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Being a Jack-Of-All-Trades Ain't So Bad

When I was at film school, a common complaint was the hyper-specialization of movie sets. You had one guy to set up the lights and one guy to plug them in. The camera crew had all kinds of people whose function seemed ridiculously limited in scope when you looked at it. Most people blamed unions, and suspected blatant "feather-bedding" (favoritism) was going on.

While unions are certainly still around, the best strategy for success in today's world, where television and the web are rapidly merging into a single entity, is to be able to wear multiple hats. You need to shoot as well as edit. In fact, don't stop there - learn motion graphics as well, at least the basic 2-D kind like having a logo fly together as your end slate or putting together a professional-looking lower third.

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The author on the set of "Europe After Dark," a travel/lifestyle TV series about nightlife in Europe.

In other words, be able to produce an entire package, from start to finish. Be able to write it, be able to produce it, be able to shoot it, edit it and add basic 2-D motion graphics. Then hand it over fully formed to the powers that be so they can broadcast it, then re-purpose it for the web, social media, and mobile platforms. These days, the watch word is multimedia. TV shows are looking for individuals who can produce content for all the ways it can be distributed.

So how do you prepare yourself to be that ideal candidate? Well, first and foremost, you need a familiarity with the technology. On the shooting side, that means knowing the ENG cameras commonly used by the industry - understand that not everybody will accept footage captured by DSLRs. Know how to record audio. That is key. I remember in film school a professor telling me that audiences will be more forgiving of exposure and even focus issues than they will of bad audio. Audiences need to hear what people are saying, and they need to hear it clearly.

On the editing side, know your NLE systems. Final Cut and Adobe Premiere are widely used among preditors like me, but broadcast entities like TV news shows are still often Avid-only. If you want to work in that environment, you have to know those systems thoroughly. A day spent under stressful, deadline-oriented conditions will show you first hand why. When someone's screaming for their package, they don't want to hear that you can't remember which keyboard function does what.

A knowledge of other commonly used software apps is essential as well. These include Adobe After Effects, Photoshop and other graphics programs. They may seem intimidating at first, but they're really often quite intuitive to use once you get to know them. And there are some excellent tutorials available online on sites like YouTube.

Finally, once you're able to produce content, you need to get people to know about it. Create a website. It doesn't have to be mind-blowing - at first - but understand that the first thing someone's going to ask to see is a website. And on that website, you need a reel. It's not enough to have completed examples of your work, you need to synthesize them into a "sizzle reel" that highlights your best material and showcases your ability to present content in such a way that people can't look away. A main reason for this is time. Understand that whomever you sent that link to in response to a job posting has received dozens - even hundreds - of others, and you have a very limited opportunity to show off what you've got.

You can certainly make entire videos available as well. In fact, you should start your own Vimeo and YouTube Channels, and continually upload content to them. And every time you do, post to social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as well.

If you can boil it all down to one thing, it's this: be as autonomous and self-reliant as you can.  That's how you get ahead in this business.