What I Wish I Knew Before, During, and After College
Disclaimers: I'll start this post by saying that these are just some observations I want to share if I could speak to my younger self, and that I'm happy where I ended up. Also, this post is focused specifically on videography but can apply to pretty much almost anyone in any career field.
Do you ever wonder if you could change things you did in the past? Well of course you do, but you shouldn't because that's not a healthy way to live. BUT, we can't help it if it crosses our minds from time to time. I recently had this thought in relation to what I wish I knew during my time at college, and what I would do differently to help better prepare me as a videographer in the real world.
I'll be blunt: I did not do my proper research when selecting a college, and I didn't take it very seriously. Going to school for a degree in film wasn't even close to being on my radar. I just went to a local college because it was comfortable, convenient, and all I knew. It had a major similar to what I wanted to do, but it was by no means a proper school for film. There were so many other colleges that had focused programs in film theory and use of actual production cameras, but the one I chose was more focused around the fast-paced style of news and sports video. I didn't know this because I didn't even really care to look. Visiting different schools and finding out what they offered could have given me a better education and honed in my knowledge of all things motion. I'm still happy I ended up making the choice I did, but I didn't really explore what else was out there, so I recommend researching all of your options!
Get familiar with video fundamentals
Another way to help prepare you for college is to practice however you can in high school, whether by choosing to do videos for class projects, making short films with friends, and/or doing personal side projects like documentaries for fun. You might not realize it at this point in your life, but doing little one-off videos like this will help familiarize yourself with how a camera works, along with indirectly helping you learn techniques like composition, lighting, audio, and a ton more. Doing this will also give you work to be able to put together a small portfolio to show off. With that being said...
Create a portfolio
I once went to a job fair at a shopping mall (s/o Eastwood Mall), and as I walked around the tables and booths, I was being expected to present a portfolio of all my video work to them. The thing is, I was never told that I needed a portfolio to show to college recruiters, ever! There was no high school class or teacher that prepped me for this situation (or any real-world situation after high school to be honest). If I would have known that, then I would have started to prepare MUCH earlier. All I did was create class projects with our family camcorder, and also use it to document marching band camp. I'm not blaming a single soul, but having knowledge about preparing for this step would have been pretty monumental in my college search. So with that in mind, always be working on your reel and building up your work for your portfolio!
Take challenging courses
When choosing the classes you want to take, think hard about the ones that will benefit you the most and keep you on track with your goals. Don’t just take the simple courses on cruise control. True story: I once avoided taking a class because I heard the professor was tough with grading and didn't hold back with their comments on your work. Looking back now, I strongly regret not taking that class because the critiques would have been way more honest and impactful, making me a better filmmaker in the long run.
This could be anything from joining a film club to being hired at your school's student-run video department. Signing up for events and activities help you gain experience and make new friends, and this is crucial in college. Believe in the hustle!
Another strong regret: Not pursuing more internships. I would have tried to land more internships for the sole purpose of experience alone. My one and only actual internship was unpaid, and man, that summer was not fun financially. However, I learned invaluable information during that time, so it honestly made it worth it. Thinking back, I feel like I should have tried to get more internships earlier and reached out to more production companies, even if just to shadow for a day. You can read books and online articles until your eyes roll to the back of your head, but there is nothing more valuable than real-world experience.
Don't do the minimum
Were you invited to an event that looks beneficial for networking, but it's on a Thursday night at 7 pm after you were in class all day? You should probably still go to that event, even if you're a crazy tired college student. I remember being in situations like that from time to time, and I usually chose the lazy way out because I didn't realize how valuable networking is. I now know that I should have gone to those socials, as it could have benefited me greatly in college. It's all about being in the right place at the right time.
Find A Mentor
A mentor can be anyone in your life that you look up to and want to gain skills and traits from. Easy to find, right?! I actually read recently that there is an app for digital mentors, which is a cool idea I guess, but how impersonal is that? I'm talking about a real-life mentor. If there is someone who you see as helping you grow and want to gain knowledge from, then form a relationship with them. This can be anyone from a boss, to an older student or colleague, to a family friend. If you don't want to make it formal, then maybe it's just an unspoken mentorship, which can be beneficial too.
Right After College
Networks and Meetups
Keep meeting and interacting with other creatives. Go to local meetups and monthly groups. Reach out to friends and colleagues for coffees or beers (mostly beers). Put effort into creating and maintaining professional relationships so you will be top of mind once an opportunity arises!
Offer to do free work
Don't do this step for TOO long, but it's essential to do some unpaid or low paying gigs to gain experience, build up footage for a demo reel, network with fellow creatives, and get your foot in the door somewhere. This falls under helping friends with their film projects, doing small web video spots for local businesses, or being on a set for a day just to soak up some real-life knowledge. Doing enough projects like these could lead to exposure and also give you work to use to build up your reel (have I made it clear how important a great demo reel is yet?!). It's a "work your way up" kind of business, so try to get comfortable with that sooner than later. Just be careful to make sure no one takes advantage of you and your time. Go with your gut on if you think you would want to take on the project, and never feel pressured into shooting a video you don't really want to shoot, especially at a rate lower than your worth and quality! And a final note on this: after you do enough free work and have an amazing demo reel to show off, THEN you have the leverage to start charging money. Just like any other service in the world, people are not going to blindly trust you and hand over their hard-earned $$$ unless they are able to see and justify the cost of the service or product.
Continue your education
Take classes online that expand your arsenal of video production knowledge, making you more desirable as a candidate for a gig. In this day and age, video production is becoming a crowded field, so any skills you have over someone else is a huge plus to hiring managers. If you're primarily a videographer with shooting and editing skills, but also know After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Cinema 4D, then you're a much more valuable candidate compared to someone that only knows the fundamentals. I'm not saying you have to know every program in the world, but I am saying that you should always be learning and growing to make yourself a more marketable candidate, which is key in this industry. Go stuff that brain of yours with some knowledge!
Don’t get comfortable
You have to continue to create personal projects that excite you and make you proud to share with the world. Once you put enough videos out there that catch people's eyes, they will start paying you the rates that you deserve, and you'll have a blast doing it. If the work you are creating is dull and uninspiring, then it might be time to get out of your comfort zone and go find something else that sparks joy and creativity in your life. Sure, a steady paycheck is safe and provides security, but I've learned that quality of life and fulfillment is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than money. Try not to fall into a mundane routine that is guaranteed to burn you out sooner or later, and keep your work fresh so you will never get bored.
If you have any other questions about how to improve your video skills and gain more experience, don't hesitate to ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org !
If you want to connect, here are my social handles:
Portfolio Site - www.jhmotion.com
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnphansel/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/jh.motion/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/jphansel2/