How to start a career in film as a student

How to Start a Career in Film as a Student

If you want to work in the film industry, you don’t need to wait until you’ve graduated—you can start as early as now. As a student, you can plant the seeds by knowing the lay of the land, building your knowledge and experience, and creating meaningful connections.

In this article, we’ll provide you with essential tips and insights on how to get into the film industry.

First things first: What is the filmmaking industry? 

The film industry is a multi-billion dollar global business that involves the production, distribution, and exhibition of movies. From independent short films to blockbuster hits, the film industry plays a significant role in shaping popular culture and influencing conversations across the world.

It’s a highly competitive and fast-paced industry that attracts talented creatives, including directors, writers, actors, producers, and technicians.

How to start a career in film as a student

What are the career opportunities in the film industry?

There are many paths you can take to become a filmmaker. Do you have the creative vision and leadership drive to be the director? Do you want to build worlds from page to screen as the production designer? Do you like weaving elements together to tell a cohesive story as the film editor? 

Get to know the different roles on and off set so you have a better idea of which one/s would suit you best:

  • Director: The team leader who manages the entire creative process from start (pre-production) to finish (post-production) 
  • Production Designer: Manages the visual elements 
  • Screenwriter: Writes the script
  • Director of Photography: In charge of the look and feel of the film 
  • Film Editor: Turns raw footage into the final edit
  • Casting Director: Auditions actors to cast in the film 
  • Line Producer: Manages the physical execution 

There are many more roles to look into. You don’t have to limit yourself to one hat, but knowing the different film professions can help you focus on the one/s you’re truly passionate about. 

How to start a career in film as a student

So how do you start?

There’s no teacher quite like hands-on experience. Search online and ask around your community for internships and part-time jobs. If you hear about a film shoot in your neighborhood, pop by and ask the crew if they need any help. Aside from film shoots, you can also volunteer at film festivals and expos. 

Your real-world experiences will help you stand out and give you more confidence to pursue a film career. At OWN Academy, we invite Industry Coaches to give students hands-on experiences that go beyond the four walls of a classroom. 

Eugene Chan, OWN’s Film Industry Coach and founder of EuCan Productions, shared practical lessons on how to handle different kinds of equipment, how to create spec ads (your work sample for an advertising pitch), how to pitch to clients, and more.

One exercise was to recreate a scene from the movie Spider-Man. “[The students] positioned the lights and figured out the angles themselves,” says Eugene. “The moment they nailed it, everyone in the room was like, ‘Wow, that looks so good!’ That realization is very rewarding for the students and for me as a teacher.” 

Jolene, one of the students, said, “[It was] definitely a lot more hands-on work than what we would usually get in class. [Now I have] a better understanding of what actually happens on the set of a film production company.” 

How to start a career in film as a student

What qualifications do you need to work in film?

Going to film school and taking certified courses are some of the traditional ways you can learn about film. These can range from a multiple-year bachelor degree to an online short course you can complete at your own pace.

As you learn from these traditional institutions, it’s important to explore real-world experiences that will give you an edge even before you enter the workforce. 

Keep in mind that having a degree or certification is not a strict requirement for most film positions. It also doesn’t guarantee that you’ll land your dream film job. So instead of defaulting to the traditional path, think about your priorities and way of life.

Consider your budget, time, and energy as you look into your options. That may be film school, short courses, or something else entirely—“YouTube University,” anyone?

What arguably weighs more than a film certification is a strong portfolio, which is a collection of your work samples. For most filmmakers, it’s typically a showreel containing short clips that best demonstrate your skills and style. 

Your portfolio can contain your previous samples and bespoke clips specifically made to show what you can do and what you want to do. Depending on what you have in mind, you can film new clips on your own or with collaborators. 

You don’t need fancy tools to get the ball rolling. Don’t have a professional camera? Use your smartphone or borrow a camera from a friend. Don’t have editing programs? Download free apps or use the trial version of paid programs in the meantime. 

Tools are important but at the end of the day, it’s your vision and your skills that matter. At this stage, you don’t need to have every single thing—you just need to start. 

How to start a career in film as a student

How do you gain connections? 

When you have your portfolio ready, create opportunities for people to find it. Upload it on sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and LinkedIn. Link your social media to your portfolio. Make sure you have your current email address on your portfolio so people can reach out to you. 

Aside from promoting your work, use social media to create meaningful connections. Join Facebook groups and other online forums to meet fellow up-and-coming film creatives. You might also find like-minded people by checking out Instagram film hashtags. If they live in your area, invite them to coffee and see where the conversation leads to. 

Follow film professionals that you admire, comment on their posts that you find interesting, and perhaps even send them a message. You may not get a reply every time, but these tiny ripples might just open doors in the future. 

Word of mouth is a huge deal in the film industry. When filling positions, people often look to their personal network first: people they have worked with or referrals from people they trust. 

So keep making connections and nurturing those relationships—they might just lead to hiring opportunities or creative collaborations in the future. 

How to start a career in film as a student

What’s the secret sauce to moving forward in the film industry? 

Learning technical skills is one thing but developing your soft skills is just as essential to making it in the film industry (and any industry for that matter).  

In a film set, you’ll encounter different personalities so it’s important to learn how to vibe to different frequencies. Learn how to give constructive criticism and accept feedback in return, without ego getting in the way. Learn when to be patient and flexible and when to stand your ground. 

When it’s crunch time especially, you need to work well under pressure and motivate your teammates to hustle without going below the belt. 

These are things that you don’t typically find in a school curriculum. You develop these soft skills by gaining real-world experiences. As you go along, give yourself permission to make mistakes and see them as opportunities for self-improvement. 

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