Careers in the Film and Video Industry

Careers in the Film and Video Industry :

  1. Nature of the industry
  2. Postproduction occupations
  3. Working Conditions
  4. Occupations in the Film and Video Industry


  • Producers
  • Directors
  • Pre-Production Occupations
  • Production Occupations
  • Postproduction Occupations


Nature of the Industry

The U.S. motion picture industry produces much of the world’s feature films and many of its television programs. The industry is dominated by several large studios, based mostly in Hollywood. However, with the increasing popularity and availability worldwide of cable television, video recorders, digital video disks (DVDs), and the Internet, many small and medium-size independent filmmaking companies have sprung up to create films to fill the increasing demand. A number of countries, such as Australia, India and the United Kingdom also have significant profile in the sector. In addition to the production of feature films and television programs produced on film, the industry also produces made-for-television movies, music videos, and commercials.

The industry also includes companies who produce films for limited, or specialized, audiences. These include documentary films, which use film clips and interviews to chronicle actual events with real people, and educational films ranging from “do-it-yourself” projects to exercise films. In addition, the industry produces business, industrial, and government films that promote an organization’s image, provide information on its activities or products, or aid in fundraising or worker training. Some of these films are short enough to release to the public through the Internet. Many of these films offer an excellent training ground for beginning filmmakers.

Making a movie is also a very risky business. Although thousands of movies are produced each year, only a small number of these account for most box office receipts. Most films do not make a full return on their investment from domestic box office revenues, so filmmakers rely on profits from other markets, such as broadcast and cable television, videocassette and DVD sales and rentals, and foreign distribution. In fact, major film companies receive a growing portion of their revenue from abroad. These cost pressures have reduced the number of film production companies. Currently, seven major studios produce most of the television and movie productions released nationally. Smaller and independent filmmakers often find it difficult to finance new productions, as large motion picture production companies prefer to support established filmmakers. However, digital technology is lowering production costs for some small-budget films, enabling more independents to succeed in getting their films released nationally.

Although studios and other production companies are responsible for financing, producing, publicizing, and distributing the film or program, the actual making of the film is often done by hundreds of small businesses and independent contractors that are hired by the studios as needed. These companies provide a wide range of services, such as equipment rental, lighting, special effects, set construction, costume design, as well as much of the creative and technical talent. The industry also contracts with a large number of workers in other industries that supply support services to the crews while filming, such as truck drivers, caterers, electricians, and make-up artists. Many of these workers, particularly in Los Angeles, depend on the motion picture industry for their livelihood.

Most motion pictures are still made using film. However, digital technology and computer-generated imaging is rapidly making inroads and impacting the industry in numerous ways. Making changes to a picture is much easier using digital techniques. Backgrounds can be inserted after the actors perform on a sound stage, or locations can be digitally modified to reflect the script. Even actors can be created digitally. Independent filmmakers will continue to benefit from this technology, as reduced costs improve their ability to compete with the major studios.

Digital technology also makes it possible to distribute movies to theaters using satellites or fiber optic cable, although there are relatively few theaters with the reception capability right now. In the future, however, more theaters will be capable of receiving films digitally and the costly process of producing and distributing bulky films will be sharply reduced.

Working Conditions

Most individuals in this industry work in clean, comfortable surroundings. Shooting outside the studio or “on location,” however, may require working in adverse weather, and unpleasant and sometimes dangerous conditions. Actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, and camera operators also need stamina to withstand the heat of studio and stage lights, long and irregular hours, and travel.

Directors and producers often work under stress as they try to meet schedules, stay within budget, and resolve personnel and production problems. Actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, and camera operators face the anxiety of rejection and intermittent employment. Writers and editors must deal with criticism and demands to restructure and rewrite their work many times until the producer and director are finally satisfied. All writers must be able to withstand such criticism and disappointment; freelance writers are under the added pressure of always looking for new jobs. In spite of these difficulties, many people find that the glamour and excitement of filmmaking more than compensate for the frequently demanding and uncertain nature of careers in motion pictures.

Occupations in the Film & Video Industry

Jobs in the industry can be broadly classified according to the three phases of filmmaking: Preproduction, production, and postproduction. Preproduction is the planning phase. This includes budgeting, casting, finding the right location, set and costume design, set construction, and scheduling. Production is the actual making of the film. The number of people involved in the production phase can vary from a few for a documentary film to hundreds for a feature film. It is during this phase that the actual filming is done. Postproduction activities take place in the editing rooms and recording studios in which the film is shaped into its final form.

Some individuals work in all three phases. Producers for example, are involved in every phase from beginning to end. These workers look for ideas that they believe can be turned into lucrative film projects or television shows. They may see many films, read hundreds of manuscripts, and maintain numerous contacts with literary agents and publishers. Producers are also responsible for all financial aspects of a film, including finding financing for its production. The producer works closely with the director on the selection of script, principal members of the cast, and filming locations, because these decisions greatly affect the cost of a film. Once financing is obtained, the producer works out a detailed budget and sees to it that the production costs stay within that budget. In a large production, the producer also works closely with production managers who are in charge of crews, travel, casting, and equipment. For television shows, much of this process requires especially tight deadlines.


Directors translate the script to film and are involved in every stage of production. They may supervise hundreds of people, from screenwriters to costume and set designers. Directors are in charge of all technical and artistic aspects of the film or television show. They conduct auditions and rehearsals and approve the location, scenery, costumes, choreography, and music. In short, they direct the entire cast and crew during shooting. Assistant directors help them with such details as handling extras, transportation of equipment, and arrangements for food and accommodations. Some directors assume multiple roles, such as director-producer or writer-producer-director. Successful directors must know how to hire the right people and create effective teams.

Pre-Production Occupations: Before a film or a television program moves into the production phase, it begins with an idea which screenwriters turn into a script. They either develop an original idea or take an existing literary work and adapt it into a screenplay or television pilot (a sample episode of a proposed television series). Screenwriters work closely with producers and directors. Sometimes they prepare a shooting script that has instructions on shots, camera angles, and lighting. They frequently make changes to reflect the directors’ and producers’ ideas and desires. The work, therefore, requires not only creativity, but also an ability to write and rewrite many script versions under pressure. Although the work of feature film screenwriters usually ends when the shooting begins, writing for television usually is a continuous process.

Art directors design the physical environment of the film or television set to create the mood called for by the script. Television art directors may design elaborate sets for use in situation comedies or commercials. They supervise many different people, including illustrators, scenic designers, model makers, carpenters, painters, electricians, laborers, set decorators, costume designers, and makeup and hairstyling artists. These positions can provide an entry into the motion picture industry. Many start in these jobs in live theater productions and then move back and forth between the stage, film, and television.

Production occupations: Actors entertain and communicate with the audience through their interpretation of dramatic roles. Only a small number achieve recognition in motion pictures or television. Many are cast in supporting roles or as walk-ons. Some start as background performers with no lines to deliver. Also called “extras,” these are the people in the background—crowds on the street, workers in offices, or dancers at a ball. Others perform stunts, such as driving cars in chase scenes or falling from high places. Although a few actors find parts in feature films straight out of drama school, most support themselves by working for many years outside of the industry. Most acting jobs are found through an agent, who finds auditions that may lead to acting assignments.

Cinematographers, camera operators, and gaffers work together to capture the scenes in the script on film. Cinematographers compose the film shots to reflect the mood the director wishes to create. They do not usually operate the camera; instead, they plan and coordinate the actual filming. Camera operators handle all camera movements and perform the actual shooting. Assistant camera operators check the equipment, load the camera, operate the slate and slapsticks (now electronic), and take care of the equipment. Commercial camera operators specialize in shooting commercials. This experience translates easily into documentary work. Gaffers, or lighting technicians, set up different kinds of lighting needed for filming. They work for the director of photography, who plans all lighting needs. Sound engineering technicians, film recordists, and boom operators record dialogue, sounds, music, and special effects during the filming. Sound engineering technicians are the “ears” of the film. They supervise all sound generated during filming. They select microphones and the level of sound from mixers and synthesizers to assure the best sound quality. Recordists help to set up the equipment and are in charge of the individual tape recorders. Boom operators handle long booms with microphones that are moved from one area of the set to another. Because more filming is done on location and the equipment has become compact, lighter, and simpler to operate, one person often performs many of the above functions.

Multi-media artists and animators create the special effects. Through their imagination, creativity, and skill, they can create anything required by the script, from talking animals to flaming office buildings and earthquakes. Many begin as stage technicians or scenic designers. They not only need a good imagination, but also must be part carpenter, plumber, electrician, and electronics expert. These workers must be familiar with many ways of achieving a desired special effect because each job requires different skills. Computer skills have become very important in this field. Some areas of television and film production, including animation and visual effects, now rely heavily on computer technology. Although there was a time when elaborate computer animation was restricted to blockbuster movies, much of the 3-dimensional work being generated today is happening in small to mid-sized companies. Some specialists create “synthespians”—realistic digital humans—which appear mainly in science fiction productions. These digital images are often used when a stunt or scene is too dangerous for an actor.

Many individuals get their start in the industry by running errands, moving things, and helping with props. Production assistants and grips (stage hands) are often used in this way.

Postproduction occupations: One of the most important tasks in filmmaking and television production is editing. After the film is shot and processed, film and video editors study footage, select the best shots, and assemble them in the most effective way. Their goal is to create dramatic continuity and the right pace for the desired mood. Editors first organize the footage and then structure the sequence of the film by splicing and resplicing the best shots. They must have a good eye and understand the subject of the film and the director’s intentions. The ability to work with digital media is also becoming increasingly important. Strong computer skills are mandatory for most jobs. However, few industry-wide standards exist, so companies often look for people with skills in the hardware/software they are currently using.

Assistant editors or dubbing editors select the sound track and special sound effects to produce the final combination of sight and sound as it appears on the screen. Editing room assistants help with the splicing, patching, rewinding, coding, and storing of the film. Some television networks have film librarians, who are responsible for organizing, filing, cataloging, and selecting footage for the film editors. There is no one way of entering the occupation of editor; however, experience as a film librarian, sound editor, or assistant editor—plus talent and perseverance—usually help.

Sound effects editors or audio recording engineers perform one of the final jobs in postproduction. They add prerecorded and live sound effects and background music by manipulating various elements of music, dialogue, and background sound to fit the picture. Their work is increasingly computer-driven as electronic equipment replaces conventional tape recording devices. The best way to gain experience in sound editing is through work in radio stations, with music groups, in music videos, or adding audio to Internet sites.

After the film or television show is finished, marketing personnel develop the marketing strategy for films. They estimate the demand for the film and the audiences to whom it will appeal, develop an advertising plan, and decide where and when to release the film. Advertising workers or “unit publicists” write press releases and short biographies of actors and directors for newspapers and magazines. They may also set up interviews or television appearances for the stars or director to promote a film. Sales representatives sell the finished product. Many production companies hire staff to distribute, lease, and sell their films and made-for-television programs to theater owners and television networks. The best way to enter sales is to start by selling advertising time for television stations.

Large film and television studios are headed by a chief executive officer (CEO) who is responsible to a board of directors and stockholders. Various managers such as financial managers or business managers, as well as accountants and lawyers report to the CEO. Small film companies, and those in business and educational film production, cannot afford to have so many different people managing only one aspect of the business. As a result, they are usually headed by an owner-producer, who originates, develops, produces, and distributes films with just a small staff and some freelance workers. These companies offer good training opportunities to beginners because they provide exposure to many phases of film and television production.