I graduated from film school, now what?

I’m lying here on my couch in my studio apartment fighting off the beginnings of a cold. You know what I’m talking about – the headache, the agitated throat, and extreme exhaustion. Maybe it’s a fever that is causing my delirium or the hours of reality competition shows I’ve been watching, but I had this out of body experience looking at my life. So I decided to write about it.

6 months ago I graduated with my Masters. I gave my final pitch for a TV show to 2 professors, walked out of the door and that was it. I had graduated. Now I was just another struggling filmmaker – granted, with a lot of education – trying to make it in one of the toughest industries.

Ash Grad 1 copy

Please note the flip-flops.

What have I been doing?

The first month was insanity. I moved to my own apartment – a studio…4 walls. I no longer had classes to keep me on a somewhat controlled schedule and I had no job. I had absolutely no commitments (except for that whole rent thing…). But for that first month, I just sat in those 4 walls and wondered what my next step would be. Luckily, my new studio had a balcony, so I sat out there for a bit too.

I tried to write, but I quickly learned that a world of uncertainty made it difficult for me to focus. I was running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to send my thesis film, Volcano Girl, to festivals - so I focused on that.

I applied to many, many jobs, but none of them were quite right. Do I take a job that will take away all of my time but pay the bills, or do I keep struggling and pushing to make ends meet while creating my own stuff? I had two job offers in that month. One job flat out told me I was overqualified and their biggest fear was that I would leave them in 6 months. The other job was with a well-established company, but when I mentioned my hopes and goals to them, the interviewer told me not to take the job and to keep pushing to make my dreams come true. She even told me she wished she had kept pushing and kept creating when she graduated school. I remember staring at her in just awe of her honesty. And when I walked back through their offices, through the immaculate waiting area and then out into the bright sun, I was even more confused. I remember sitting in their parking lot for about 10 minutes just running everything she said over and over again in my head. What do I do?? What is my path?? 

The truth is, our paths in this industry are uncertain. There is no clean cut way to “make it” in Hollywood. There is no “do this, then this, then this and you’ll be set!” We have to discover it on our own. Grab opportunities when they arise. Work for free, work for next to nothing with a big smile on our faces with the hopes that we’ve made enough of an impression to be called again, and again, and then maybe that next project will pay. Maybe that next project, we’ll be the one in charge, and we’ll be in charge of hiring someone for that position we once held. Maybe.

I decided not to take a full time job and to keep pushing, keep trying...at least for as long as I could manage.

February introduced me to a lot of people who felt “stuck” in their current careers in the film industry. They told me how they fell into a certain aspect of filmmaking – sound work, editing, production design – and just couldn’t crawl out. They were great at their jobs, but didn’t love it. Twenty years later, they are major players in their field, but it isn’t what they wanted for themselves.

Fear tried to creep in. As I began my career, never once did I think, “What if I don’t make it?” Or “What if I’m not as successful as I hope to be?” Or worse “What if I’m not happy?” But these questions tried to creep into my mind, tried to make me listen, tried to make me believe. I refused to listen, but was I just being stubborn? Was I lying to myself? I read Katie Couric’s book “The Best Advice I Ever Got” and most of the book was simply stories of hugely successful people fighting that moment where fear could have taken over their lives, their career, but they wouldn’t let it. They talk about that moment where they yelled “NO!” at the fear. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Just recently I was asked by a USC friend how I felt after graduating from film school. I said to him that I was "finally over the freak out part." He laughed, and said "I totally understand."

Six months after graduation, I'm slightly back to ...normal? Click here to read about my current work as a Freelance Sound Person.

**UPDATE** My Advice for Employment in the Film Industry


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