Going to college to study film production is an incredibly unique experience. Your major classes tend not to be focused on reading texts, writing essays or studying, but analyzing films, knowing the business of the entertainment industry and managing actual student films. A lot of time, money and effort is put into student films. If you ever find yourself working on one, there are several things to know and keep in mind if you want to make the most of your time on set.
Do you remember shooting short films with your friends with your little DV camera? Fun times where you just fooled around, right? Well, for student films, things are significantly different. It takes a long time to set up shots. This is mostly due to lighting. If you ever shot any footage on a home camcorder, you will notice people in the background, or even in the foreground, whose faces are so dark you cannot even identify them. This does not slide on a professional or student film. Thanks to the constant need to set up shots and having to do several takes, you can expect a single day on set of a student film to be about twelve hours. It will be less if you are lucky, but many films can go past twelve hours. If you can volunteer to work on a night shoot, go for it because, thanks to the sun, the director has no choice but to call it a day once morning breaks. Speaking of volunteering…
You Will Not Get Paid
Never say never, but you will likely work on dozens on student films and never get paid. Admittedly, it depends on how important you are to the production, but keep this in mind: if you are working on a student film, you are likely only a student or a beginner at your job on set. In addition, student filmmakers are already spending plenty of money on other aspects of production. There is little money to spend on an inexperienced college sophomore who is spending their Saturday as a production assistant. On the bright side, these films can be used as portfolio pieces and provide valuable experience. It is a step you have to take in order to work on the big stuff later on so do not be an ingrate if the benefits of working on a student film do not immediately present themselves. Speaking of ingrates…
Egos, Egos, Egos…
Do not have a bad attitude on set. There will probably be too many people on set who are already in a bad mood. And that is understandable. The student director is pressured because they want their production to become a respectable film. The crew are students who are stressed because it is 4 a.m. on a Sunday and they have a test in their 8 a.m. non-film class. No matter how much red bull they pump into their system (not recommended), everyone will be exhausted. Contribute to a better environment on set and stay positive. It will be good training for when you work on professional films.
Pace Yourself for Multiple Days
Very few student films can be done in the course of one day. There are lots of scenes to shoot and they may be at different locations. The difference between working one twelve hour day and two is significant. Your fatigue from the previous day will build up. If the student director is responsible when it comes to scheduling, you will get at least a twelve hour break between the end of one day and the start of the next. Make sure you get enough rest so you can give your best effort for the next few days.
Take Advantage of Down Time
Depending on your job, you may have periods where little is expected of you. For example, if you are in charge of production sound, the time where everyone is busily and nosily setting up for the next shot can give you a break. As it has been stated, if you are working on a student film, there is a good chance you are a student yourself. Bring a textbook and notes so you can study for class. You may find you study more, knowing your study time is limited and precious, than if you had spent the entire weekend in your room with the television blaring. In addition, if you can do something helpful while on set that pertains to your job, then do it. And if you have no other options, strike up a conversation with someone else who is not busy. Film school is about networking and you will discover that other film students are pretty cool.
You will be surprised how poor your diet will be during a student film. It will be made known beforehand if lunch will be provided or not, but even if you are given a meal, it is hard to resist the table of chips and candy the director bought for their crew. Over the course of twelve hours, your gut will be filled with red vines, soda and tortilla chips. It will feel unpleasant. If you can, bring healthy snacks to eat. At the very least, drink water instead of soda.
Work on a Lot of Films
Student films are all about gaining experience. It will be the most valuable thing that will come out of the entire production. If you think you are working twelve hours because the resulting movie will be a masterpiece, do not hold your breath. Most student films are not that great, but if your resume shows you have a lot of experience, it will do more for you than the student who sat on the couch and watched movies all weekend, believing that is all it takes to think up the next big hit.