Have You Got What it Takes?


First things first; the Stills Production Sector is not about “a job.” The Stills Industry is about a commitment. It is unpredictable part-time schedules, exceptionally long hours, uncertain wage packets, city-wide work bases, and high international standards; if you’re simply looking for “a job – any job”, this industry is NOT for you.

The skills and experience required for each job in the industry obviously differs. However the aptitudes required remain the same – whether you are a crew member or a supplier. Here are some of the personal attributes you are going to need if you want to be a success.

And whilst you may find some of this advice dubious or culturally insensitive, then we make this addition: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about the clients and what THEY want. Are you prepared to make that leap?

1.    Presentation
You have been called to interview for a job in a production company servicing major international stills photographic productions.
Do you A) make sure you are groomed, presentable and well turned out or B) come straight from the beach; hey it’s Cape Town and summer time and the surf was up, man….
A = 10 points B = 0 points

Although this is a creative sector, it is still a business sector. If you’re not presentable, with clean hair, nails and clothing, then you won’t get in the front door. And whilst we’re all for diversity, remember that the majority of clients are from a strict business background. Therefore their first impressions of you do count. Remember to wear a shirt and shoes to your interview!!! (you may laugh, but we’ve had this happen to us here) It also helps to cut your nails and trim your hair, and maybe prioritise having a quick shower…..

2.    Communication
You’re working on a Japanese shoot for a Korean car produced via a Production Company in Paris. The agency exec is Romanian, the photographer is from Finland. Do you A) speak in English, slowly and clearly and with as little accent as possible, taking care to avoid colourful South Africanisms and colloquial inflections or B) Refuse to communicate in any language other than your own – after all, they’re in your country.
A = 10 points, B = 0 points.

If you are able to communicate clearly in English, you will be a benefit to a production. Most clients are foreigners and they don’t speak any South African languages; your adherence to your native tongue is not particularly practical or helpful. Even a heavy accent is not going to be beneficial when English is the language of business communication. If you don’t speak great English, then practice. A lot. If you speak French, German, Italian or Dutch, you will also be a benefit to the industry.

3.    Self Motivation
You’re on set when the South Easter starts howling. The craft tent is about to get whisked away on the breeze. Do you A) ask if you can do anything to help and get involved in tying the thing down or B) It’s not your problem, you weren’t employed to do that….
A = 10 points, B = 0 points

If you can bounce out of bed at three in the morning and keep going till ten in the evening then you are right for the industry. If you will muck in on chores, offer assistance, pay attention to detail, then you are right for the industry. A typical film day starts early and continues late. Are you motivated enough to get to set on time and stay until everything is done? If you have energy and enthusiasm, then this industry needs you…

4.    Diplomacy
It’s 7pm. You’ve been working since 5am. The shoot – a German car shoot with kids and a cute dog – is running later because the dog won’t sit on command and frankly neither will the kids. The light is running out, the Client was meant to be at the airport half an hour ago, and the photographer is wired to the eyeballs. Stress is building, tempers are starting to flare. You are about to shoot the last scene, when a neighbour, a little old lady from a house across the road, steps out of her front door and into frame.
Are you the kind of person who would A) Run over and politely request her co-operation for just a little longer because you are so nearly finished? or B) shout at her through the loud-hailer to get the f**k back in her house?
A = 10 points, B = minus 20 points.

A photographic shoot can be a place of high emotion and tight deadlines. Often you will be in the wrong place and have to deal with the anger / frustration that is directed at another person.  Your ability to not take things personally and deal with issues on practical level could make all the difference – not just for the success of the particular shoot, but whether you ever work again.

5.    Responsibility
You’ve got a really early call time tomorrow, and because the Production Manager is a practical sort, she’s let you take the company Kombi home for the evening. Do you A) park it safely and securely and use it only as instructed or B) use the opportunity to run an evening taxi service and then ferry your mates to and from the club?
A= 10 points, B = minus 5 points.

And it’s not just about responsibility to the production company. It’s about responsibility towards yourself and your future. The industry is both freelance and seasonal.  There will be periods where you are working every day and other times when it appears as if they have forgotten about you in the film industry. If you can’t be responsible, use your opportunities wisely (and save your sporadic income) then you simply won’t survive the industry for long.

6.    Integrity
The latest photographic advertising campaign for the top secret Mercedes XSLM500 concept car just shot in Cape Town and you got to work on the set.
Do you A) read the terms and conditions of the confidentiality agreement and stick to it or B) phone a friend who’s a photographer at Die Burger and get him to come and take a few snaps
A = 10 points, B = 0 points

Can you be trusted to keep your mouth shut when sharing what you’ve just worked on would make you a hero among your friends? Sometimes you are privy to information that has not been released to the general public.  It will be expected of you to keep information confidential until the company has released the footage.

7.    Problem Solving
After the shoot, you are given a list of the props that need to be returned to various shops and prop houses all around the city. Do you A) Work out the best route to deliver the maximum amount of props in the minimum amount of time or B) deliver the props exactly according to the list; hey, you’re on the clock.
A = 10 points, B = -5 points

Often you will be expected to work outside of your job description.  This may involve some physical labour or doing things that others might consider menial.  Your attitude to assisting others will again determine how often you are used.

8.    Community Awareness
You are working on a photographic shoot for Millers Lager, featuring three models in bikinis. The Swedish photographer thinks the Bo Kaap is a fabulous location and perfect for his shot. Do you A) say “whoaaaarr! Get your tits out” to the girls and ask for a crate of beer to take home or B) politely advise the production company of the potential insult caused to the local Muslim population by alcohol and nudity
A = minus 50 points B = 10 points

Are you sensitive to people and their needs? Film, by its very nature, is intrusive. In many ways, it’s a necessary evil for the economic activity it supports. But sometimes, failure to acknowledge the cultural sensitivities of a community can cause serious problems. A situation may require you to act as mediator.

9.    Practical Life Skills
Even though you relied on your Mom to drive you to set each day, you nevertheless managed to get your first paycheque. Do you A) Immediately sign up for your Learners? Or B) Ask your Mom to drive you to Cavendish because there’s a lekker sale on?
A = 20 points B = minus 3 points

There are basic life skills you’ll need to get by in the industry. Driving skills are just one of them. If you are not interested in growing your skills and improving your opportunities, the Film Industry is not for you.


10.    Self-sacrifice

You’ve got your first job on set. But you have to collect the kids from school at 4 o’clock. Do you A) Make a plan; it’s two days of work and you need to prove yourself? or B) Ask the producer if you can leave early today?
A = 10 points, B = 0 points

Can you put aside all your own personal needs like doing laundry, walking the dog, reading your child a bedtime story for the duration of the shoot. Sound melodramatic? Not even vaguely – if you can’t put aside your personal needs for the duration of a shoot, then you won’t suit the industry. The industry wants to employ people who are enthusiastic learners, people who are willing to go the extra mile.

If you have scored 100 points (or more!), then read on!!
If you have scored less than 100, you should join an employment agency for a normal job; the film industry probably isn’t for you.

If you have a minus score, just stay home; you’re a liability to any employer!!!