Good advice to emerging talent in becoming a film pro

Orson Welles is quoted as saying “A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”   Today we have an army of very talented solo players as filmmakers.  They have comparatively vast experience in content creation compared to the beginning filmmakers of past generations.

A high percentage of kids graduate from high school with the ability and available technology to shoot edit and distribute content, making it easy to skip formal training in school or learning while slowly and steadily rising from the ranks. That might be a mistake.

If you want to be a true professional you will learn from a true artisan in actual combat situations.

Let’s take the camera department.  Back when, to be a DP you started by apprenticing to an established craftsman to earn the knowledge and trust to expose film directly for a paying client. 

You might start as a PA, then a camera department PA, a loader, second assistant, first assistant.  After a number of years of experience as a team member on many crews and productions, you’d have earned the knowledge, experience, trust and opportunity to be a DP. 

Achievement requires time and experience

Today, it’s likely folks declare themselves DPs after learning to assemble a camera and make a decent exposure.  This phenomenon is by no means limited to the camera department. 

Dad buying you a script/continuity iPad app does not make you a script person.  Continuity is an art as much as it is a science and like all things in the film business it’s a team sport; know when to contribute and hold and know when to fold.

You want to do sound? There’s no margin of error in sound, so a sound person must have the experience, technical knowledge and judgment to know when the sound is appropriate for the project.  That experience does not come with the digital recorder you just bought from B&H, bro. 

As a director, being the boss is easy.  Being an assistant is a ball breaker. You can be a director if you can convince one person with a checkbook that you are a director.  Assistant director, however, is a grueling, tough job requiring discipline and experience. 

Inexperience and impertinence not welcome on a set

If you’ve been following this column, you know I am supportive of the democratization of the technology and a very early adopter of this technology.  I leverage this technology into much smaller, tight crews comprised of the very best and experienced people.  Amazing things can be accomplished in this mode.

I don’t want to see another camera operator move the camera at the suggestion of an agency producer or see a DP shoot an entire scene framing off the set.  At critical moments and I could do without an AD and sound person doing “wild lines” with a four year-old without the director present. 

Or a self-proclaimed script person with said IPad going directly to the client with concerns about some dialogue AFTER we have wrapped a complicated scene and moved on to another location.

Listen up, emerging talent.  Seek and learn the honorable craft and protocol practiced on film sets, within departments.  But only if you want to be a respected professional.

David Rosen is a veteran commercial director specializing in kids’ dialogue and performance.