THIS IS NOT AN ARTICLE FOR ASPIRING ACTORS, THIS IS DIRECTED AT CREW MEMBERS
The film industry is a amazing, inspirational and often stressful industry to be in no matter what side of it you get involved with. For a single film there can be thousands of crew members and hundreds of unique positions that can be taken on. The question is where do you fit in the film industry and which is the most enjoyable side to be working for: (Pre/)Production or Post Production.
Both sides featuring a huge amount of different positions that are all very different. I have professionally been in the film industry for just over 3 years now, 2 years on the production side and pre production side and 1 year on the post production side.
On the production side I have experienced most of the main positions in varying degrees of professionalism in roles such as: Art Director, Director, Art Dept. Assist, Camera Operator, Clapper, Gaffer, Best Boy, Continuity, Runer, Production Assistant, Stand In, AD Assist and Soundy. On the Post-production side I have filled such responsibilities as Digital Artist (VFX), Editor Assistant and Sound Engineer Assist. However even in covering all these roles I certainly have not had nearly enough experience on either side to truly make a reliable call on what is best, but here is my opinion.
EASE of ACCESS:
Its no secret that the film industry is one of the hardest industries to start a career in. This largely due to the fact that films and TV are an art form that appeal to nearly everybody, it is near impossible to avoid being inspired or moved by the medium. It is also (in my opinion) the funnest industry to work in, you literally get paid to do what you enjoy!
So which side is easier to put your foot in the door of?
I myself started in the production side of the industry managing to worm my way on to the set of Stephen Elliot’s film “A Few Best Men” (2012). This as is usually the case was via whom I knew and luckily winding up at a party with the very producer of the film. However it was not as a result of this that I started to tick off each production role from my list, it was in fact through meeting people my age that had finished or were in film school that knew of all of the student films being shot.
It was when I gained this social circle that voluntary jobs started leading to paid jobs with production companies around Sydney. Being that I didn’t attend any film related education it did mean I was unconnected from this group of future film crew until really searching for it.
In terms of the Post production side of the industry, I found this a much easier area to start in. I gained access via the Animal Logic rotoscope training course which is basically a month of unpaid training which from there the best of the trainees are asked to join the Animal Logic team as I was.
However in saying that, it is very uncommon for companies to have this sort of program so it is not always this simple. Yet again something that the Post side of the industry has which the production side doesn’t is hundreds of websites for finding vfx/post jobs. The best of these for Australians being the DLF (Digital Labourers Federation) which sends daily emails of jobs available. The beauty of this is that there are often unpaid jobs advertised for people just starting out so that they can begin networking and start building there showreels with content, this is something that the on set production world is missing.
When it comes to work environments there are some big differences.
As for production it really comes down to two parts: preproduction an production (shooting). During the preproduction phase things are generally pretty quiet and slow moving, however as for when things ramp up and principal photography begins, things start to get very stressful and high pressure. This is because little hick ups can cause big problems, like if your mobile goes off when they are shooting or if you can’t perfect the art of being everywhere and nowhere (not getting in important people’s way) at the same time.
In post production things run a little differently, for starters there’s no need to be at work half an hour early everyday (as the show can go on without you technically) or work weird hours non stop and constantly changing locations. It’s a lot more comfortable in that respect as your always sitting down and have access to the Internet all day.
In post your also always treated as an adult so you can come in and leave when you want, take phone calls when you want and go on lunch whenever you want. In post you can even be sick and take a day off, a luxury you will never get during the height of a production job.
But maybe I am painting a picture of post that is far too pretty. When it gets to crunch time in post, long long hours are required to get your shots finished. In fact when I was working at Animal Logic some people where doing 48 hour shifts without going home.
Another down side to post (which I really shouldn’t complain about) is that you don’t get fed as much but seriously when it comes down to it, on set you are fed everymeal you are at work for, however in post you are only fed for over time hours and if you work through lunch.
In saying that though, with all these factors in play, it really comes down to what you would like most in a job. With all the stress and pressure of on set production work, it does result in you feeling like a really important part of the team. For example if you are a camera assistant and you don’t show up because you are sick or running late. The show literally (well not really literally but almost) can’t begin without you, with post however as I said earlier it doesn’t really matter so much if your late or don’t show up (as long as you make up the work) as there are usually at least another 5 people doing the same job as you.
A well known trait of the film industry, especially in Australia is the fact that there is very little work and a lot of people looking for jobs, it’s a very small industry that relies on productions occurring (something that is never guaranteed).
The production side of the industry generally has a lot more frequent work happening, however although there’s more work happening then post, it doesn’t mean it’s easier to get a job. The constant work is usually done by the same small crew that floats around from production to production. Most of this onset work is for TVC (Television Commercial) productions that generally last a day to a week, or if a film job is scored this usually would last 2-3 months.
This is where the postproduction industry has a slight advantage. Contracts are a lot longer and more stable, for example a TVC post contract will usually last about 1-2 weeks and a film usually about 1-2 years. So as you can see you have a job for a lot longer. The trouble is, it is much harder to get these contracts as there arnt as many of them.
Another advantage of the post side is that there are actually full time permanent jobs for the cool roles like Editor and compositor where as with production the only full time jobs are generally producer and production manager roles (not that theses arnt cool, they just arnt artistic) To be a creative on set it is always freelance work.
However when it comes to vfx work, as you may know, the industry is in trouble as a lot of the work is going to much cheaper countries such as china and India, as well as cities like Vancouver where they have big tax offsets for the work. This really forces post artists to be constantly moving from country to country to be constantly employed. This situation is particularly bad in Australia due to the high dollar value.
As for how pay, a lot of people expect that if you are working in the film industry that you must be making the TOP DOLLAH! Unfortunately this is not always the case.
Sure as a director of a film you are getting paid several million per film, however there’s usually several year long gaps between work.
This is where the long contract vs big pay trade off happens and it happens on both sides of the industry. For example if you work a couple of days on a TVC (in both post and production) you will get paid around $500 per day as its such a small contract however if you get a full film contract that goes for a year, you will get paid a much smaller amount like $200 per day.
A lot of people favour working on lots of TVCs and making lots of money with unstable and unforseeable work terms, where as others prefer to work on films instead and have more stability.
However in saying this, due to the state of the industry and the lack of work (especially as a junior) you really got to take anything you can get. This can often cause problems too as you may have a unconfirmed job that has a very lengthy contract that conflicts with another smaller contract that can be confirmed, it is times like these you need to make the tough decisions of whether you should risk losing the short term one in hope that the long term job will get confirmed or if you should play it safe by taking up the short term one.
Lastly, but most importantly in my opinion is the work place politics of each side of the industry.
When it comes to production there is a very clear political hierarchy. Basically on set the worst of this all emits from the camera department (the head of this department being the DOP), there is an old saying that goes: “what is the difference between god and a DoP? God does not think he is a DoP”. It is this joke that should be taken very seriously when on set. The DoP basically runs the whole set and if you get in his or one of his assistants way then you can cop a lot of shit.
Generally the heads of all departments have very big egos that make it very unpleasant being a jr on set especially when they are under so much pressure. Shit really does role down hill and I have had my fair share of experiences where things that other (more senior) people have done are then blamed on me. In saying that I do understand why it always works out like this, when you have worked so hard to reach a senior position on set (something that takes years of hard work, skill and luck) you don’t want to risk losing it over a mistake so you may aswell blame it on the person with the least to lose (the junior who is only just starting out in the industry).
As for the post production side… None of this occurs… At all! There is no dog eat dog attitude, there is no people looking only out for themselves, there is no “I am better then everyone around me” way of life. In fact it is the complete opposite of this, if you arent a fun, nice and open person to work with that can work as a team player, you wont get more work, regardless of how good you are at what you do.
This is why I find myself to this day steering more towards the postproduction side of the film industry.
So I hope that this gives you a bit of an idea of my pros and cons of production and post production in the film industry.