It takes a lot of time and work to shoot a feature film. But even when all the filming is done, the movie is only half-way through its path to be a finished product. The other half usually happens inside a post production house, where different departments work in synergy to put video and sound together into a blockbuster.
If you think post-production is the right path for you, here are the first steps to make your way into this world.
Figure out which department you want to work in
Most post-production companies structure their organisations (hence, human resources) along three main departments: Production, Editing and Sound. The first step, which you’ve probably already taken, is deciding which one of these is the right fit for you, depending on what you want your daily job to be like. Here’s an idea:
Don’t want to go through film school? Here are three career paths that might just suit you.
We all know how hard it can be to get your dream job in the industry. Most roles require specific education or training courses and, maybe most importantly, a great professional network within the sector. As a very diversified work environment though, there are a few jobs that actually require skills and knowledge from sectors which are completely tangential to film and TV.
The three career paths we selected in this article do not require any specific knowledge of directing, acting, screenwriting or editing, but nonetheless they can be very rewarding and well paid.
Be on time
Always plan to be on set 15 minutes before you are actually supposed to be there, so that, worst case scenario, you will end up being delayed by something unexpected but still be on time to start working. Remember that by being late, you slow down the whole production process, and especially for small productions, seizing every hour of shooting is crucial.
Bring your own tools
A lot of inexperienced ACs spend their whole first job asking other assistants to borrow gear and tools. While obviously it will take you a few years of practice (and savings) to put together a complete toolset, starting with bringing the basics with you will make you look reliable and committed. These basics may include screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, wrenches, hex keys, markers, measuring tape, a flashlight, along with all the gear to keep cameras and lenses clean.
Always take care of the equipment on set
Whether it’s about lowering the camera on the tripod while it’s not being used, or covering the gear from the rain as the sky gets cloudy, doing everything in your power to make sure all of the equipment gets to the end of the day in perfect condition is your main responsibility. By doing so, not only will you help the production save money by avoiding expensive repairs, but you also show your professionalism and trustworthiness.
The production office, taking care of all the administrative side of films and TV production, is run by the Production Co-Ordinator, who acts as a reference point for the rest the crew before and during production.
What is the Job?
Immediately after the beginning of pre-production, the Production Co-Ordinator sets up the production office, taking care of providing equipment and supplies, as well as hiring staff. Then they proceed to organise travel, accommodation, paperwork (work permits and visa), crew and cast lists, and script editing and revision.
During shooting, they deal with day to day updates such as crew and cast list changes, call sheets, script edits and so on. They check the transport requirements for the day and make sure everything is delivered on set on time.
Being a Production Assistant is often the first step you take in the film industry. It can take you far, but it can also be hard. Here’s what you should avoid at all costs:
1. Showing up late
PAs are supposed to be the first ones on set, ready to get help (or breakfast) for whoever is in need. Moreover, this is your chance to show that you are a hard worker and slowing down the whole working day because you slept through your alarm is a really bad first impression. However, accidents can happen and if you have a good reason for being late and cannot possibly avoid it, then call and let them know.
2. Disappearing on set
Whether you need a smoke break or a quick run to the loo, the ADs and the rest of the crew is counting on your presence and help on set, so if you need to leave for a couple of minutes it is absolutely necessary to communicate it. Just make sure it’s not a time where you are needed and say you are going on a quick break on the walkie. Carry the walkie with you at all times and always let others know you got their message.
The Music Editor curates all of the music featured in a production, including the soundtrack, any music performed within the scenes, and the score – produced by the film Composer.
What is the Job?
The Music Editor’s job usually begins during the picture editing process. Working closely with the Picture Editor, they develop a temporary score, made up of sourced music, which gives both the Editor and the Composer a broad template and a basic idea of what the final result will be.
They then attend a Spotting Session with the Director, Picture Editor, Music Supervisor, Producer and Composer. The purpose of this Session is to identify all the music cue points and produce a written template to start composing the score, and possibly a Cue Breakdown.
Music Editors have to keep the Composer updated on any changes in the picture editing, as they may influence the composition itself. They are responsible for designing a click track for the film, to be used during the recordings to help musicians keep the right tempo and be perfectly in sync with the picture. They attend all of the recording sessions to make any last-minute changes and to supervise the final result.
1st ADs act as the intermediary between the Director and the cast and crew, but they are also responsible for coordinating the whole production activity and providing the production office with regular updates from the shoot.
What is the Job?
After going through the script, together with the Director, the First Assistant Director is in charge of creating the filming schedule, which has to take into account the availability of cast and crew involved, script coverage, budget and all other details of the production, making the 1st AD a key person in any production.
For the rest of pre-production, Firsts oversee and check that all the necessary duties and tasks to prepare and organise shoots have been carried out.
During production, it is their responsibility to make sure everything runs smoothly and on time. This involves making sure that every cast and crew member is on standby and ready during shoots, driving forward the team to ensure that deadlines are respected, control discipline on set and prepare the so-called “call sheet”, which includes all the details for each day’s shoot, such as locations, time schedule, cast, scenes etc.
A lot of film productions, depending on the genre and the setting, rely on their costume department for an accurate representation of the setting, period and story. For this reason, the department involves many different roles and a variety of tasks that need to be smoothly carried out during pre-production.
Costume Assistants take care of lots of smaller, daily, or last-minute tasks to help Costume Designers complete their job with the best possible result. This entry-level job is also the perfect way to kickstart a career in the Costume Department.
What is the Job?
Costume Assistants help Costume Designers break down the script, in order to identify all the costumes needed by different characters throughout the story. They also assist in research into clothing styles, design and fabrication methods.
Any production needs plenty of props, materials and supplies to decorate sets and locations. All of these items need to be recorded in a database which is needed both for budgeting and for practical reasons – for example, if the production needs to buy the same items again. Assistant Production Buyers are responsible for buying the supplies and also updating the aforementioned databases.
What is the Job?
Assistant Production Buyers are only employed in big budget productions and generally start working a month after the Set Decorator. The Set Decorator and the Production Buyer will give them instruction on what to buy, but they may also carry out tasks for other departments as well.
The work itself mainly consists of visiting a variety of specialised shops and suppliers in order to source the required items, decide where and in what quantity to buy them and then record every expense on the database, in order for the Production Buyer to monitor the budget.
During the Audio Post Production, Sound Editors need a huge quantity of sound effects, recordings, voiceover and music tracks to compose a film’s soundtrack. Audio/Dubbing Assistants help them source and sort these materials.
What is the Job?
Audio/Dubbing Assistants set up and take care of the maintenance of all audio suites.
They assist during voiceover or sound recordings and locate and source all sound effects required by Sound Editors.
They import any relevant music files, and after gathering all the required media they log and store tapes, recordings or files after labelling them.
Often working for Audio Post Production Houses (only big Post-Production companies have their own sound department), they work closely with Picture and Sound Editors, as well as Edit Assistants.
It is also the Audio Assistants responsibility to help solve any unforeseen issues that occurs in the studio, from buying replacement equipment to troubleshooting software errors.