Hack College Presents: Launching A Career In Video Production

video production

At the heart of every great production is a great story. If you are a born storyteller and have the knack to weave a narrative through the world of lights, cameras and action — then a career in video production may be for you.

It isn’t an easy industry to break into, so this guide will help you get on the right track. We can help you plan your education and explore different paths that will help establish your career in the field of video production.

Part I. The Video Production Industry

Regardless of how alluring a career in the entertainment industry sounds, success in video production comes from a combination of determination, talent, and luck. Rejection is just part of the business.

It takes many hands to take a script to production, so it helps to be familiar with the different roles in the business. These are just general job descriptions. Depending on the size of the production, there may be a whole slew of assistants.

  • Production support encompasses a team of light technicians, stage managers, and camera operators. These folks handle the manual labor and logistics to make the magic happen. Production support is often the bottom of the totem pole; it’s typically where novices get some of their first experiences.
  • Cinematographers orchestrate the vision of the final product through the camera lens. A good cinematographer knows how to craft the story through lights, angles and exposure.
  • Film editors sit and sort through hours of filmed footage to craft a final product. They are proficient with editing software, attentive to detail, and able to work with the director and cinematographer to create a high-quality product.
  • Producers can wear a number of hats, such as managing the crew, handling the logistics, and financing the production. To make it to this top-level position, you will likely need years of experience in the industry.
  • Directors are responsible for executing the vision and production from pre-production stages to the premiere. The director has creative responsibility to interpret a script and manage the rest of the team to achieve the desired results. This is another position that typically requires years of industry experience.

Salary and Career Outlook

Making money in this industry is completely dependent on the size and scope of the production gig and the experience you have under your belt. Just like any occupation in the arts, your career and paychecks are likely to ebb and flow over the years.

In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports camera operators earned a median salary of $40,390, film and video editors took home a median salary of $50,930, and producers and directors earned a median salary of $68,440.

According to the BLS estimates, job growth in this field over the next 10 years varies by position. We know the film industry is big and business is continuing to grow. A major spike in production over the last decade bodes well for students interested in video production, as this growth is likely to continue.

Part II. Video Production Programs

Some video production professionals work their way up without formal education and training by learning the trade on the job. Others pursue a bachelor’s degree or an alternative form of formal training to build technical skills on top of their creative talent. In such a competitive industry, any additional training and/or education can jump start your career. Most quality programs are based on a traditional campus, since teaching and learning the arts can be difficult over the Internet.

The following degree programs are some of the best options for students who wish to enter the field of professional video production:

Academy of Art University (San Francisco and online)

As the country’s largest accredited art and design school, AAU is an institution with nearly 100 years of experience and an impressive track record. A location in the heart of San Francisco also gives students an excellent opportunity to get involved with one of the country’s most vibrant art and culture scenes.

  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).
  • Specialized degrees: AAU offers a range of degrees, programs and classes, both online and on-campus. There are even pre-college online courses to help high school students get their feet wet. Bachelor of Arts degree programs include visual development, animation and visual effects, motion pictures, and television.
  • Industry perception: AAU has gone to great lengths to ensure their online programs match the quality and experience of their brick-and-mortar courses. Limited class sizes, integrated use of the Internet, and conferencing software are employed to create a “seminar-style” education experience. The school’s FAQ page explains in further detail how its online model differs from others.
  • Cost: Tuition is pretty spendy at $765 per unit, totaling $2,295 for the three-unit courses, and a yearly tuition bill of $18,360. Programs vary by degree and certification, so browse the website listings to get a better idea of what will be a perfect fit for you.
  • Financial aid: AAU hosts frequent financial aid web chats to help students access financial aid opportunities such as grants, loans, scholarships and how to fill out the FAFSA.

Colorado Film School (Regis University)

Regis students have access to cutting-edge production technology at the brand new Lowry campus, and students have made roughly one thousand films per academic year since the program began in 2009. The video production faculty were recruited from across the country, and visiting teachers include artists like special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull (The Tree of Life), who is building a 3D film studio for students to learn the ins and outs of working with a green screen.

  • Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
  • Specialized degrees: In partnership with the Community College of Aurora’s Colorado Film School (CFS), Regis University offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film and Video (BFA), and certificates in writing, directing, producing, acting, post-production and cinematography.
  • Industry perception: Alumni include cinematographer Aaron Kroger (Total Recall), and visiting teachers include writer/director Rahmin Bahrani (Chop Shop).
  • Cost: The BFA requires 128 credit hours; this amounts to a four-year tuition of roughly $52,180 for non-residents and $28,000 for Colorado residents. Regis also guarantees students will leave with a degree in four years as long as they stay on track with GPA and major selection; otherwise, the school will pay for any additional coursework at no cost to the student.
  • Financial aid: Regis offers students several financial aid options, including grants, loans, scholarships and work-study opportunities.

University of Texas (Austin)

The Radio, Television & Film College of Communication (RTF) at the University of Texas provides its students with a professional TV studio; two soundstages; and digital picture, audio, editing and post-production suites to learn their craft. The campus is also located near the annual site of the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive art festival.

  • Accreditation: Commission on Colleges (COC) of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
  • Specialized degrees: B.S. in radio-television-film, MFA in film and media production, MFA in screenwriting. Besides the formal degree programs, RTF hosts summer camps for high school students.
  • Industry perception: With more than half of RTF students completing two or more internships during their time in Austin, the program has earned a glowing reputation for its ability to train talented students. Notable alumni include director/writer/producer Robert Rodriguez, New York Times columnist Rob Walker, and actor Matthew McConaughey.
  • Cost: Annual tuition at RTF will cost $4,832 for Texas residents and $15,995 for non-residents.
  • Financial aid: New student financial assistance is coordinated through the university’s Office of Student Financial Services (OSFS). After students are accepted and enrolled in RTF, they have access to a RTF scholarships ranging from $1,000 to 2,500 per academic year. RTF students can also apply for the College of Communication scholarships.

Loyola Marymount University

The 10-year-old School of Film and Television at Loyola puts a major emphasis on helping students transition into the real world, and is nationally regarded for its quality education and student opportunities.

  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
  • Specialized degrees: Students can get a bachelor’s degree in film, television, animation and recording arts.
  • Industry perception: The Hollywood Reporter describes LMU as challenging the industry’s focus on commercialism by imparting humanism to its students. The faculty mentor inner-city teens every year, and the university’s Incubator Lab helps students make it in the real world after graduation by providing mentors and, in some cases, cash for 18 months.
  • Cost: Tuition is $37,605 for undergraduates; $985 per unit, plus tuition and fees.
  • Financial aid: Loyola Marymount offers students $170 million dollars in university, government and private funds every year to help offset tuition costs.

Choose Wisely

Formal education in the field of video production has a huge range in terms of quality and cost. Before you attend a prestigious film school (which will probably also be expensive), consider getting some classes and experience under your belt at a community college like the film and video program at Oklahoma City Community College. This way, you can be sure you’ve selected the right field — and transferring is always an option later.

Part III. Launching a Video production Career

Most video production professionals get started by gaining experience in their local community arts scene. It’s a great idea to use your community to gain experience. Get involved with the film festivals, theatre houses or local access news networks in your hometown, no matter how small-time they seem. It’s the only way to gain experience and that’s crucial in the production world. Take it from the folks at Comprehensive Media, Inc:

What’s so great about experience? Failure. Experience means you’ve learned from your mistakes and don’t want to repeat them. What do we say about inexperience? ‘They don’t know what they don’t know’… an experienced team can be more innovative because they have a greater wealth of knowledge from which to draw and that always works in the clients favor.

Build a Body of Work That Reflects You

Next, build a portfolio and use it to figure out what really makes you passionate about video production. Do this before you pay a dime for formal education. If you decide you are ready to get some more training, try workshops and seminars. These are a great way to learn content and add to your production experience and resume. Make videos and shorts, and write whenever you can. Learn how to use basic editing software and take advantage of any and all opportunities to familiarize yourself with the equipment and editing labs at your high school, college or university.

Liquid Productions, a London based corporate video production company offers industry beginners a few insider tips. Create a five-minute showreel of your best work, stick it on Vimeo or YouTube, and attach the link everywhere your Internet footprint goes. Add the URL to your email signature, social media bios, website and blog. Liquid says most potential employers will stick around for 90 seconds, so make it good and knock their socks off.

Don’t Forget, It’s the Story that Counts

No matter what kind of video you’re interested in making. You always have to tell a good story:

The thing to always remember.. is that no matter what the technology is doing, you want to remain highly focused on content creation, or storytelling…I believe that no matter how much technology changes, there will still be a need for good video producers/storytellers. In 10 years, there will just be more channels for that compelling content. — Kris Simmons, owner of 6 STRONG MEDIA corporate video production company.

With these tips in your pocket, think about your personal interests, resources and goals. Plan accordingly. Remember, there isn’t any guaranteed path to success. Take it from Director John Dowdle, who spent 13 years of destitute poverty before his filmmaking dream came true. His motto: it’s hard until it’s easy.