The length of the credits at the end of most feature films and television programs gives an idea of the variety of workers involved in producing and distributing films. The motion picture industry employs workers in every major occupational group. Professionals and related workers account for about 3 in 10 salaried jobs in the industry. More than 1 in 4 salaried workers hold jobs in service occupations.
Jobs in the industry can be broadly classified according to the three phases of filmmaking: Preproduction, production, and postproduction. Preproduction is the planning phase, which includes budgeting, casting, finding the right location, preparing and approving the set and costume design, construction the set, and scheduling. Production is the actual making of the film. The number of people involved in the production phase can vary from a few, for a documentary film, to hundreds, for a feature film. It is during this phase that the actual filming is done. Postproduction activities take place in editing rooms and recording studios, where the film is shaped into its final form.
Some individuals work in all three phases. Producers, for example, are involved in every phase, from beginning to end. These workers look for ideas that they believe can be turned into lucrative film projects or television shows. They may see many films, read hundreds of manuscripts, and maintain numerous contacts with literary agents and publishers. Producers are also responsible for all of the financial aspects of a film, including finding financing for its production. The producer works closely with the director on the selection of the script, the principal members of the cast, and the filming locations, because these decisions greatly affect the cost of a film. Once financing is obtained, the producer works out a detailed budget and sees to it that the production costs stay within that budget. In a large production, the producer also works closely with production managers, who are in charge of crews, travel, casting, and equipment. For television shows, much of this process requires especially tight deadlines.
Directors translate the script to film and also are involved in every stage of production. They may supervise hundreds of people, from screenwriters to costume and set designers. Directors are in charge of all technical and artistic aspects of the film or television show. They conduct auditions and rehearsals and approve the location, scenery, costumes, choreography, and music. In short, they direct the entire cast and crew during shooting. Assistant directors help them with such details as handling the transportation of equipment, arranging for food and accommodations, and hiring performers who appear in the film, but have no lines. Some directors assume multiple roles, such as director-producer or writer-producer-director. Successful directors must know how to hire the right people and create effective teams.
Preproduction occupations. Before a film or a television program moves into the production phase, it begins with an idea that screenwriters turn into a script. They either develop an original idea or take an existing literary work and adapt it into a screenplay or television pilot (a sample episode of a proposed television series). Screenwriters work closely with producers and directors. Sometimes they prepare a “shooting script,” which has instructions pertaining to shots, camera angles, and lighting. Frequently, screenwriters make changes to reflect the directors’ and producers’ ideas and desires. The work, therefore, requires not only creativity, but also an ability to write and rewrite many versions of a script under pressure. Although the work of feature film screenwriters generally ends when shooting begins, writing for television usually is a continuous process.
Art directors design the physical environment of the film or television set to create the mood called for by the script. Television art directors may design elaborate sets for use in situation comedies or commercials. They supervise many different people, including illustrators, scenic designers, model makers, carpenters, painters, electricians, laborers, set decorators, costume designers, and makeup and hairstyling artists. These positions can provide an entry into the motion picture industry. Many start in such jobs in live theater productions and then move back and forth between the stage, film, and television.
Production occupations. Actors entertain and communicate with the audience through their interpretation of dramatic or comedic roles. Only a small number achieve recognition in motion pictures or television. Many are cast in supporting roles or as walk-ons. Some start as background performers with no lines to deliver. Also called “extras,” these are the people in the background-crowds on the street, workers in offices, or dancers at a ball. Others perform stunts, such as driving cars in chase scenes or falling from high places. Although a few actors find parts in feature films straight out of drama school, most support themselves by working for many years outside of the industry. Most acting jobs are found through an agent, who finds auditions that may lead to acting assignments.
Cinematographers, camera operators, and gaffers work together to capture the scenes in the script on film. Cinematographers compose the film shots to reflect the mood the director wishes to create. They do not usually operate the camera; instead, they plan and coordinate the actual filming. Camera operators handle all camera movements and perform the actual shooting. Assistant camera operators check the equipment, load the camera, operate the slate and clapsticks (now electronic) used to record the beginning of a scene, and take care of the equipment. Commercial camera operators specialize in shooting commercials. This experience translates easily into documentary work. Gaffers, or lighting technicians, set up different kinds of lighting needed for filming. They work for the director of photography, who plans all lighting needs. Sound engineering technicians, film recordists, and boom operators record dialogue, sounds, music, and special effects during the filming. Sound engineering technicians are the “ears” of the film, supervising all sound generated during filming. They select microphones and the level of sound from mixers and synthesizers to assure the best sound quality. Recordists help to set up the equipment and are in charge of the individual tape recorders. Boom operators handle long booms with microphones that are moved from one area of the set to another. Because more filming is done on location and the equipment has become compact, lighter, and simpler to operate, one person often performs many of the preceding functions.
Multimedia artists and animators create the movie “magic.” Through their imagination, creativity, and skill, they can create anything required by the script, from talking animals to flaming office buildings and earthquakes. Many begin as stage technicians or scenic designers. They not only need a good imagination, but also must be part carpenter, plumber, electrician, and electronics expert. These workers must be familiar with many ways of achieving a desired special effect, because each job requires different skills. Computer skills have become very important in this field. Some areas of television and film production, including animation and visual effects, now rely heavily on computer technology. Although there was a time when elaborate computer animation was restricted to blockbuster movies, much of the three-dimensional work being generated today occurs in small to midsized companies. Some specialists create “synthespians”-realistic digital humans-which appear mainly in science fiction productions. These digital images are often used when a stunt or scene is too dangerous for an actor.
Many individuals get their start in the industry by running errands, moving things on the set, and helping with props. Production assistants and grips (stagehands) are often used in this way.
Postproduction occupations. One of the most important tasks in filmmaking and television production is editing. After a film is shot and processed, film and video editors study footage, select the best shots, and assemble them in the most effective way. Their goal is to create dramatic continuity and the right pace for the desired mood. Editors first organize the footage and then structure the sequence of the film by splicing and resplicing the best shots. They must have a good eye and understand the subject of the film and the director’s intentions. The ability to work with digital media also is becoming increasingly important. Strong computer skills are mandatory for most jobs. However, few industrywide standards exist, so companies often look for people with skills in the hardware or software they are currently using.
Assistant editors or dubbing editors select the soundtrack and special sound effects to produce the final combination of sight and sound as it appears on the screen. Editing room assistants help with the splicing, patching, rewinding, coding, and storing of the film. Some television networks have film librarians, who are responsible for organizing, filing, cataloging, and selecting footage for the film editors. There is no one way of entering the occupation of editor; however, experience as a film librarian, sound editor, or assistant editor-plus talent and perseverance-usually help.
Sound effects editors or audio recording engineers perform one of the final jobs in postproduction: Adding prerecorded and live sound effects and background music by manipulating various elements of music, dialogue, and background sound to fit the picture. Their work is becoming increasingly computer driven as electronic equipment replaces conventional tape-recording devices. The best way to gain experience in sound editing is through work in radio stations, with music groups, or in music videos, or by adding audio to Internet sites.
After the film or television show is finished, marketing personnel develop the marketing strategy for the production. They estimate the demand for the film or show and the audience to whom it will appeal, develop an advertising plan, and decide where and when to release the work. Advertising workers, or “unit publicists,” write press releases and short biographies of actors and directors for newspapers and magazines. They may also set up interviews or television appearances for the stars or director to promote a film. Sales representatives sell the finished product. Many production companies hire staff to distribute, lease, and sell their films and made-for-television programs to theater owners and television networks. The best way to enter sales is to start by selling advertising time for television stations.
Large film and television studios are headed by a chief executive officer (CEO), who is responsible to a board of directors and stockholders. Various managers, such as financial managers and business managers, as well as accountants and lawyers, report to the CEO. Small film companies and those in business and educational film production cannot afford to have so many different people managing only one aspect of the business. As a result, they usually are headed by an owner-producer, who originates, develops, produces, and distributes films with just a small staff and some freelance workers. These companies offer good training opportunities to beginners, exposing them to many phases of film and television production.