Many people dream of a career in film or television: the glitz, the glamour, getting to work with big stars and seeing their own names in the credits. In practice, though, it’s a demanding industry in which success at any level requires hard work. If you’re serious about wanting to make a go of it, whether as a director, a producer, another crew member, an actor or presenter, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into and what will be expected of you.
You’re constantly under pressure
There is no such thing as a truly stable job in this industry. You are always being judged on your most recent work, and the demands of the market are always changing. This means that there is rarely a time when you can relax and not worry about making an impression – you always need to be at your best. Most job opportunities are project-based and quite short, so you need to do well enough when you’ve got work to compensate for the times when you can’t find any.
You’re frequently asked to do overtime
Everything in the industry depends on bringing projects in on time. In live television, the show must go on as they say, no matter how many extra hours need to be put in ahead of time to make that happen. Elsewhere, the pressure to meet deadlines can mean very long shifts. Although joining a union can provide some protection where this is concerned, getting a reputation for refusing to work additional hours will still damage your job prospects. You will probably also find that you don’t want to be the one letting the side down.
You need to put the project first
Because of the importance of bringing the project safely to fruition, you’ll often have to prioritize it over your own needs, whether you’re pushing against exhaustion in order to finish a scene or taking off your coat in a hailstorm to use it to shield the camera. Obviously, this should not mean compromising your personal safety or putting up with harassment, but this is not an industry in which you can afford to make a fuss about lesser issues. In particular, you’ll need to do the emotional work necessary to overcome personality clashes and maintain your professional demeanor under stress.
It’s physically and intellectually demanding
Whether you’re an actor holding the same awkward pose for take after take or a boom operator clinging to a rig to get perfect position, filming is often a physically demanding process. It’s also one in which there are always new problems to solve, so you’ll need to stay creative and be ready to innovate no matter how long you’ve been on your feet. The mental aspect can be a lot more tiring than most people anticipate, and not just for those high up in the hierarchy on set.
With great power comes great responsibility
Whether you’re making thought-provoking documentaries like those of Katharina Otto-Bernstein or light comedies like those of Garry Marshall, you will always be having a social and political impact on the public. The same is true in television, and especially in news and current affairs. This means that you will face ethical concerns, which can bring a lot of pressure of their own to bear, and sometimes you will be faced with difficult decisions. You will need to be tough to stand up for what you believe in, and you will need to be able to face the fact that sometimes there are no easy solutions.
You need to be patient
If you’re a dynamic individual who is passionate about making things happen, the above might not sound so bad to you – and, indeed, a lot of people enjoy the challenge. What you might find harder in that case, though, is all the waiting. There is often a lot of time spent sitting about on set, waiting for things to happen. When a project is complete, you’ll often have to wait months or even years for it to come to the screen. You’ll also have downtime when you’re stuck waiting for another opportunity to come along.
You’ll often be working on several projects at once
The trick to reducing time spent waiting is to be working on several projects at once. In the case of movies, for instance, most professionals aim to have one in development, one in production and one they’re promoting at any given time. This is hard work, but it does allow for some switching between projects when stuck in a rut on one. You’ll also be able to transfer skills, and sometimes people, from one project to another.
Tough as it is, the film and TV industry is something people fall in love with. Once you’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else, and the toughness of it is part of the reason for that. Success must be earned. When you achieve it – whatever it means to you – you’ll find that nothing else in the world is as satisfying.