Different Film and Video Job Skills

There are some film and video skills that can be learned in school, some better learned on the job and some learned only on the job. A smattering of knowledge of every skill is of little use in the biz unless Dad owns a Hollywood studio.

Writing for film and video can be learned with a supportive, inspiring and qualified teacher. It takes much more than having an "original idea" if there is one left.

Directing requires instruction and practice, a cast to direct, and feedback. Having or learning people skills is an important ingredient. Mechanical skills are not necessary. Directors should not also try to shoot. A good place to start is for the budding director to do simple scenes from his own experience. It will help him create reality.

Producing is much more than a title for the girlfriend of the person putting up the money. Most good producers have worked their way up through the ranks learning enough about most of the jobs and problems they oversee. Then they can make knowledgeable decisions to solve the many problems that occur because no shoot ever goes according to the best-laid plans.

Assistant directing, production managing and production assisting require on-the-job training and there are few books about those jobs. (Yes there are a lot of "how we made a no budget film" that have SOME valuable information, BUT there is still a lot more knowledge necessary to run a set efficiently.)

The film director of photography has a whole crew to support him. He doesn't need to know all their skills, but good ones do or learn in time. There is a camera operator, one or two assistants, a gaffer and his crew, a key grip and his crew. On a small shoot with a crew in training the DP has to know all of their skills. Directing photography requires knowledge of the camera, photography, lighting, gripping and running a crew. For video he has to know as much even though the camera is different and probably also might need to know sound.

Photography of film or video (many of the skills are the same) can be learned by anyone willing to put in the time. It usually takes years. Mechanical skills are helpful. An "artistic sense" is not necessary, but practice and dedication to learn are.

A budding film camera assistant can learn a lot from some excellent books on the subject, but hands-on the equipment is still necessary and working with real crews. Most camera people work their way up on real jobs.

Camera operating for film and video can be done with little knowledge of photography and lighting if others on the set supply those skills. In film, the step above camera assisting is operating after much practice at lunchtime and on one's own time. To operate a camera, extensive practice is crucial so that the camera moves by reflex and not by conscious effort. Much of operating can be learned with any working camcorder and a decent fluid ($200) tripod. Operating a gear head for motion picture cameras takes practice and a head to practice on. (See Practice Gear Head) if you are a mechanic.

Gaffers (the head lighting person) have to understand enough electricity for safety, basic lighting theory, the different lighting units and their appropriate use. There are good books available on motion picture and still photography to learn from. One can learn lighting principles on their own using low-end equipment. I believe that understanding available and existing light is crucial to creating believable lighting. 3-point, portrait lighting, mostly taught at film schools, is good only in a portrait studio and in very controlled conditions.

Few people aspire to be grips, the hardest working people on a set. But many have become directors, camera people, actors and producers if they have talent and drive. If they watch and listen on the set, they can learn a lot about the biz. Grips learn their grip skills as interns with other grips. There are a few books to learn some of the skills and equipment from, but on-the-job is the best way.

In a high-end video studio work, engineering of the equipment is necessary. With low budget consumer cameras, less knowledge is necessary to get good images.

Operating a Betacam type camcorder for news is often a one-man job and it is necessary to know lighting, sound and basic photography.

Sound can be learned with some theory and lots of practice on one's own with any recording tool and few basic microphones. We hear selectively but microphones hear everything. We first have to learn how microphones hear and then how to hear like a microphone. Doing sound on a set required on-the-set experience. Recording studio production is a whole different bag.

Low-end video is often a one-man-band that requires a knowledge of composition, exposure, lighting, sound and production. High-end television is mostly stage oriented and each technician has a specific skill. Most of the books on television address stage video production and not fieldwork.

Some writers separate "television" production from "video" production. Television is studio high-end production and video is lower budget corporate, news, documentary, educational production.

See "Library" for recommended books on these jobs.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.