What film school doesn't teach you... but it's ok

For those who don’t know, I am on a masters film production course. And whilst I absolutely adore my course and the people, there is just one thing that I wish could be different.

And the problem is, it is something very simple. But it is also somewhat difficult to put into action. It is also something that is a never ending theme of today’s working world.

That thing, is gaining experience. You hear in all kinds of career paths “You need experience for the job, but you need the job for experience” and when it comes to working in the film industry, truer words were never spoken.

I had the opportunity to work as a 2nd AC for a short film the other weekend. First of all, yippee for the fact I was called to work that job! My first ACTUAL job working as crew on set! I was extremely excited. I got the call at 10pm to work the following day at 7am but I was so happy I didn’t care!

For those who aren’t exactly sure of the role of a 2nd AC is to do the clapperboard for the start of takes, help the 1st AC and DoP with changing lenses, moving cables, setting up lights etc.

When I arrived to the set at 6:45am the next day, I was bursting with energy. I had had a coffee by this point and had calmed my nerves. But little did I know, I was a little too enthusiastic about being on board the team. As a person, I am very much a “help where you can” type. Call it one of my ‘people pleasing’ qualities but I like to get stuck in and help out. Makes the jobs go by faster!

So the first couple hours are going by and I have already helped with moving the camera and lighting gear to and fro the car to the venue, and once inside I had a minor panic. I had no idea what I should do next. I basically looked like a deer in headlights. I walked from one end of the room and back so many times I’m surprised I didn’t leave a trail in the floor from my walking. That’s how eager but clueless I was to help out.

As the day goes by, I felt like I was finally getting into the swing of things. Filming was under way and the ball was really rolling, and the script was hilarious so I finally started to ease up.

Now, here is where the true question comes in. ‘Was I right in this scenario?’ Let me explain…

For this particular scene, there were children on set. Cute kids, I’ll give them that. One of the kids had chocolate milk in their cup and while waiting for the camera to be moved and lighting to be rearranged, I went to have idle chit chat with the mother and the kids, mostly because I find the actors easier to talk to and I wanted to make sure they were doing ok. The mother asks me if I can get the child some more chocolate milk- NOT A TERRIBLE THING TO ASK OF SOMEONE! So with that, I go to pick up the carton, filled the kids cup, and as I turn around the ONLY OTHER WOMAN ON THE CREW TEAM aka the Production Designer, is standing in front of me with a face like she had been slapped. She takes the carton from me and says “just to let you know, next time you want to do something like this you need to ask me. Just focus on things in your own department”

Basically, I got an earful because I moved this woman’s chocolate milk carton (which WASN’T on set) and that clearly meant I was intruding by getting involved in her part of the production. It’s not as if I moved the actual set but ok…

No, sweetheart. I wasn’t trying to be in your department. Don’t you worry. But that made me wonder “oh my god, am I trying to be too helpful?” I had just been told off for doing something I thought was harmless. Maybe I’m in the wrong? Or maybe she is just being uptight? Either way, I steered clear of her the rest of the day. Why is this important to the story? Well, because of this encounter, I kicked myself for being too involved. And this bothered me, and resulted in me questioning all the time if I was doing a good job.

As the day went by, I did feel like I had picked up some skills but as I was walking home at 10pm I went through the events of the day and realised; film school doesn’t really teach you what you need to know for wen you ACTUALLY arrive on set. You don’t get any actual real life experience. Sure, you can use the equipment that they provide you as much as you like, but you are not likely to be the one using a camera when you first go out in the industry. You’ll be working from the bottom. And it is those roles that film school don’t teach you.

As I said before, I love my university. I love my course. I would tell anyone that they should go to film school because it does teach you important things. But when you go out to the actual working world, just give yourself some credit when you kick yourself for not knowing something that can be seen as obvious.

I saw a post on instagram the other week, which had a quote on it. “All famous Directors start somewhere. They don’t just show up and direct a masterpiece” @ifilmhustle

And these words really hit home. It is the same for every sector of the film industry, heck- even in any career, you don’t just show up and do an amazing job. You work on yourself and improve your skills so that you can become the person who creates brilliance.

The DoP at the end of the day came up to me, smile on his face, and said ‘thank you’. He said thank you for coming onto the project so last minute. He was so thankful that I was there, and that I did a great job. I left the shoot with a smile on my own face, because hearing those words made the anxiety-induced chapped lip worth it. (yes, when I get stress or anxious, I lick my lips too much and that results in my lips getting chapped… it’s a curse)

I am so grateful and glad I took on that job, as much as I felt like I was the dumbest person in the room for about 80% of the day, at least I now know what I should do for the next time I get a job on set. And that in itself is valuable. Give yourself credit for the small achievements and look forward to applying them to the next job.

R xoxo