Thoughts on a train

I’m on a train heading towards London and back to my old school. I’m going to a careers evening. I’m not really sure why, as I notice from the school website that most will go to university to study traditional subjects, and those that will express an interest in film will come to it later, once they’ve done a ‘proper’ degree. I was inundated with students when I spoke two years ago, and it seems no-one went on the filmic path. How inspirational I am. I always feel awkward at these events, as the only two contexts where the word ‘career’ is used is ‘careers evening’ and ‘the car careered into the wall’. Swerving uncontrollably. How fitting.

I’ve written loads on this blog and for other blog authors about the educational approaches to film. I hope that some of these students will bring whatever expertise they learn in their respective degrees and bring it to the film ‘industry’ if that is where they choose to end up. The evidence so far is that they don’t. What actually happens is that they do a ‘proper’ degree and then segue into filmmaking for shits and giggles. I remember working with one sound engineer with a history degree from Bath who distorted all of the audio footage by overcooking the signal from the mixer. He was such a darling that they promoted him to producer. I’m not joking. The sad feeling in the rest of the UK is that if you can’t afford to live on £15k in London or have a parent to subsidise you, you won’t be working in the film industry.

Why would you need a degree to work in this field? Well, ethics would be one really valuable lesson. If only the journalists and editors that hacked phones had thought ethically. Ethics should be at the core of any research project in any degree subject, but it’s hard to apply it to your career, when you are like a car, swerving into a wall. Most people attend university to study film to get a bit of nepotism where they didn’t already have some. Hopefully the critical mass of people that graduate means that you can slipstream behind your mates. This is how I got my first three jobs.

But my personal belief is that the reason for studying film at university is because you can experiment in a safe environment that industry doesn’t provide. The film industry isn’t very innovative at all. It is still organised in the same way that it was 100 years ago and Hollywood is getting buggered by piracy in the same way that they originally buggered Edison, moving to Hollywood to avoid paying his East Coast patent royalties. Touché. My time in university was spent working on as many films as possible and trying to make my mistakes in a safe place. We call it ‘learning’. University and school isn’t about preparing you for industry, it is about empowering you as a person. If it was about preparing you for industry, we’d teach you how to hack phones and screw your mates over.

So, my advice for people who want to appear in the film industry at some point, do your film degree, not your physics/maths/history degree. It’s not about being a specialist, it’s about being a knowledgeable, well rounded person who brings the weight of their enthusiasm and passion for a subject and takes it to new and exciting places. Three years in university studying film means you bathed in it, celebrated it, understood it. My advice on a career’s evening: if  you’re looking for a job, find something that pays more money and doesn’t drive you into the ground. If you’re looking for a career, in the sense of a life that handles like an uncontrollable car, choose film. And do a film degree to act as your seatbelt.


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