JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF NONE, MOST, ALL?
Convergence. It’s given us the iPhone, it’s given us hybrid cars, it’s given us video DSLRs. It’s also given rise to a technocracy in which those with the big armoury of technical skills thrive, and the specialists struggle. Photographers become filmmakers, necessarily become editors, etc. etc. In performing arts they talk about the double threat, the triple threat, the (whisper it) quadruple threat. Justin Timberlake is a quadruple threat: he sings, he dances, he acts and he’s funny. Holy crap.
In production it’s perfectly normal to be asked to take on multiple roles these days. People cost money, diversify your skill set, save the production money, take home more yourself. I remember when I started my career, we shot on DV with our trusty PD150 and we had FCP1 for company on our Blue Dalmatian iMac. We could direct, we could shoot, we could edit, we could knock up graphics in Photoshop and that was pretty much it. Grading was a dark art, After Effects witchcraft. Then came FCP2 and a three way color wheel. And suddenly it all started to make sense. Those idiotic filters I kept applying to stuff to make it look better could now be reduced to one single, powerful color tool that could create a look. Suddenly I was a colorist as well.
It snowballed. Back then DVD authoring was a service you could charge a lot of money for. We purchased DVD Studio Pro which was just a horrible piece of software, but we could offer authoring and make a bit more money. So I became a DVD author. As a result of this we became experts in encoding to MPEG2 and by extension encoding in general. Suddenly we were offering bespoke encoding services. It was at this time that I bit the bullet, bought a book and taught myself After Effects over the course of about a month. It’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Now, I was a motion graphics artist.
One of our clients needed a voiceover doing for their production one day. It was a instructional sports DVD. They asked for VO samples and just for a laugh I recorded one myself and sent it over. They picked me. I DJ’ed on local radio for a while and read the evening news daily for over a year so it’s not so surprising. Now I was a voiceover artist.
When I was younger I was a pretty handy musician. I played the violin and the piano to Grade 8 standard and I sang for a small ensemble that toured around the world. A friend of mine is a film composer and began asking me to sing on film soundtracks. A couple of months ago I sang on the Johnny English Reborn score. I’m a professional singer.
Two years ago, almost to the day, I bought a 7D and began blogging about my experiences. Since then I’ve written quite a few articles for magazines and am now paid to produce an editorial lifestyle blog for a luxury brand. Now I am a journalist. I also write scripts but no-one’s paid me to do that yet, so it doesn’t count. I pitched an entire year’s worth of content marketing strategy to the same luxury brand and have now been taken on as a consultant specifically charged with building a consumer audience for the brand. Now I am a marketing consultant.
As you can see, I have many hats. Director, editor, cameraman, producer, colorist, motion graphics artist, encoder, DVD author, VO artist, singer, journalist, marketing consultant. Jack of all trades? It certainly looks that way.
Back in 2001 this was how we had to operate in order to survive. We had to take on multiple responsibilities to provide a package deal to our clients. On their own our skills weren’t really strong enough, but as an end to end service we were attractive. The result of this kind of strategy is a drastically steep learning curve and a radically reduced life expectancy thanks to chronic sleep deprivation.
I just had a peek at my CV from a few years ago. At the top it proudly states all of the above skills. What a turnip. How did I ever think that was actually appealing to people? I’ve now removed all that crap and it simply states ‘Director’. Now that’s just me, but somehow, these days, it’s important to me that I present myself as a specialist. Yes, I can do all those other things, but really, the one that matters, and more importantly, the one that will carry its value the furthest in the face of convergence, decreased barriers to entry and the low cost of tools.
There’s nothing wrong with being a multi-hyphenate but there comes a point where it’s going to be better to let one skill take prominence and keep the others in the background. I always ask people whether they’d be hired purely on the strength of just one of their multiple skillsets; just as a cameraman, editor, graphics artist etc. Of my many hats the directing, after effects, editing, camerawork, journalism and consultancy are the ones that I could expect to be hired to do regardless of my ability to do the others. The rest of them aren’t really strong enough to stand on their own two feet. Still, not too shabby. Not just that but I’ve had a career in extreme sports, music videos, factual entertainment television and of course corporate production. I actually want to do drama and I’m finding all that other work doesn’t count for squat, not the least little bit, when it comes to drama. I’m practically at square one again, having to specialise.
These days it seems everyone is a ‘Director. DP. Editor.’ How many of them would actually be hired just to direct, just to DP, just to edit? I’m not having a go, I just find it a little disingenuous. I can see the specialist becoming more attractive again and, maybe it’s just the stage I’m at in my career, but I’d like to be a bloody good director. And that’s all. Time to rip up the old website and stop being disingenuous. What would you like to be?
Twitter has changed: @aka_skid