well, another time – and there will be, one way or another.
  • Still from The Mourning After, my short film (2013)

    Commissioned a web developer to build the interactive web app for my series Citizens: Excision. Continued to refine, process and export the videos for the series.

  • Uploaded my short film The Mourning After to Withoutabox, as well as all its details, from where I’ll be submitting it to film festivals around the world. Exported and published dozens of publicity stills from the film online, and two articles for my blog here.
  • Edited and designed titles graphics for the glossy HD videos I’m providing to a retail client, and continued to refine the new website I’m also making for them.
  • Made substantial preparation for an interview which impressed a new potential core client and has led to a follow-up meeting to explore ways we could work together.
  • Among the other commissions I’ve been working on at the same time are a website for a large regional voluntary sector organisation.

Still from my short film The Mourning After (2013)

Out of this activity, I’ve been offered a substantial opportunity, very generously provided for free by a notable company well placed in the global film industry: a two-month virtual internship for WriteMovies. It’s very exciting and promising; I’ll share more about this only as far as I’m able to due to the confidentiality issues it raises. But the discussions around it have reaffirmed – in a very concrete way – many of the pieces of advice I’ve been given or insights I’ve found at the many talks I’ve attended down the years about working in film for the real players. If you’re serious about it, here are a few things you really can’t afford not to know before you decide that it’s the world for you.

  • Everyone’s position in this business is insecure. Projects, films, companies, organisations, investment and funding, audiences, distribution portals and marketing platforms, are all coming in and out of existence all the time – so you can imagine the turnover of staff and jobs within these fields. You might think that because you need a solid foothold yourself, it’s somehow the duty of people who are established to give people like you that opportunity. But holding that opinion is fatally unrealistic and is likely to turn you into either a naive dreamer, or a resentful outsider. If you want to help producers and other professionals to achieve their film projects, you need a good grasp of the pressures and strains that they are continually under, and how hard they have to strive every day to maintain their own existence. Nobody owes you anything, and you can’t afford to go around thinking that they even owe you the time of day to answer a polite email.
  • Still from my short film The Mourning After (2013)

    Because of all this, there’s also no room for timewasters and anyone who is ambivalent or half-hearted about working in the trade, warts and all. The big offer I’ve been given makes clear in no uncertain terms – and rightly – that if I don’t pursue this opportunity to the hilt, doors will close for me – for good – across the industry. And considering the instability and workloads that everyone has to contend with, it’s quite right that timewasters should be banished. If you’re even slightly concerned that you won’t be able to commit 100% regardless of the circumstances, you shouldn’t put yourself forward at these levels at all. If that’s the case, there will always be someone else more hungry – or desperate – than you.

  • The  famous stories you’ll hear about foolish screenwriters being told “you’ll never work in this town again” are not a myth, even if the individual stories you hear might be. Screw up, and your card will be marked, potentially across the board. What’s more, you might never actually be told that you’ve done wrong.
  • These factors mean that you need a high degree of stability in your life to fall back on, whenever you need it, to get you through the lulls and to support you when you’re too busy to manage even the everyday things. For obvious reasons, this creates a barrier to entry for a very high proportion of people. You can write a high-minded essay about “opening access and equal opportunities in the film business” if you like, but the reasons for any exclusivity are more likely to be due to these practical necessities, rather than any prejudiced covert agenda.

So, if you’ve read all this and you’re still hungry – well, good luck to you. Tell us your secret, we’ll all need it now and then!

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2 Responses to What it takes to actually ‘work in the movies’?

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