New with a few questions

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    • #44558

      Hello everyone!
      My name is Kathleen Erdelyi and I’m a current student at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. I’m currently in my junior year and I’m pursuing a major in Media Communication Technology with a concentration in video production. After graduation, i plan to get a job with a documentary company. I love telling a story, and I would love to be apart of something that could change someone’s life. I have so many questions to people who are currently involved in documentaries, and I was wondering if anyone would like to answer a few questions for me. It would really help provide some insight for me into this career.
      Thank you!
      How did you work your way up to your position?
      Did you have to endure a lot of “slave labor” to get to where you are today?
      Do you feel your schooling providing you with a sufficient background in your field, or did you learn more through experience?
      How reliable is this field?
      Is there room for growth?
      How do you feel is the best way to effectively intern?
      How would you compare working for a small company vs a large corporation?
      Is your job exciting?
      Do you look forward to going to work every morning?
      Do you work in a team, or are you mostly isolated?
      How did you get involved in this field

    • #186584

       Kathleen, You have quite an enthusiatic post. Are you working on a term project? I am sure your questions will draw a very positive reponse from this community. While I can’t speak specificly on the detailed aspect of documentary production you ask about, I can offer the cliched career advice of doing what you love to do. Loving to tell a story and in turn helping change someone’s life would be a great accomplishment. However, as you set out on a career you will probably find yourself doing many detailed tasks that are important to every employer, but not necessarily part of your plan. It will be important that you identify the things that you are good at, come easy to you and help move you toward your goals. You may find that you will need to find your own stories to tell and produce your own documentary to find out what those things are. I am confident there are numerous non-profits that would welcome your volunteering to produce a documentary, even a short one, on their cause. The sooner you start this the sooner you can identify what you will be wanting to do in a job environment. Let me know if you need further thoughts.   

    • #186585


      One of the dark secrets you won’t be told openly in school is, if you want to make documentaries you’ll most likely have to make them yourself. Technically, there’s no such thing as a ‘Documentary Company’. There are however, production companies that make or specialize in documentary work.

      Unless your family is loaded and has tons of connections in the biz, you’re going to need a combination of serious work ethic, enthusiasm, luck and talent in that order. And yes, if you’re trying to make your way into the industry through the ‘front door’ you can expect to fetch a lot of coffee and do tasks that have zero to do with making video or films. But, if you’re paying attention you’ll often be right among the people who do the work and make the whole process feasible. Many famous people in the industry followed that path and many more you’ll never hear about tried it and failed.

      Is the production biz a viable option? No and yes. No if you’ve got ‘pie in the sky’ dreams and a no tolerance for taking a beating. Yes if you can keep your objectives in mind, take the occasional pounding, get up and move forward. Depending where you are, what size market you’re working in and how much you love what you’re doing, Video Production can be one of the most rewarding careers. It will all depend on you.

    • #186586


      Someone (a mentor, I think) once told me that ANY video business was like marriage in that you have to love it to make it work and work at it to feel the love. What Wolfgang said in fewer words πŸ˜‰

      While my primary focus is on individual celebrations of life, I also started a business marketing and branding program that is slowly gaining traction, and it is based on helping people save, preserve and share their favorite stories … mini-documentaries, if you will. See Video StoryTellers!

      Like you, I’ve ALWAYS had an interest in topics, most of them the unique, fascinating or horrific things that happen to, or are caused by people.

      My “documentaries” came from a slightly different focus, however. Initially, I thought I wanted to focus on and specialize on “documentaries” and I elected to pursue this by contacting local groups such as the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and countless others that focus on raising awareness or gaining donations to help find cures for everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.

      When I would read in the newspaper, or discover from the various Twitter sites I “follow” (granted the Twitter thing is more recent than “back in the day”) such as Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, Jaycees and other clubs and organizations about an activity or function they were sponsoring or holding to raise awareness, raise social consciousness or garner donations, I’d get in touch with the local sponsoring chapter and offer to “document” their event, providing them with something they could use to promote the local, regional, or national groups and also promote the same events if annual affairs.

      I did these pro bono (short for pro bono publico … “for the public good”) or for trade in something, or for a reduced rate, for the publicity, etc. My advantage was that I had the equipment, ability and determination to make good my offers to create a documentary of their special events. Nearly every group I approached jumped on this, particularly after seeing examples that proved my abilities.

      I loved doing these. Enjoyed doing them. Still “get off” on the occasional experience I encounter but I’ve become much more selective in what “favorite charities” I support, ME mostly being my favorite charity now.

      The primary reason I backed off is that these groups and organizations, as well-intended as they may be, will eat you alive. They’ll suck every ounce of enthusiasm out of you and keep coming back for more blood because the mindset is to take advantage (not always criminally, but it sometimes seems willful and intentional) of ANY opportunity for free professional services or direct donation. The irony is they often pay professional grant writers to find funds, but will milk other professions of all their altruistic fluids πŸ˜‰

      Don’t let me paint a totally negative picture here. I enjoyed the experiences such as a trip to Catalina Island off the coast of California where I promised and delivered on a crew of five video enthusiasts who collectively acquired great footage that was used to document the local American Lung Association chapter’s Catalina Clean Air Challenge … mountain biking and camping around the island. In return, while the other participants PAID to participate (donations to the cause) my crew was “funded” by the group. We worked our butts off but enjoyed the clean air, the camaraderie, the nighttime and closing social events, meals and more … all the while documenting the efforts and antics from the basic rides to the more challenging steep trails and off-road experiences.

      This brought me additional work from individuals who participated, members of the association who had their own businesses and companies, and a host of personal projects, all paying fairly good money.

      Again, I gained these opportunities and this experience by teaching myself (I have to say I also had a 30-year-plus background in journalism and writing creds and skills that helped me here) video, attending a few local college classes and participating for a few years with the local community television programs that have all but faded away.

      Education is important, but experience is mandatory. Real world experiences and challenges can NEVER be experienced in the classroom. Doing stuff for free can get old and many areas of promise unfortunately fail on the MENTOR SCALE, instead making their interns simple slave labor or go-fers or glorified coffee fetchers, never allowing them near the equipment, the talent or action. There are exceptions but they’re rare and hard to find. Even more, they’re difficult to read accurately. You see nice smiles, gripping handshakes, hear glowing commentary, then walk into a suppressed environment with hectic schedules and daily disasters that are far removed from the glamor and potential you thought might be there.

      I have a tendency toward independent, and I also have a philosophy that things can be “over thought” resulting in loss of opportunity due to no real action being attempted. “Just do it!” is something I say, to myself and others, a lot. I like and prefer being in control of the projects I do, to the extent I can maintain control.

      On the other hand, there is a LOT of work I do in video because I HAVEto in order to make the money that allows me to sometimes do the things I WANT to do in video.

      You HAVE to love it to make it work and you HAVE to work to feel the love.

    • #186587

      Hmm, I thought that was one of my ‘shorter’ breakdowns….

    • #186588

      Here’s the short-form answer to your questions; the long-form would be a book length autobiography.

      I got involved in video because it looked like an interesting medium for my creative interests. I took video production courses at The Ohio State University in 1964 and 1965 after completing an MFA degree in stage directing and working in the professional theatre for several years, studying under a man who was the former director of production at NBC in New York. This qualified me for two years of production work in closed circuit instructional video, where we were on
      the air live, doing three camera shoots from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. 5 days
      a week. I worked 20 hours a week as a cameraman, floor manager, and finally as
      director and producer.

      After leaving the university I never did slave labor or “gofer” work, which I considered then, as now, a waste of time. I understood that I was a beginner in the industry and expected to be treated as such, but fetching coffee wasn’t an option. Young college graduates in finance who go to work in banks start out as tellers, not as coffee runners; people in production should expect no less.

      My career path eventually led to academia, where I continued to work with video, primarily as a producer and later doing research. In 1998 I left the university and began working in my wife’s video production company. In this small company atmosphere — we never have more than two to four employees — I shoot and edit and handle most of the business matters. I look forward to each working day. It’s a great life, bringing me into contact with lots of interesting people and presenting fascinating creative challenges.

      I never worked for a large video production company and I’m not sure I’d want to. The real joy of working in a small company is that you’re constantly using all of your skills, both in interpersonal relations and in video production. In a typical week we may be working with a client who wants to edit old film footage, shooting a talking head for a web site video, or shooting instructional footage at a construction site.

      Today, one of the best starting points for newcomers to video production is to join a local videographer’s association, where you can learn, share ideas and experiences and, quite often, have an opportunity to pick up jobs shooting or editing for one of the companies in your area. Our go-to audio technician works for several companies in the area, for example, and is kept pretty busy. He also has his own one-man company that takes on any job that comes his way, including wedding videography. He makes a pretty good living with this combination.

      Good luck with your future endeavors. The life of a videographer can be both fun and rewarding and you can’t ask for more than that!


    • #186589

      Although said in many ways I would like to say it may way.

      1) I believe Ken Burns is perhaps one the best doc makers alive today. His work is remarkable. I suggest beg, borrow or buy his videos and study his work.

      On the path you have chosen there are only 2 ways to take.

      1) Work for someone or under the direction of someone and have YOUR ideas, and stories altered and re-credited to someone else. Sure your in the biz, at the top or in the middle, but the reason you peered through the lens is gone.

      2) Self reliant, that is not to say all by YOURSELF. You hand pick your crew, explain your dream, if they are not onboard or they get into this, “that’s stupid, I’ll help but only to bring you back to planet earth.” Pick someone else. That is not to say not to have someone close that is a reality checker, but not a dream killer. Run with your ideas and stories, but this is the longer and harder path, but the most rewarding. It may take decades to see your first work “really” published, not on Youtube. But you feel better about yourself.

      Years ago before home video cameras, and even television there was a device that many strive to have a “hand” in, books. There is an episode of The Walton’s that this was played out. John Boy thought he was at last published, but it was in fact Vanity Book Publishing. The YouTube of the day. When he did make it he felt good. So the hard path may be a long path but it has better rewards.

    • #186590

       Kathleen, looks like some great advice from some experienced videographers. Have your questions been answered?

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