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Careers in Film

Updated January 14, 2022
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Careers in Film essay

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When you think of film, most likely what you are thinking about is the movies that make the screen displaying famous actors that each and every one admires. Motion pictures have a way of appealing to the emotions and feeling of one another, which is why everyone loves a good movie. Though getting into the film business can be a bit tricky, especially if one isn’t willing to do whatever it takes to make it. Here are some careers you may be interested in if a fast paced, but rewarding career like Film/Video sounds appealing to you. The following careers we will be talking about is Sound Mixer, Cinematographer, Director, Film Editor, Gaffer, Producers, and Screenwriters and the average rate according to the listed sources they make in an hour, or in a year.

There is a saying that sound is 70% of what makes a good film, because you can forgive a bad image especially if it’s an amateur film—but bad sound determines whether someone walks or doesn’t walk out. There can be many reason why audio isn’t good, was the boom operator not close enough? Was it the wrong microphone to use, or even the editor’s fault because the audio wasn’t leveled. According to tarproductions.com (1) it is the Production Sound Mixer’s job to place the mics on each talent individually and adjust each mic on separate channels.

Good Sound mixers are in charge of making sure the audio is clear which provides more flexibility for those in post-production. These people will generally own their own company and therefore bring their own equipment for the best sound quality possible. Based on the 2016 IATSE-AICP Commercial Production Agreement within the Los Angeles county (2), a sound mixer can be paid for a commercial $76.17 hourly, so for an 8-hour production that would be $609.35. This percentage would be the general range for a commercial production, however for a motion picture you can expect it to be more than that, but the average days you will be working would be more. If working with sound is something that excites you, the idea of having a lot of responsibility on your hands perhaps audio production is the career for you.

The other 30% that makes up a film is the Cinematography(Cinematographer), also known as the DP or Director of Photographer. This person is in charge of the visual aspects of a motion picture film and often corresponds with the director to correctly display the artistic value that will intrigue its audience to the screen. According to nofilmschool.com (3), Matt Workman of Cinematography Database provides different levels of production based on big cities like LA and NYC commercial standards. “Workman describes four tiers or levels of production: solo, indie, industry, and high-end. Solo DPs will get paid $0 to about $500/day for a project while a DP who doesn’t work for a production may make up to $1,500/day for their work on something like a music video.”

Once you have worked in the industry and know the business more, DPs could make up to $3,500/day. If you’re super talented and lucky you can make it to the big boys (high-end level) production of work with Hollywood movies and huge productions where you could make $20,000/day for your work. It takes years of effort and hard work to get to high-end productions. The best thing you can do according to Workman, “is buy some equipment, and start putting yourself out there.” Work for free to get experience, because you will have to if you’re wanting this kind of job.

Another income source is a website called work.chron.com with an article titled, “How much do Cinematographers get paid?” by Forest Time describes how some Cinematographers are paid yearly. Although the term yearly is not always the case for many cinematographers because a lot of great ones work solely in free lancing. When someone does free-lance, there isn’t a set salary because everything is based on how many films you’ve played a part in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (4), “Cinematographers earned an annual salary of $59,500 in 2016. On the low end, they earned a 25th percentile salary of $38,840.” (4)

Another website called bls.gov (11) says that the “median annual wage for camera operators, television, video, and motion picture was $53,550 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,980.” (11) Again, this is more if someone is working under a video production company but can also fit under a general salary for someone in the field depending on how often they have work. So, if you’re interested in the artistic, visual aspect of a film perhaps being a Director of Photography is the route you might want to take.

Another department in the artistic part is a job as the Director. The Director is responsible for telling the story and bringing it to life on the screen. The job entails working with the actors, choosing the setting and locations, as well with deciding on the film’s overall composition. With the process of being in charge of the “look” of the film, they also work with all levels of talent and production members. According to Time.com, “a director that oversees their first big-budget film make around $500,000, but if you direct a big-time hit your earnings can soar to even more than that”. According to Screenrant.com (5), Patty Jenkins the Director of Wonder Woman earned $1 Million for her first big Budget film and is set to make over $9 Million for Wonder Woman 2.

Furthermore, according to Zacuto.com (6) someone who specializes in Commercial directing gets paid an average of $10,000 a day but you only get paid for the days you shoot. So, it takes a month to get the job, ten days to prep one day for shooting where you only get paid $250 a day. Also, according to dga.org the Directors Guild of America if you work on a Commercial the minimum you should get paid is $1,453 daily so $5,814 in a week. If you think working with talent is something you really want to do, perhaps being a Director will do the job but it takes a while to get there or one lucky shot. So be prepared to do whatever it takes to get there.

When you look at a film your first idea is “wow, this director is amazing” but hardly do people ever give credit to the Film or Video Editors who edit based on the Director’s preferences. If you don’t see any issues with a film then the editor did a good job, because it’s their job to make it as smooth as possible so you don’t notice any mistakes. An editor is familiar with taking the footage and making a smooth sequence by incorporating revolutionary techniques. In this case, you shouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary because the editor did that on purpose. If we are talking salary, so again they work for a video company the median average is $45,638 according to Payscale.com (7).

However according to Owlguru.com (8) the rate for film and video editors is a bit different. They discussed that the average annual rate is $82,190 but they also organized a salary range on what you might be paid based on experience. “Entry-level Film and Video Editors who start out at $39,780 can expect to make $62,760 after 3-5 years of experience”. This is only possible if you continue going project after project, no lollygagging. The bottom, people with no experience can make less than $13.2 an hour, while the median wage is $62,760 annually or $30 per hour. This depends on who you work for as well, you may get overtime and make more, or make nothing. If editing is something you enjoy, especially being in control—editing is probably a good gig for you.

Another job that is super important is the Gaffer which works with the director of Photography to help shape the light in a film. Gaffers are essentially in charge of the lighting and will place diffusion filter, nets, on light to control the color, intensity and softness. Traditionally gaffers also deal with the electricians, grips or anyone that deals with light, or video to make sure everything runs smoothly. Millions of dollars, and often the safety of the crew depends on the precision of gaffers, and best boys. According to Forbes.com (9) an average gaffer makes between $30,000 and $70,000 per year. However, in a commercial business the 2016 IATSE-AICP Commercial Production Agreement within the Los Angeles county states that a Gaffer can make $50.71 an hour, therefore $405.66 for an average 8-hour day. Of course, the amount you’re paid depends on your level of expertise but also how much equipment you own.

If you think the Director is in charge of overseeing the beginning of the film, you’re wrong. That is the job of a producer. The smoothness of a film is based on the expertise and organization skills of the producer of that film. The producer is in charge of the organization of a film, such as making the financial decisions, handling contracts, choosing talent, supervising the entire project from beginning to end, ensuring that the project stays within budget that is provided. Producer deals with all lines of work including creative, financial, technological, and administrative fields in a film production.

There are many different jobs of a producer such as executive producer, associate producer, line producer, etc. An Executive Producer supervises the work of the producer on behalf of the studio who lends them money. This person also ensures the film will finish on time, within the budget and within the artistic and technology provided. A line producer is typically one of the first people hired on a film’s production. The line producer is essentially the accountant and manages the budget of a film, they also can manage the daily schedules, but can also work on set as the working unit production manager. An associate producer is often the beginning position of being a producer, they generally assist the producer in putting the motion picture together.

According to Media-match.com, their duties may include, “writing, editing, organizing scripts, running the teleprompter in news cast, or helping the editor by making beat calls. An associate producer needs good writing and editing skills because they may be called to do simple editorial decisions.” (13) According to the Producersguild.org, “The PGA does not have an industry-wide Minimum Basic Agreement at this time, so pay rates are subject to negotiation in one’s Personal Service Contract.” (12) However, according to Time.com a typical Hollywood producer can earn $750,000-1 Million per movie, though a first-time producer would only make $250,000.

A job that doesn’t get much credit is a Screenwriter. Screenwriters are the foundation of what makes a film, you wouldn’t have a story, or characters without them. According to Time.com (4) the Writer’s guild agreement, film screenwriters must be paid at least $72,600 for an original script, and $63,000 for an adaptation. The thing about a screenwriter is it’s very taxing, you’ll have a really good piece but it’ll sit on your shelf for years until someone picks it up. So, screenwriters constantly have to keep writing under time constrictions which can affect their creativity. They will sometimes work closely with the producing team and director on character elements, the mood, and the setting of the film, or project.

However, screenwriters writing independent films outside of the Hollywood system are usually not guild members according to Screencraft.org (10). So, the rate they are paid will be significantly less than a guild member. Screenwriters can be replaced at any time though; a director can pay a $50,000-dollar check for a first draft when the ultimate script no errors would cost $200,000. Instead of allowing you to write more, they can take your first draft and find someone else, no big check. Overall being a screenwriter is not the lottery the majority of the time, they are essential to a film. If writing a movie is your passion, go for it, but be ready if it doesn’t work out.

In summary, we talked about the Sound Mixers, Cinematographers, Film Editors, Directors, Gaffers, Producers, and Screenwriters, what their responsibilities include as well as the average rate for each one. It’s hard to guarantee a certain amount you could get paid because it just depends on geographical locations, experience, owned equipment, references, and your will to move forward. All in all, the career I would pick would be the Cinematographer because I enjoy the visual aspects of a movie. As someone who started out doing photography that is what is most familiar to me in the first place. However, starting small is key in the business so I would want to start as a PA, then move up in the production area to maybe a gaffer and hopefully a Cinematographer after that.

There’s something about women not represented enough in the film production business, especially as Cinematographers. One person that really inspires me is Rachel Morrison who was the first woman nominated for Cinematography for Mudbound, and Black Panther. Her shots in Black Panther were so different from the other Marvel films which I believe allowed her to stand out. Also, the fact that they included some story telling was a nice touch. As a Cinematographer, I would love to work on Independent Films or short films, maybe possibly work for a church that will do multimedia. In conclusion, the career in film that you choose will not be easy, but with the right mindset, with the talent, you can make it through the rough area of it easily.

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