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Taking Care of Business
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Old September 30th, 2006, 12:20 PM   #1
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Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Maryland, USA
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Turning my passion & skills into a career

Hey guys, I apologize if this seems like something of a long-winded backstory, but it leads up to my questions, I promise! :)

In 2000-2002, while in college working on my Asian Studies degree, I worked part time at a video editing & dub house, doing mostly short corporate videos and the occasional wedding/family event or indie production. Nothing too fancy, usually just simple cuts/dissolves with some voiceovers, titles, montages and the occasional bluescreen (no CG or very complicated FX). I also shot and edited together a couple short films, and on weekends I did a few weddings, mostly for friends or referrals from work. My clients were always ecstatic with my work, especially since I was doing it dirt cheap and using pretty good equipment for the time (TRV900s and pro DVD authoring tools, since DVD wasn't consumer-friendly yet). At that time I was editing with Premiere 6 or 6.5, as that's all I've ever seriously worked with.

Then, for the past 4 years I've been doing the teaching English gig in Japan. The pay was pretty good for a recent graduate and it gave me a lot of free time to travel and explore. Unfortunately I didn't use my time to further my video skills as I should have. At first I was doing a ton of still photography, but lately the urge to get back into video has hit hard. For one thing, I've got a family (wife and 1.5yr old) to support now, and the English thing is getting old and is pretty much a career dead end. I want to move back to the US next summer, so I need to have some options ready by then. Fortunately I have almost a year to think my options over and prepare for the big shakeup.

To get back into the video spirit, I've been doing some simple projects, such as English video lessons and some work for my school festivals and what not. My knowledge of Japanese came in handy as I put English/Japanese subtitles on everything (a very time consuming task ;) I've been shooting HDV with a Sony HC1 with some wired lav mics, and editing in Premiere Pro 2 at school, and while it is certainly much better than Premiere 6, I get the feeling that Premiere isn't really taken seriously in the pro environment. Most of the job offers I see are looking for Avid or FCP experience, or require some serious artistic/creative skills in CG/AfterEffects and the like, which isn't something I'm comfortable with yet.

About my skills:
I'm really more of a camera/technical guy; I'm great at capturing a scene on photo or video, but I'm definitely NOT a 2d/3d artist. I'm extremely picky about my work and don't let anything out of my hands until its as perfect as I can make it. I'm a bit of a "measurebator" and enjoy discussing the technical aspects of video work, for example see this thread I started. I am also very good at PC tech stuff (maintenance & repair, networking, a bit of programming), so thats another thing I can potentially fall back on if needed.

So, I've finally gotten to my questions! :)

1) Can anyone out there give me some advice as to how I should go about getting back into the business? Not only in terms of what software I should learn or skills that would be an asset, but also some idea of what kind of job position would suit my abilities. I'm sure if I were single, I could get by doing freelance work and weddings and the like, but now with a family what I'm looking for is more job stability/assurance, even if I could probably make more self-employed. It seems a bit too risky to just jump into my own business without first establishing some kind of steady income I can depend/fall back on.

2) Do you think its worth it for me to buy either a Macbook (Pro) with Final Cut, or Avid, just for the purpose of learning them? It's a lot of money for me, but if it opens up a career path, it would certainly be worth it. Or do you think my general experience with Premiere and the like will carry over to pretty much NLE such that I don't need to spend that much money/effort working on it for now?

I'd really appreciate any advice or support you could give me. Thanks! :)
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Old October 9th, 2006, 12:14 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Jason Livingston
1) Can anyone out there give me some advice as to how I should go about getting back into the business? Not only in terms of what software I should learn or skills that would be an asset, but also some idea of what kind of job position would suit my abilities. I'm sure if I were single, I could get by doing freelance work and weddings and the like, but now with a family what I'm looking for is more job stability/assurance, even if I could probably make more self-employed. It seems a bit too risky to just jump into my own business without first establishing some kind of steady income I can depend/fall back on.
All I can say is that every job in this industry is hard to get because there are a lot of other people who want the same job, for some reason. Maybe because they think it's cool or fulfilling or whatever. Staff jobs are even harder to get than freelance jobs, in my opinion. The easiest way to get the kind of job you want in any field is to buy your way into it and don't concern yourself with what others (mainly the other people who want the same job, i.e. competition) think. If you want to be a DP, then buy yourself a 1 Ton G&E package and start shooting! The work will come eventually if you are good. Becoming good isn't easy or cheap, but you've got to become an expert in the trade before anyone will hire you. How you get that experience is entirely up to you (apprenticing, etc.). But, I'm telling you the quickest way is to get hired in this line of work is to be really, really, exceptionally good at what you do. Good luck!
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Old October 9th, 2006, 07:38 AM   #3
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Location: NYC Metro area
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It's not easy starting a 2nd career.

After being downsized from a 28 yr corporate job a few weeks after 9/11, I wandered somewhat aimlessly before realizing this is what I was seriously interested in.

Out of the blue, and using the phone book, I called 3 indie producers (mainly corporate and legal) to do research. I offered to help each one, though 1 was way too far away to be of help. But 1 was local, who offered to use me to lug equipment around. I've been working for him on/off for more than a year riding sound boards, holding booms, schmoozing during shoots, as well as lugging equipment.

The key words are "on/off". I average only about twice a month at jobs for him, mostly lugging equipment. (I also get occassional opportunities to serve as an extra camera, but none of those have paid yet). His first piece of advice was" don't give up your day job."

It was almost a year before I was convinced I could "do" the work well. With a loan from my spouse's investment/retirement funds, I bought gear good enough to work in this field. Now, much of my time is spent learning the ins/outs of the gear, working a part-time job at a national retail store, an occasional job for the indie producer, and being a homeowner, spouse, sibiling, and parent. (Our youngest is 21 and away at college). So far, I've spent nearly $ 20 K and still need more equipment, and have only earned back about $ 2 K. (though I haven't done any advertising yet). I also do occassional small jobs for other's I've added to my network, such as copying miniDV to VHS for legal work.

Recently my "mentor" suggested I do a freebie job for a local non=profit. This was primarily for me to gain experience working alone. I agreed, expecting to make a few $$ charging for copies of the DVDs. The sale of the DVDs didn't pan out, but the clients liked the work so much they sent me a check for nearly ten times what I hoped to make from selling copies of the DVDs. Now THAT was encouraging, and greatly raised my confidence.

There is no way I could support a family, even with the combined income of all my work. Heck, I couldn't even make the mortgage payment with what I earn. My working spouse covers the lion's share of the bills. I suspect others here have been more successful than me, but I don't plan on giving up yet.

Unless you have other resources, like living with parents/in-laws when you return to the States, I suggest you try to use the skills you have (e.g. language) and blend them with your interests. Example: start a web site - now - as an independent translator. (Our niece did that for Italian, but gave it up while pursuing her doctorate). If you do that, try to stay active at this forum, as you may find some opportunity here. Also consider offering translation services through the "Helping Hands" forum here.

It seems this industry requires proof of what one can do. Develop that proof, and make it available to all who may employ you. Build your network of contacts. In my short experience, that seems to be how most opportunities for work come your way.

Best of luck.
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Our actions are based on our own experience and knowledge. Thus, no one is ever totally right, nor totally wrong. We simply act from what we "know" to be true, based on that experience and knowledge. Beyond that, we pose questions to others.
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