By Brady Betzel
Attention students and recent grads! Let me tell you the truth about heading into the working world: it’s not easy. And, you need to be realistic. You aren’t going to go from your six-hour, four-day-a-week college job installing car stereos at Best Buy to editing a broadcast TV show overnight. Even now, 10 years in working in TV, married with one son here and another on his way, I feel like I’m only skimming the surface of what’s possible in my career and in lifelong learning.
That’s right, life-long learning. You should never completely leave that student mentality behind. I’ll always be a student with a thirst for learning, and if the day comes when I start taking that for granted, it will be time for a change.
Where It All Began
I started working with video in high school where I had to do a few goofy projects like create a music video, which to us 15-year-old students meant running around doing Jackass-like stunts and then throwing the music track underneath. It actually helped me to learn my equipment.
At the time (1999-ish), all I had was Hi-8 tape, maybe Mini-DV and VHS. So I was “editing” by connecting two VHS tape decks, running music from my computer via a ¼-inch to RCA cable into my “record” deck while taking the video from my other deck or camera. It was a mad scientist lab in my bedroom created from old VHS decks that probably could have used a few cleanings. At this point, however, I realized that I loved discovering how to make things work, especially when other people might have given up.
Fast forward to my freshman year in college at California Lutheran University where I took an “Intro to Multimedia” class with Dan Restuccio. You may recognize his name from some bylines; he’s been writing for post production trades for many years — he’s the adult in the photo above. I’m the guy with the red arrow pointed at his head. He reinforced the ideas that I innately knew but was scared to constantly practice: be yourself, don’t be afraid to fail and always do your best at whatever you do.
These core values are what really laid the groundwork for me going from a student to a professional student in broadcast entertainment. For one school project we had to contact a person in the field we wanted to work in and set up a meeting. I was so scared because I thought, why would anyone want to help me? I immediately shot out an email to a director of a music video I had seen recently, and lo and behold he responded! The following week I was on set in downtown LA. He also asked me back to his office, where I stared in awe at his studio complete with his FCP7 editing set-up. (You can check out the Devil Driver music video I was on set for here — crank up the speakers and get ready for some metal!). The experience was life changing for me. The moral of the story is that you can’t be afraid to go for what you want (a theory I am still trying to put into practice); you must find a way to do what you love.
Junior year was when we had to find an internship. I had seen some kids secure internships at local companies, and their duties included assisting advertisers or SEO work but I wanted something more. I wanted something millions of people watched.
Eventually the stars collided for me: I went on my college’s career center job search and found a posting for an internship on the Fox show On Air With Ryan Seacrest. What was funny is that after I interviewed and got the internship I asked how many people applied from my school. The reply was, “Just you.” Luckily I had pushed myself to just go for it and worry about how I would commute over 100 miles a day and pay for gas later.
So that is where I started. Since it worked for me, I figured I might share some tips that could help inspire you on your path to working as a professional in the world of entertainment:
1) Use your resources, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Every school should have a career center. If yours doesn’t, maybe you should start one! Check in with them, do they have an online search like the one I found? Go on LinkedIn or other social media and connect with alumni and other students working in the field you want to work in. Just the other week a student from my old school found me on LinkedIn and was interested in what I did. We exchanged a few emails and I eventually asked if she was looking for a job/internship, she said, “Yes.” I forwarded her resume on to our hiring department and she will be starting to work here soon. All she did was ask.
2) Make use of YouTube/Vimeo/Google tutorials
If you are starting in a technical field like post, visual effects, motion graphics, etc., watch every tutorial you can get your hands on, and always be creating. I’ve been watching tutorials since I was in junior high school, from Photoshop to Cinema 4D. While many are above my head I still try and power through them; typically they will raise your skill level. Search on YouTube for what you want to learn, if you want to learn about After Effects text animators, for example, search for it, there are hundreds (good and bad).
3) Play well with others!
This is tricky for some people. Luckily for me I like to tell corny jokes that usually break the ice. I often work with students who give off a lazy vibe — they don’t want to work hard or they think they know everything. If this is you pay attention! Maybe you do know everything, and it’s awesome that your dad is an editor (or whatever your parents do), but you are here to grow and learn, so listen and then ask questions.
I’m not saying lay down like a dead fish and let people impart all of their “wisdom” on you, but think twice about how people perceive you. I know I would rather work with someone who is sociable, fun and knowledgeable, but I really want to work with someone who collaborates and treats everyone as equals.
I once worked on a talk show where one of the editors had been editing late night comedy for over 25 years. He would let me watch how he edited and would even tell me he liked some of the edits I did. It really taught me a lesson — be easy to get along with (to everyone, not just your superiors). People will remember that.
4) Work hard, really hard.
This is a polarizing subject, legally speaking (hence unions and labor regulations). When people ask me what type of hours I work I either tell them to ask my wife about the times I came home at 1am (not necessarily “on the clock”) or the times I went in at 6am to get a jump start on my next project. I wanted to share the worst-case scenario so no one is shocked because this can happen.
It’s funny, over the past five years I‘ve seen people start to take a big stand and ask for more money and less hours — just read some of the forums on Facebook dedicated to editing. While I think there is a time and a place for this discussion, I also think that you must remember that no one wants to work with someone who thinks they deserve the world just because they showed up.
While TV is full of beauty competitions (sad, but true), it’s also full of hard-working people that dedicate their lives to entertaining millions every day. Just don’t come to work thinking that you are God’s gift to post production, VFX or editing – because you aren’t, there is always someone better – so strive to be better.
5) Always do your best.
Whether you are labeling Beta SP tapes, buying food for the kitchen or creating a graphic for an opening title — always do your best. I can’t stress this enough.
I really have to thank my dad for instilling this in me. He always does his best at whatever he is working on. He taught me that everyone makes their own deals (in terms of paychecks, if you don’t like how much you are being paid do something about it or leave), so whether you are making $500/week or $4,000/week, do your best. Whether one million people see your work or no one sees your work, if you do your best you won’t second-guess yourself and others will recognize your effort.
I’m not saying you will always produce a beautiful product, but if you are the post coordinator who is known for having an organized tape library with straight labels I can guarantee you will be remembered more than the person who has crooked labels on the spines of your tapes. Maybe that’s just me, but I recognize people who genuinely work hard.
In the end, do your best and don’t be a jerk. That’s really the advice I have for anyone trying to break into post production. Be eager to learn but don’t be over confident. Try to understand your boundaries and limitations so you can focus on improving them.
If you need an internship or a job, just ask (nicely, please). Everyone in the business understands that you get hired by asking friends, so don’t be afraid to email alumni from your school, someone whose work you admire, or even me. What’s the worse answer you can get? No? It’s better to get a no than to never know what could have been.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC, and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.