1. Figure out what do you want to do SPECIFICALLY in film work...all positions in front and behind the camera are specific disciplines in the industry.
2. immerse yourself in the environment of the career you're interested in. Get IN with the film making community..work on as many student, indy/low budget, major studio projects that come to town as you can..its not only building a resume of experience but more importantly a NETWORK or LOOP of people who will recommend/hire you for the next JOB. If you don't have family obligations then WORK WORK WORK... A good portion of your jobs will come from hook ups and word of mouth (once you're in the loop of things) NOT cold call interviews.
3. I call it the 10 YEAR PLAN...give yourself 10 years to do it. In 10 years you can become ANYTHING (doctor, lawyer, Indian chief..) BUT its 10 years of WORK..not some work some bullshit... if your 21 then by 31 you SHOULD be working in the field in general if you haven't achieved your specific goal (director, editor) you should be close by this time.
4. Can you make a decent living?? That depends on what you think a decent living is and what career you decide to get into...ABOVE THE LINE in production or BELOW THE LINE in production.
ABOVE THE LINE consists of (generally speaking):
actors - scale (less than 100k) to millions
director - $250K-$20M a picture
producer - $250K-$2M
screenwriter - $100K-$1M a draft
Those are more ethereal positions in the industry BUT they are also the highest paying..unlike a doctor or lawyer where you go to school, take the tests and at the end you have a certificate that says YOU'RE A LAWYER! YOU CAN PRACTICE LAW IN THIS STATE! There is no certificate that says YOU'RE A DIRECTOR! or YOU'RE A WRITER!
You can get a degree in film STUDIES but that doesn't make you a film MAKER. Kevin smith and Robert Rodriguez don't have one and they are highly successful.. these guys make MILLIONS (Rodriguez made his first movie in 1992 with 7000 dollars mainly from being a guinea pig for medical research...3 years ago he shot Sin City in HIS OWN FILM STUDIO)
That means your career in the ABOVE THE LINE aspect of film-making depends on how much you WORK and how well you negotiate your contract.
BELOW THE LINE consist of (generally speaking):
Director of Photography - $5K-$30K a week
Gaffer - $59K
Key Grip - $102K
Art Director - $134K
Editor - $95K
Composer - $111K
THESE jobs and careers are more concrete than those in above the line...mainly because they are jobs based on more established disciplines adapted to film work..BUT they don't pay nearly as much..still good pay but not the potential millions you'd get ABOVE the line.
DPs can translate to still photography. Camera apertures and lighting changes are the same or similar...the BEST DPs (IMO) came from still photography careers.
Gaffers and grips are basically electricians and carpenters (very mechanically inclined and hands on)
Composers are songwriters and musicians (everyone needs music in damn near anything in life.)
Art Director can be analogous to a interior decorator or designer as well as advertising executive (depending on the project).
The chances of working more here are better because these positions are the foundation upon which the directors and actors stand. Plus their unions are tied to more established TRADE unions..(AFL-CIO etc..)
5. SHOULD YOU GO TO A FILM SCHOOL? -Film Studies is cool..learn the history and craft of the career you want but if you want to be a filmmaker SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT...Practice how to tell a SUCCINCT story through moving pictures. Study how the greats did it and STEAL FROM THEM...don't feel bad EVERYONE STEALS TECHNIQUES in film making..Scorsese will tell you that.
TRIVIA: the motion picture camera was invented in the 1880s... by 1930s every basic camera trick (double exposure, split screen, deep focus, jump-cuts etc) you can think of was done..so don't think you're discovering something new...
6. I'M IN SCHOOL MAJORING IN SOMETHING ELSE BUT WANT TO MAKE A CAREER CHANGE...how do you tell your parents?? How old are you? If you're over 21...how do you tell them you drink? or have sex? or do anything an adult has the right to do? Have a GAME PLAN and some CONCRETE ideas of what you want to do...don't make it sound like a whim..these are very REAL careers so act like it is...
film making is more about skill and experience than how many degrees you have.
Don't get me wrong..I'm not against education but a potential employer on a shoot is going to be looking for what you can DO. A degree looks impressive but given a choice an employer is going to hire the person with 10, 20+ actual JOBS under his belt with SOME college education than the guy with 3 degrees and 1 or 2 jobs..again we're talking ON THE CREW.
Now as you get into the BUSINESS side or the technical side in terms of editing where EVERYTHING is computers then yes an employer is going to be looking for someone with a certain amount of formal education.
Personally while I'm for education..I'm more about the actual hands on nitty gritty..after a while that undergrad and grad school stuff just begins to come off like "professional student" shit where your in school an additional 6, 8 YEARS before even starting the actual work.
I would use school more for contacts and access to equipment...unless you already have high end digital or film cameras and lights and grip equipment or know someone who does that's the only place where you can get any kind of access to stuff like that.
Plus..the part about earning pennies...
The nature of the industry is feast and famine..that's the reality. don't look at the most successful people and think that's whats going to happen to you..the reality is not everyone can be a superstar..
Even tho you may want to BE Coppola the odds are high you won't...BUT that doesn't mean can't work WITH (in another capacity) or FOR Coppola and still make a good living.
I worked in the accounting dept on National Treasure and saw the budget breakdown for the cast and crew..
That movie's budget was like 100-120 million..and those fuckers SPENT 100 MILLION dollars. Before that I worked low budget indys were lunch was pizza or chinese..On this shoot they had a chef on the set who served filet mignon with bearnaise sauce and lobster tail...thats right surf and fuckin turf...
The assistants for nick cage was making 2500 A WEEK plus per diem..
various other assistants and glorified entourage (as far as i could tell) was getting paid 50 and up bucks an HOUR thousands a WEEK..
they get to travel all expenses paid they get to hang out with the stars (nick cage is skinny as fuck..no taller than 5'5 with a BIG HEAD..Harvey Keitel was cool and short as well..lol) and DON'T have to deal with bullshitty side of celebrity..the paparazzi and shit.
BUT the down side was that the acct dept was running behind so a lot of the crew didn't get paid for in some cases 3 WEEKS..they got caught up eventually but that's how it went.
But my point is DON'T expect a 9 to 5 steady check.. you may...no let me change that to WILL have to supplement your income in some other way at times..ESPECIALLY starting out.
SOME WEBSITES TO CONSIDER IN GETTING STARTED:
feel free to add if you know more...