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How do I Get a Foot in the Door of Post-Production in the UK?
“How do I get a foot in the door of the UK’s post-production industry?” It’s a question I get asked a great deal, and answering it never gets easier – because there really is no surefire way of cracking the post-production egg. So many factors come into play – your personality, your background, your aspirations, your appetite for risk – that it would be impossible to write a definitive rulebook. But if you have a genuine passion for film and for music (and are not afraid of serious hard work) it’s a very rewarding place to be.
So here, from my position as an industry insider, are the things I consider to be most important. Be warned: some aspects of my advice might be surprising, some might be downright unpalatable, and some might be a complete contradiction to what your careers advisor has suggested. But remember – I was once just like you, and it is only through trial and error that I have got to where I am today.
Enthusiasm from an early age
When it comes to your CV, I’m much less interested in the paper-round you did as a teenager or the pint-pulling job you had at Uni than I am in the fact that you were experimenting with music before you reached double figures. If you have been writing music since you got your very first PC (or in my case, my first 4-track cassette multitrack), say so. Perhaps you get involved with running the sound for your school production, or DJ-ed at your college prom? However crap you think your first musical endeavours were, stick them down on your CV: I need to feel your enthusiasm and see the evidence that you love to experiment and learn. I would be more interested to read a list of your production credits (student films, amateur gigs, local music productions) than a list of part-time ‘real jobs’ that have no relevance to post-production or the music industry. Essentially, I want evidence that you can solve problems artistically and technically.
If you want to get into post-production, naturally, a relevant degree or a film school qualification is a massive bonus, as is a good credit list. Even if you are or are not in that position, one of the best things you can do is:
Get into Post-production by Finding Yourself a Running Position in a Post House
There are countless post-production houses out there; from small outfits with just a couple of sound editors through to full-service shooting facilities with picture, sound and manufacturing capabilities. Any and all of these could provide you with invaluable experience. Check out The Knowledge , KFTV (formerly Kemps) or other lists and blogs such as this one in Televisual.
The Holy Grail is to find a post house that gets a diverse range of clients through its doors, i.e. producers, directors, editors and artists. The more exposure you have to a wide range of professionals, the better.
As a runner, you’ll be asked to do a wide range of things that seem to have nothing to do with music or post-production – but don’t kid yourself by thinking that making tea is beneath you. We all started out this way. Make lots of it, and make it well. Don’t forget how people take their coffee, or what kind of croissants they prefer. It sounds really base but it’s a first step in showing that you have attention to detail. An eye and an ear for detail as well as the ability to look at the broader picture is absolutely key in our industry: after all, film is all about telling 2-hour stories through a series of details.
If you want to get into post-production as a runner, be prepared to work for very little money, if any – but remember that a reputable company should be able to afford to pay their runners. Don’t be taken for a ride. If you are asked to work for free, perhaps do it for as long as you can stomach: a couple of weeks might be all you need to make a couple of contacts and a bit of relevant experience.
Be Persistent but don’t be a Pain
The post-production industry is as much knowing when NOT to say something as it is about knowing WHEN to say something. It is an intuition we’ve developed over many years of experience, and some of us still haven’t learned it.
Once you’ve gotten a running job, don’t immediately introduce yourself to a client or editor and tell them that you want to get into their profession. You won’t impress – you’ll piss them off. Guaranteed. Work quietly and efficiently, joining in where appropriate in a friendly manner, but know when to back off. Think of it like a courtship: look too keen and you may stuff your chances; look disinterested and you may also stuff your chances. Show your personality in a quietly confident way and be interested in a project… even if you’re not interested. Most of all, stick at it – just because one person can’t offer you a job assisting them on their next project does not mean that the next person won’t.
Like many things in life, the film post-production industry and our relationships within it revolve to a great extent around luck. You can meet an editor, director or composer quite by chance and end up working with them on project after project. This happens to us all, and continues to happen today. I have many stories about being in the right place at the right time, and I’m hoping to continue collecting them.
Crucially though, it’s what you do with those opportunities when you’re lucky enough to find one. If you get a break and a post pro asks you help him or her out with a task, make sure that you FULLY understand what it is you’re being asked to do. Ask any questions and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know how to do something. It may take two minutes for him or her to explain a process, but that could be the key to you not cocking up the task. Listen, comprehend, write things down, concentrate – and if you do it well, you could find yourself doing that task again and again; for the same person and then for their colleagues. It all begins from there.
Everyone’s path into post-production is different. Everyone has a different story to tell. But there are crucial common elements: hard work and quiet persistence. If any of the above doesn’t look attractive or looks like too much of a challenge to you then please reconsider your career path right now. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
So here’s something that’s been on my Pro-Tools wish-list for a very long time. I’ve made half-hearted attempts to convince my friends at Avid to at least consider this mod to Pro-Tools, but perhaps I need to come up with a more comprehensive argument.
Consider this scenario. You’re in a dubbing theatre on a final mix. Your director has just asked you to cut a particular sound out of a stem so you’ve asked for “30 Seconds” and you’ve jumped into headphones world whilst the runner takes tea orders from everyone else.
You’ve solo’ed the offending stem and duly chopped it. Sounds great in solo. You quickly un-solo, listen to the change in the context of the entire cue and you decide to make a further small adjustment, so you go back into solo on the stem, finesse it in seconds and then whip off your cans and proclaim to the room that you’re ready.
The mixer rolls forward, all the pro-tools chase, but of course you’ve left the damn solos in on the stem you were working on. Music sounds shit, you look stupid. Only a little bit, but if you keep on doing it you can become annoying.
I’ve conditioned myself to make damn sure I don’t make this rookie error but once in a blue moon I do and it damn near kills me. Call me a sensitive soul but I take it to heart – I’m a creative person, that’s what i do!
So what I’m proposing is a special solo mode, only selectable in Pro-tools’ Preferences and is set to “off” by default. It would only be active when the machine is online and prone to go into play on receipt of timecode. What it would do is immediately cancel all solos when it receives code and goes into play.
Simple. The editor saves face, the dub saves seconds (yes, I know its a second but they do add up) and everyone is just a little bit happier.
It may not seem like a massive deal but I’ve seen it happen countless times to editors of all disciplines. It can also leave mixers scratching their heads as to why the effects for example aren’t playing correctly when all the busses say otherwise.
Solo Face-Saving Mode. There you have it.