Opportunities in Film and Video

The US entertainment industry is a 480 billion-entertainment industry, but there has been a flight of film and TV production from Hollywood to Canada and elsewhere for cost cutting reasons. I believe the trend will not reverse in the near future. Jobs are obtained with connections and working expertise. Film degrees and student portfolios don't very often get film students a job.

U.S. Film schools graduate as many as 50,000 film students a year for maybe 2000 studio job openings, in good years. In good years many of those job openings are filled with relatives, friends and by the alumni of the best film schools. Some claim that there are as many film school teachers in the country as there are openings every year in film and video.

It's difficult to make a film, hard to get it shown and even harder yet to get paid to do it. A few have made a film on their credit cards and jumped all the hurdles but there are many more that are stuck with 20% interest on their credit cards and a lot of angry friends and relatives who got sucked into the filmmaker's dream. With the yearly cost of paying off a credit card at 20% your odds are better at Las Vegas.

A few more statistics. About 50,000 scripts are registered with the Writers Guild every year. About 250 are made into films that make it to the theater. Established Writers Guild writers with a record of successful films write almost all of those. A few unknown writers make it a year. Orson Wells, Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg made it fairly quickly, but most of the rest of successful directors have moved up slowly through the ranks.

There are 12,500 movies listed in Movie Hound available on VHS or DVD including a few foreign films. About half have 2 star or less rating, meaning they weren't very good.

What are the odds of a budding director with a Canon XL1 and Final Cut Pro making it? Except for a few like "El Mariachi" and "Blair Witch", most other directors had trained crews to help them make their first film acceptable for the big screen.

Who has the formula to make a blockbuster or even a break-even film? Hollywood studios crank out both mega hits and mega bombs. Even the most successful directors make bombs now and then. No one yet has the exact formula.

What does that have to do with a budding writer/director/producer/cameraman with a XL-1? I don't think that the odds are not very high of breaking in at the top.

The next question is how many films that do get finished ever see the light of a theater projector? Or how many TV pilots ever get through a TV network's front door? Very, very few. "The Stunt Man" with Peter O'Toole almost didn't get released for some reason.

Does it only take a good script? Almost everyone associated with the Biz in Hollywood has the next blockbuster script in their pocket. All they need is a few (million) bucks, some help from friends and a star to lend their name to the project.

It ain't easy. Film schools crank out want-to-be filmmakers with attitudes larger than their skills. "Film Student" on a Hollywood set is a derisive term. Many film school graduates see themselves as the next Spielberg and are not willing to work their way up the ladder by starting with going for coffee.

So with little chance in Hollywood, is there a possible route to into the Biz? YES! Learn a skill working on any kind of film and/or video project and develop a professional attitude. On his or her own time the director has to practice directing, the camera person has to shoot every spare moment, the sound person gets the bare necessities and records sound all the time, and the writer, writes. They all study the best books on their chosen field. I say "chosen field" because knowing it all ("the filmmaker") takes many many years. Notice that directors, camera people and even key grips are surrounded by qualified helpers.

What does the future hold? Will there be any money in streaming video? Will there be any more money in weddings, public events and corporate films? With the more competition from more filmmakers, prices will probably go down as filmmaker skills go up. It used to take lots of money to buy video cameras and editing equipment. Not so any more. (Film cameras are still expensive.) But the skills needed to make watchable films on film or vide tape are still the same.

Enough on the negative side. I hope that there will be opportunities in some areas:

  1. Hi Definition has no new product to show other than movies that most people have already seen. Hi Def. has not taken off as expected, but when (and if) it does, there will be a need for high quality but lower budget material. Knowledgeable crews will find work.
  2. Hopefully low budget programs will get "aired" on the Internet when streaming video becomes more available. But don't buy a Porsche yet.
  3. I believe that our world is in trouble on many fronts and there are many message makers who need to get their messages out. They usually have little or no budget but care about our survival as a species.
  4. There has been a paying foreign market for Americana; real life stories about what we are really about. What the popular US media is presenting to the world about us is distorted and even destructive to cultures that emulate it. We can do better. America can also learn more about the rest of the world via camcorders and competent people behind them.
  5. Almost every school uses video as a tool. Few teachers have any of the basic skills to teach how to make watchable videos. The cameras are not point-and-shoot. They need guidance. These teachers need to know how to teach basic video production.
  6. Shooting motion pictures on tape is just starting to happen. It should make possible shooting movies for less than many millions of dollars. Digital theaters are coming. But, still needed are the skills and experience that have always been needed to make a successful film. Those skills can only be learned one at a time working with competent instructors.
P.S. I heard a statistic the other day about the number of documentaries produced and those released. It was either one in a thousand or one in ten thousand. Either figure is bad enough.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.