It’s in the doing

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FITTING INTO THE BIGGER PICTURE: Nico from IntelliLAB giving a master class in lighting to the students at Footprint Media Academy

Ask anyone in the industry what their thoughts are on the topic of training and you’ll find you’ve lifted the lid of a spattering pot full of strong and contradicting opinions.

There are those who feel that a majority of graduates of the content creating variety are ill equipped to take on the title of professional filmmaker. They have too much ego, they have a poor understanding of how their role fits into a bigger production workflow, and they are generalists who are not exposed enough to the full scope of production roles at a foundation level.

These are some of grievances of many of the established players who meet graduates and entry level content producers at the threshold of the professional production industry. Despite these shortcomings there seems to be a consensus and a belief in the talent which exists in our country; creative talent which has the potential to shape fresh perspectives and master new technological tools.

A ticket to ride

From a parent’s perspective tertiary education is a crucial phase in preparing a child for employment opportunities. Having a degree in hand provides school leavers with a greater chance of job security as they set forth to create a livelihood for themselves.

Some argue that a successful career in the artistic realm is less dependent on a qualification and rather on the subject’s innate talent, drive and willingness to gain hands-on experience from a grassroots level.

Natalie Delport, CEO of Sabido eAcademy, says that the question of whether or not the successful pursuit of a career in the film and television industries requires a formal qualification, depends on the specifics of the job or career path in question.

“There are companies who hire based on one’s qualifications and others who hire purely on attitude. However, having a formal qualification could give the person more ‘bargaining power’ with regards to the package.  On the other hand, some companies, mostly the large organisations and government, would only hire employees who have formal and recognised qualifications.“

Animation South Africa chair Nick Cloete believes that tertiary institutions are under a lot of pressure to meet the teaching requirements needed for students to obtain a degree, and that there is a need for a kind of bridging education or incubator process to help graduates refine their respective craft and the skills associated with it.

“Training institutions can only teach so much. They have to make sure their students are technically proficient. They have to finely calibrate their programme to meet a certain score to be able to offer a recognised qualification,” he comments. Eugen Olsen, creative director at Refinery Post Production, adds: “The industry needs generalists with a niche focus..

In addition to the creative aspects of the job – cultivating engaging stories, framing beautiful shots and putting art onto screens – there are some crucial skills that are often overlooked in many traditional training programmes. Concepts like the business and economics of film and delivering a product to market are as – if not more – important in arming oneself for success in the industry.”

“All the decisions you make, from script to screen, are affected by where you are selling your product. You learn those lessons the hard way. It’s important to have a realistic idea of the industry while nurturing your creative dreams,” says Tracey Williams, director of post-production at The Refinery.  This is why so many people involved in content creation are of the opinion that – tertiary education or not – practical experience through internships and mentoring is a fundamental part of attaining the skills, etiquette and professionalism needed to earn a respected place in the industry.

“The best way to help young filmmakers is to allow them the opportunity to make content,” says Harry Hofmeyr, who runs the Maxum Media Accelerator, a hands-on film and TV programme aimed to upskill fledgling start-ups in the industry, run by Urban Brew Studios in collaboration with The Innovation Hub. “They need to pay their dues and make their mistakes.”

Check yourself

Instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in filmmakers as they embark on their journey into the professional world is viewed as a move in the right direction. However, many entry level filmmakers are faced with a healthy serving of humble pie as they step onto set with inflated expectations.

It is widely understood that in most professions the starting block is positioned at the bottom of the pecking order – and the film industry is no different. It is for this reason that Cheryl Delport of Footprint Media Academy says the institution has adjusted the curriculum, which is practically driven, to include aspects such as life skills training and time management.

Delport maintains that equipping students for a career in film or TV means constantly gaining insight from the industry on what skills are needed and these issues have been continuously raised in her feedback with those currently working in the field. Gina Bonmarriage, dean of AFDA Johannesburg, says the institution aims to stay abreast of current industry needs and market gaps through research, links to the industry and a committee of discipline chairs and experts. However there seems to be more collaboration needed if the calibre and capability of graduate film students is to be raised.

A number of industry players cited some in-demand jobs which could benefit learners entering the highly competitive world of production. Editing assistants, production accountants, line producers, location scouts, production managers, compositors and on-set VFX artists were mentioned as being greatly sought after.

Kevan Jones, executive director of SACIA, points out that one of the great challenges facing the broadcast industry at the moment is the lack of people looking to pursue a career in broadcast engineering. According to an IABM report which was compiled based on input from SACIA: “The skills shortages were a consequence of many things, including significant reductions in training provision, dramatic shifts in technology, failure to attract new engineering talent and a lack of clear career paths and professional development for technical staff.”

The report goes on to say that: “The transition away from bespoke hardware to software-enabled products and networks also means there is a continuing need for crossover training and development. In particular, the current ageing population of broadcast engineers needs to develop skills in IT architecture and other technologies if they are to act as mentors and role models for new entrants to the industry.”

It would be valuable for first-year students and entry level filmmakers to understand these needs and gaps in the industry in order to better plan their developmental trajectory and work towards meeting realistic and practical industry deficits.

Sabido eAcademy emphasises the importance of attitude and discipline in preparing young learners for the industry. “No matter where we place our learners, the most important ‘discipline’, is discipline itself,” says Natalie Delport. “That is, punctuality, commitment, respect, integrity… all the life skills competencies that are so often overlooked by the higher education institutions. We teach our learners all aspects of production, and they have to choose a specialisation for assessment. However, since they have been exposed to so much, it’s the learners with the best attitude that get employed. The employers are prepared to train the right learners in the job that they have an opening for. We see this happen all the time.”

Next level

There are no shortcuts. And while institutions may have a responsibility to generate a better dialogue with the industry in order to shape their students more adequately for the turbulent landscape ahead of them, the accountability ultimately lies where it always has – with the individual. There are some qualities, such as problem solving, attention to detail, taking direction and being a team player, that are needed to be a professional in the field of filmmaking. Technical ability can arguably be honed and refined. But the ability to get stuck in where it counts and to soak up any knowledge and experience, in which a burgeoning filmmaker may be gifted, seems to be more valued among the industry workforce than an eloquent CV.

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