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FreelancingStarting a Career

Soft skills you need for a career in film industry

Reading time: 13:00 mins – this is an in depth article

Not so long ago I helped to create a job description for a rental technician position. Which kept me thinking even after we finished.

I realized that the things you need for working well in film industry are almost the same as everywhere else. But the usual time pressure and the long hours make all these skills more important.

Now in this article, I focus only on the “soft-skills” side.

“Hard skills” are the technical, and artistic skills that can be learned in school.

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients among others that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_skills

So, be it a good assistant, a DoP, a Director, who we are all looking for in film industry, are people who:

  • Can work precisely.
  • Able to work quickly and efficiently. Able to wait for hours quietly if necessary, without losing attention. Able to stay always ready, always present, and even after hours of inactivity, can jump to work in a second and know what is going on at the moment.
  • Who have excellent communication skills, to communicate everything quickly and efficiently. Can do this even in the middle of chaos, hurry, and to tired people.
  • Has excellent listening skills, to hear all the details of a request. Has the ability to ask back if more details are needed for an order. Meanwhile is able to keep this to the essential minimum for the task.
  • Able to remember every detail of the requests and to remember all the started tasks. Even if another more urgent tasks breaks the process for a long time, has to be able to finish all the tasks started earlier and finish them precisely as originally instructed. (doesn’t matter if it is done through memory or precise notekeeping)
  • Being able to prioritize between all the very urgent things that are all needed immediately.
  • Ability to let go of any anger or bad feelings because of other tired people’s emotional outbursts.
  • Is Gritty. Can work long hours, and will not lose motivation with tiredness.
  • Is a lifelong learner.
  • Able to be part of a community.
  • Has leadership skills to delegate to and work with a trainee or to lead their own team.
  • Teaching skills to help new people become precious workforce as quickly as possible.

A nice little list, right? 🙂

And I’m pretty sure I forgot about another great deal of important things.

The bad news is that these are all required when you enter, but most of your employers will not know what these skills are, and will not be able to help you develop them.

(A lot of them is pretty good at making your progress slower though :D)

Also what makes it harder is that there are not so many resources for filmmakers in these fields.

Most of the resources were created for people with office work or with entrepreneurial goals. But actually, the same knowledge applies to our weird, half art — half “military” work as well. You can use the same resources to learn all these skills.

The important thing you should keep in mind is that what worked in someone else’s situation might not work for you.

So what you actually need is a general picture of what is possible towards a specific soft skill. Then find which way works for you to get there, and which way do you enjoy it the most.

We humans don’t tend to be practicing something for long if we don’t enjoy it.

So here is a quick list of the most important soft-skills that I think the job description above suggested.

Wherever I can I will also name my favorite resources for the topic.

Pick whichever sounds the most exciting or most useful for you now. Don’t go into a topic that’s not fun or useful for you right now, otherwise, you will lose motivation quickly.

  1. Mindset

As it turns out, almost everything depends on your initial mindset.

If you think everything can be learned and every failure is an opportunity to learn, you will thrive.

While you are just pushing yourself into misery if you think you were born with a fixed amount of abilities and possibilities.

Your ego will be super protective and will sense all feedback and failure as an attack against you.

Carol Dweck is the Researcher who discovered this topic.
Her TED talk.

2. Ability to control your mind

– to focus for a long time

– letting things go (thoughts, emotions, etc.)

– managing emotions

– stress management

Ancient eastern cultures were really great at this. Weirdly enough science also recommends their main technique for learning these.

Meditate!

Headspace is a great piece of software that can teach you how. For both Android and iOS. (also the basics series is free — it’s an amazing intro to meditation)
https://www.headspace.com/

3. Motivation

You have to be able to tap into your motivation especially in hard times. For this, you will need to know what motivates and how.

https://filmlifelab.com/types-of-motivation/

4. Grit

Grit is the №1 predictor of success. In education as well as in the military. If it is a good enough predictor in the military, then it sure is for us.

Angela Duckworth is your go-to person to learn about this.

Her TED talk.

Her Book.

5. Ability to Learn

The hard-skills part of the industry is changing really fast. New technology, new artistic styles, etc. You have to keep up with these. But also you will have to learn all these soft skills, which is enough task for a lifetime.

People say practice makes perfect. But they are actually wrong on 2 levels.

  • It’s important to aim for perfect, but even more important to know that we can never achieve it.
  • And also practicing something in the wrong way will not get us ahead. Only practicing in the proper way will get you ahead.

The pioneer of this field is K. Anders Ericcson. What he recommends is “Deliberate Practice”. For this, you will need a clear goal, a master teacher, and continuous feedback with adjustments.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of the theory, but you can learn about it in his book:

Peak — The Book

What is also important about learning is to know what you will go through the process.

There are 2 concepts that help you get through the hardships and emotional downs of a learning curve.

Conscious competence ladder — will show you how a learning curve looks like. It takes away the emotional edge of learning and teaching.

Conscious Competence Ladder

The Dip — will prepare you for the lowest parts of your journey

Seth Godin — The Dip — book

There is also something called Learning Styles. We are all different and as I mentioned before, what worked for someone else, will not necessarily work for you. You have to discover how you personally can learn the best.

Learning styles

Receiving feedback is also a huge part of learning, and you have to be prepared for it. It’s not easy to clearly see what is important in a feedback. Nor is to see what is not feedback at all, but only an attack on your self-esteem.

For this, I recommend joining a Toastmasters club. There you can learn how to get and give feedback through practice. You will get there a lot of help, resources, and a safe environment to try all you learned.

They have clubs all over the world. Believe me. I did not… but then I realized I lived next to 3.

Toastmasters International

6. Memory

Did you know memory is just another skill we can learn?

As it turned out, there are ways you can use your memory, and there are ways your memory won’t work.

Unfortunately, in schools, we only learn the ways in which our memory doesn’t really like operating.

But by utilizing our brain the way it was evolutionary developed, every average person can get shockingly good memory.

People memorizing Pi up to the many hundredth’s positions, are exactly like you and me. They just know how their memory can work, and practice that way.

There is a whole science behind this and I think the best introduction to the topic is

Moonwalking with Einstein — book

Which is also a really fun read.

Also if you have a failsafe note-taking system that you adapt to the current job, you will not have to worry about forgetting tasks.

If you don’t want to use memory techniques that are mentioned in the book I linked, you can develop an external memory for your brain as well, in the form of a note-keeping/to-do system.

The classic book in this field is: Getting Things Done,

A more simplistic approach is Zen to Done,

Also, there is Bullet Journal, Kanban, etc.

But probably you will take the experience from each system and build yourself one that works for you!

I myself have tried almost everything mentioned above, both digitally and on paper.

At some point, I abandoned all of them.

But when I need to remember stuff, I’ve got a toolset I can reach for.

I usually create a system from the building parts I know from these techniques. And I adjust it to the current needs of my recent project.

One tool will not fit all.

7. Prioritizing under pressure

A good starting point for prioritizing is this: Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix

But in film industry, above this, we need something else as well.

Frequently on set everything is important and has to happen right now.

In war, military medics have to decide quickly where and how their limited time can save the most lives. To help them decide over life and death they use a triage system. They can’t save everyone!

Compared to this, feeling doomed on set by not knowing what to prioritize, doesn’t sound so horrible anymore, right? 😀

But we can still use this method to get us further.

This short article I found explains the basics quickly.

Triage

Also by mastering these, you will be able to tell when you are really overloaded.

Most of the time we think we are, but we are just not able to manage our tasks well and in the right order.

But there is a point when we really can’t possibly finish our to-do list. And then you have to be able to ask for help/extra resources/etc.

8. Leadership skills

Leadership is the combination of all the other skills mentioned here and more.

Like managing, communication, motivating, delegating, etc.

This really can’t be learned from a book. You should get resources from books of course, but only reading about it will not get you anywhere.

What I recommend is: Learn from resources like mindtools.com and practice at Toastmasters clubs.

I was the President of a Toastmasters club for a year, and I know from experience how much you can learn there.

You also get help, resources and mentoring there. It is a safe environment to practice this skill, but also a challenging one.

There you will have to lead people who are not just not paid to do the job but are actually paying to be part of it. Yes, they are motivated, but still, everything else in their lives will have a higher priority.

Yet you have to get them to do the job. You will have to really learn how to manage and motivate, shouting won’t help you there!

Toastmasters International

9. Ability to grow continuously — Lifelong learning

Unfortunately, we don’t come out of school as a complete professional. We merely got the basics for our operations. So we continue learning throughout our life, and we have to be conscious of it.

The slowest growing things we have to work on are our character traits. Things like bravery, kindness, wisdom, curiosity, etc.

To get to know yourself better I recommend a few things.

First, get in touch with you basic motivation. The system of Enneagram can give you that. It is a combination of ancient knowledge and modern psychology, that really digs deep into your motivation and gives you a map of the pitfalls, challenges, and opportunities of your personality.

Books on the Enneagram

An example for a company who uses the Enneagram in the professional environment.

Then get to know your character strengths and be conscious about growing them or new ones.

The VIA Institute has a scientifically proven library and a way of measurement for this.

VIA Institute — I totally recommend taking their free survey

And finally: Know when to ask for help, and who to turn to. There are a lot of helping professions these days developed to help you with different aspects of your journey.

  • Therapy/Counseling can help you heal from the wounds and come out of the negative.
  • Positive psychology can help you get from zero to the positive, so you can have a fulfilling life.
  • A mentor can help you by showing you the proven ways of a given profession and can connect you with the right people.
  • A coach will give you a huge kickstart when you want to achieve a goal. They dig up your motivation. Help you figure out a way to get there and help you actually get there. Stop you sabotaging yourself and keep you accountable to achieve your dreams.

Asking for help is not a weakness but a strength. If it would be something bad, we would have never formed societies. We would be still living in the woods, each of us alone, bare naked, without fire-tools.

We are able to achieve much more together.

Know when to ask for help and from which profession.

But always try to look for these experts by recommendation. There are bad helping professionals out there as well.

10. Teaching

Understanding how learning works and how learning doesn’t work is really essential for teaching.

Most of us when we try to teach someone we are acting as if we were trying to screw in a screw with a piece of bread.

It’s just not the right tool. You have to know how to operate a screwdriver to be able to screw in that screw. Also, you have to use the tool, only knowing about it won’t help you.

So first I recommend you to learn yourself how to learn. Try it on yourself. Notice what is working, and what is not. What motivates you to learn and what wrecks your motivation.

And then it will be much easier to keep these concepts in mind to teach someone else.

See learning resources above.

Ken Robinson is a great resource on teaching

Also giving feedback that will have an effect and not giving feedback that will not have any effect, is a learnable skill.

As I mentioned, to learn this, join a Toastmasters club.

Toastmasters International

11. Empathy

Is the skill to sense what others are feeling around you. It can come in handy even in situations you didn’t expect. Not just for moments when it is not said, but your help is needed, but also when you feel what not to say at the moment, to avoid making someone burst out in anger.

Believe me, it will help your career a lot.

12. Networking

A great guy named Keith Ferrazzi wrote a book that clears the dirty part out of the word “networking”. People have been giving a bad reputation to this word.

The author shows us that our career really depends on our network of people, but it is true for our whole life. And it is a truly human need to connect with each other.

What we need to avoid though, is selfish “networking”. What we need to do is sincerely connect, care for and help each other.

The book’s title is: Never Eat Alone

13. Communication

This is a huge topic, but all I want to say: You know the feeling of being misunderstood. You say something and then something else happens. Maybe even people get hurt and angry with you. But you didn’t mean it.

Communication means what it achieves. If you said something but no one got it right, it is your communication skill that failed.

It is one of the most important ones!

We human beings live in our own little worlds. Nothing means the same to me and you. Communication skills are there to bridge the gap between our worlds.

Once again: Join Toastmasters

14. People skills, generally

It’s absolutely basic to know how we humans function when we interact with each other. Dale Carnegie spent his whole life discovering this. So if you want to know how we humans react to certain social scenarios, and how not to hurt other people unconsciously, just read his book.

How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Of course, these skills as many others can be used for selfish, wrong reasons. Please avoid it. It will get back to you really quickly.

15. Negotiating

Honestly, I’m horrible at this. And I have no resources in mind. So I will point you toward the site I trust: Mindtools

Mindtools

16. Time Management

It’s really not so easy to spend your time well, and I don’t only mean the time you spend working, but your time off as well. Mindtools have great resources on this topic as well

Mindtools

17. Problem Solving

Yes, this is also a learnable skill. I have not yet discovered this topic deep enough to explain it, so once again, I point you towards Mindtools 😉

Mindtools

18. Decision making under pressure

This is also a very basic skill as we will be most of the time under pressure. The topic is so huge and complex, all I can offer now is a link to Mindtools.com 🙂

Mindtools

19. Political tricks

I warn you not to use any of these.

Sincerity and honesty will get you much further in today’s work environment. But there are still a lot of people who still think they live in the middle ages and have to get and protect their castle with a sword. (At those times you might have really needed these)

To avoid falling into their traps it’s important to know their tricks.

Machiavelli can teach you a lot about this.

Machiavelli: The Prince

— — — — — — —

Naturally, everyone is stronger in some of these skills and has to develop more in others. But if you try to get better always, I think it will get you far.

For success, you don’t need all of these on a perfect level. And there are ones that can predict your success more, like grit and networking.

Just pick whichever is interesting for now, or feel you would benefit quickly from it, and dive into the resources, and/or google the phrases.

Have fun Learning!

Cover Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

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