View Full Version : Career Path (from little fish to big fish)

10-05-2005, 09:22 PM
I know we have a good diverse group of different opinions on this board, and I was wondering if someone could help me out with something I've been curious about (I'm a novice at this).

My general question is:
How does one go from directing low budget (or no budget) music videos for friends bands or spec commercials to landing real shoots.

I understand that the process could generally be described as
1. do a bunch of low budget work
2. put your best stuff on a reel
3. send your reel to production houses
(please correct if I'm understanding wrong)

but it seems like something's missing here. I think it'd be necessary to develop more organizational skills of running a larger production, in addition to the artistic side. How does one do this?

possibly a more realistic path would be:
1. do a bunch of low budget work, develop a reel of your best stuff
2. assist on a bunch of medium budget work
3. get some paying medium-low budget work
4. get a reel of this work, send to production houses.

One question I have looking at this second model is:
What assisting options are there for aspiring directors? Obviously there are grip/assistant camera options, but don't these hone the skills of a cinematographer more than a director? Anything more suited toward directing skills?

Can anyone share their personal story of going from low-budget to high-budget work? I'd be very interested to hear it.
I know we have some reasonably successful commercial / music video directors, and your words would be an inspiration to many others.


10-06-2005, 09:17 AM
There is really no set path to becoming a director, its one of those nebulous things that never works quite the same way twice. No matter how you do it its still kinda like hitting the lottery. Production houses have literally thousands of reels from directors sitting on shelves, or in boxes, sent to them by hopefuls, but this method can work. Film festivals are a great way to network and get your stuff seen but there are thousands of films to compete with, but this can work too. You can work as a PA, and with luck and hard work you can get yourself into the directorís guild, chances are slim, and it still doesnít mean youíre going to work, but itís doable. Or you can just make a brilliant f&@king film that makes audiences weep with joy. Course even this is no guarantee of success. The most important thing you have to remember though is that if directing is what you really want to do, then thatís what you are. When people ask you what you do, say youíre a director or youíre a writer / director and donít flinch when you say it, couse then you gotta be able to back it up. =)

Some people may ague with me on this one, but beware of falling into other titles, saying ĎIím going to be an editor until I get my breakí can cause you problems. Can an editor become a director? Yes, but its unlikely. Can a cinematographer become a director? Yes, but its unlikely. It happens, but itís an uphill battle. Most departments in film have a natural progression. If you want to be a DP then you start out an electrician or grip, then you move up to best boy then gaffer, then one day, after youíve paid enough dues, you get to be a DP. There are exceptions to this, there always are, but in professional circles thatís the normal progression. Directors however have no natural progression, youíre a director from the get go or your something else, once your labeled in the industry itís hard to change. In fact, for below the line jobs it can be even tougher, for example If you join IATSE as a Makeup person, and decide you want to do set design instead, you basically have to go through the whole process of joining the same union again but with a new specialty.

So what Iím saying is you have to make your own path, and once you make it people will ask you how you got there, but it wont do them any good to try and replicate what you did to be successful because the opportunities that open up for you wonít be available to them. They have to find their own opportunities. This is a creative field, learn, study, shoot, I honestly believe that if you want it bad enough youíll get it. Opportunity will come if you work for it, and if you work hard enough then you will be ready for it when it comes, but if youíre not ready then that opportunity will be lost.

Sorry if I ramble a bit, hope something here is helpful to you.

10-06-2005, 11:11 AM
In my case, it went like this:

1. Intern at a fairly high-profile production house.
2. Get an entry level job working at a crappy local production house.
3. Shoot as much as you can using said crappy house's gear until you can build a decent reel.
4. Take that reel to the best production house in town.

The place I work for now is extremely corporate. Everyone is specialized. I'm just a shooter. There's a guy who's just an editor. There are people who only do graphics. The editor doesn't even do his own titles. That's how specialized this place is. Everything has to go through a committee before you can do anything. I'm glad I only shoot for them. It spares me most of the bureaucracy.

10-06-2005, 12:45 PM

The formula is simple: 1) do good work and 2) get it in front of the decision makers. Both take hard work.

Ok first off sending stuff to production houses on a reel is such a shot in the dark. It's like sending a resume to Monster.com. In this industry, really, how good of job is that going to land you.

I can't tell you how many people get the first part right and fail miserably on the 2nd part. I don't know you at all but I'm sure you have been to plenty of parties where you just hang out, have some drinks and just get to know people. A houseparty like you have in high school and college in a funny way is not a lot different from a major Hollywood industry party. People are people and so much business is done at these things. I am in a position where I can help a lot of people. I have friends every once in a while call me and ask "How do I break in?". Well if I respect them and their work I am happy to help them. First thing I do is get them into the industry parties to mingle. This business is all about relationships. Start talking to big shots with a few drinks in them and it can make your career advance by leaps and bounds.

If you aren't a socialable person I'm sorry that will hurt you. If you have talent, a body of work and are social you're in a good place.

Get your shit together on a web site or a reel or ideally both (presentation is very important), make some business cards and do whatever you can to get in the parties and play it cool. I promise you this is the ticket! I see friends all the time break in this way.

Good luck.

10-06-2005, 07:20 PM
If you're doing music videos for little to no budget, do them for bands you have the good sense to know are talented.

A local film student Vern Giammartino directed and shot a local band Stutterfly on a $500 budget. They were good and so was the video. It gets airtime and the band gets signed to Madonna's label. They come back to Vern for next video which is shot HD with bigger budget, over $100K.

Now Vern's picking and choosing!

Total time from newbie to choosie, 1 year!

10-13-2005, 11:50 AM
My career path, for a 27 year media career, went (in order):

Full college production curriculum, freelance internship with business video production company, freelance PA + camera op work with the same company, freelance PA work with a national TV production company (major packager for several networks), freelance camera op work with the same company, freelance editor work with the same company, freelance scriptwriting work with the same company, freelance directing work with the same company, freelance producer work with the same company, freelance executive producer work with the same company, freelance camera op/director/editor/producer work with several other national TV packagers, formation of my own media production and marketing company, contract production for several networks through my own company, self-syndicated national TV production through my own company. Along the way I also developed the knowledge and skills to produce and direct national projects in business video, commercials, infomercials, web site production, and DVD + CD-Rom production.

For large projects and series, I now simply function as an executive producer. For smaller specials I often function as executive producer and director. For real small projects I sometimes function as executive producer, producer, director, editor, scriptwriter, and camera op. Scalability is the operative word. If you develop a broad range of skill sets you have a better opportunity to succeed. With media convergence, taking the time to be fully facile in all digital media production genres (TV, video, web, disk) will greatly enhance your career.

Some may coach you to be a "specialist". With media convergence, I don't agree with that. To me a "specialist" is someone who learns more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing!

The simple economics of today's media work place determine that the more skills you have the more valuable you are, the more jobs you can apply for and perform, and the more revenue you can generate. The tremendous side benefit of having skills and work experience in most or all of the positions of a production is that when you are simply the producer or director, you know exactly what the needs of your crew are - and they will respect the fact that you have "been there". Survival in the media business running a boutique facility now requires you to be equal parts arrtist, techie, manager, and journalist.

Hope this helps...


10-16-2005, 11:50 AM
If you have a reel... send it to the production houses that produces the music you want to make for music videos

IT depends all on the taste of the person who's hiring you, so you never know, he/she might like the stuff you do, but the other employer might hate it.

But, you stuff has to have some production value to it, no matter what.

10-16-2005, 02:22 PM
hi everyone,

thanks a lot for those posts. they were very informative.
it sounds like there's not one clear path to get where you want to go to. for me, that's just being able to get my ideas produced and to change others in a positive way through this work. Of course, there are countless ways to do that with one's life, but I've chosen cinema and its related media to do that.

For me, I believe I already have the skills to handle a small production. Where I think I lack, however, is in the ability to control a large scale prodution. In other words, a production utilizing 10 people total (actors included) versus 50, versus 100. It seems like it's a whole new ballgame once you jump into the bigger numbers of organizing people.

Does anyone have any advice on what it takes to be able to do this? Sorry for the vague (and possibly off-topic) question, but I'm really interested in what you guys have to say.


10-16-2005, 02:52 PM
People I admire who are about the same age and more successful than me:

Matt McDermott because he worked hard shooting and perfecting his skills instead of posting on the internet all day. This led to him recently directing a Backstreet Boys video. He used to be a DVXUser.

Kevin Zanit because he is a good DP and respected in the industry by guys much older than him.

Owen from SugarCreekGangMovie.com because he got the rights to the film series my best friend/mentor had secured ten years ago, but never had enough time to produce before he took his company public and accepted a high paying position, forever losing hope of ever making a film.

Jared Hess - the 24 year old who made an awful movie about nothing (Napoleon Dynamite) but people liked it. And, now he is a hollywood director.

I'd just look at the people who are doing what you wish you were doing and do what they do. (not a groundbreaking idea, but worth offering...)

10-16-2005, 02:56 PM
It seems like it's a whole new ballgame once you jump into the bigger numbers of organizing people.
That is what department heads are for!

10-17-2005, 07:57 PM
Some may coach you to be a "specialist". With media convergence, I don't agree with that. To me a "specialist" is someone who learns more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing!

Right on! That reminds me of the RLH quote "Specialization is for insects."

There is much to be learned from doing/learning about aspects of the other roles on film sets. Kurosawa did many other roles before becoming a director (his book, btw, is a good read).