How To Get Ahead

Professional development is an important part of the guild’s activities. A number of the opportunities have limits on participants, so we are constantly having to screen applications and respond to questions about what’s required, and “Why wasn’t I successful?”

While there are many factors that come into play when decisions are made by us, and those who help us select or who do the choosing for us, the two key questions that are first asked are: “What has the person done?” and “How good was it?”

The screen industry is all about turning out product, whether it be a video, documentary, commercial, TV episode, film, web series or other. At the bottom end it can be an audio-visual sausage, at the top end a piece of art. Intellectualism can have a big part to play, or not as Michael Bay has proved, but success comes firstly from creating the product, and then is hopefully followed by critical acclaim, box office success, increased sales, high ratings or whatever else is the measure that defines that particular product’s success or failure.

What strikes me with the screen industry is that it’s in the doing rather than in the knowing that success comes.

Recently, we had a Collaborators Series event at which director Lee Tamahori spoke. And last night I attend the NZ Cinematographers Society’s event with cinematographer Michael Seresin. Both are highly acclaimed internationally for their work. I was struck by the similarities between the two. But even more so by how they got into the industry—at the bottom. Lee was given a job by Don Reynolds as a boom operator even though he admitted he didn’t know what a boom operator did. Michael’s father got him a job with John O’Shea at Pacific Films as a gopher to save him from a wayward lifestyle. Both worked their way up with no film school education or knowledge of the industry to being at the top of their careers internationally by being on-set, being smart and doing it. Their learning came on the job.

Before film schools came along, TVNZ and the National Film Unit were the training grounds for people aspiring to careers in the screen industry. People learned there by doing.

Today, with education a massive business, we have courses, diplomas and degrees for people wanting a career in the industry.

I was asked a week or so ago to attend an industry focus group organised by an educational institution that is looking to respond to the industry by shaping their screen degree for the future, and melding it in a way that responds best to industry needs. Admirable.

But as often happens when seasoned industry people sit around and discuss work opportunities for new people entering, it wasn’t long before moans about the attitudes of film and media school graduates surfaced. Most criticisms centre on the sense of entitlement graduates have with their piece of paper in hand, which to most of those there means little or nothing. Getting in and doing it with smarts and a proactive, can-do approach on even the lowliest of tasks still counts over a formal screen education it seems. Just like Lee and Michael and many others in the screen industry have done as they worked their way to lofty heights and good pay packets from the bottom of the ladder.

Old school attitude. Sure. But one that still matters when it comes to those hiring and firing in the industry today. Which brings me back to the guild’s professional development programme.

Thanks to the New Zealand Film Commission, we offer a comprehensive professional development programme with a wide variety of opportunities. We have added to this with our latest Drama Director Attachment initiative, supported by NZ On Air and local drama production companies. We hope in the future to offer others.

These are presented by people in the industry doing it. Passing on skills and knowledge—much of it practical— that many of them use on a daily basis.

We always get a good response to our professional development opportunities. But we’d like to see more. It shows to our funders that what we are doing offers real value. And we believe they bring real value to the participants who can leverage off the learning experiences to help them go further with their career and next project.

Formal education does have its place these days. Our professional development programme goes a few steps further we feel. But it’s hard to go past the Nike maxim in the screen industry. Doing it really does count. Making it good, even better.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director