04W: Making Opportunity


This week is about opportunities … my angle is on vocational pathways as these are what I tended to follow when I was starting out — that said I think wherever you see the words ‘organisation’, ‘industry’ or ‘job’ below you can substitute ‘professional’,  ‘field’ and ‘practice’. Working as an artist’s assistant is a good pathway to understand how you might make a living as an artist as much as getting an internship at Google might teach you about becoming a social media manager (or whatever).

There is a world of opportunity out there – but you chose media and the arts – so its not going to come knocking and its’ not likely to be well paid for the first few years (if ever). It is a competitive field with passionate people who do this stuff because they love it. Getting paid is a continual fight – no point in sugar coating that.

The first step is working out how things work in your particular industry or field.

Andreas Gursky, Chicago Mercantile Exchange (1997)

Andreas Gursky, Chicago Mercantile Exchange (1997)

Sending your resume out as a new graduate is unlikely to cut it – precisely because its hard to know where you might fit into an organisation. From the outside it seems that a job positing is a good sign post for an entry point – but it rarely is. You will be coming in cold and they will be  looking for someone who knows the position and its responsibilities. Its like throwing a cube at a square hole and hoping things line up.

So your first job is working out;

How an industry works:

  • What are its hierarchies?
  • Who reports to who?
  • Where does you desired position fit in?
  • What steps have people taken to arrive at your desired position?

Did you know cinematographers probably start as gaffers or runners, then become focus pullers, before ever getting behind the lens.

Sound recordists start life as boom operators (and probably have been a runner for the sound recordist before then).

Theses are useful and necessary apprenticeships and nearly all industries and occupations have similar pathways. Having begun these apprenticeships when a ‘square hole’ (job position) comes up you’ll know the angle to approach and if you know the people that cut the whole they may even make it a little larger for you.

HK-based cinematographer Christopher Doyle left Australia on a Norwegian Merchant ship. He arrived in Taiwan, met a group of artist and became intensely interested in shooting super-8 films. From there, he worked his way into the film industry as a cinematographer, working with directors from around the world.

Exercise One: Plan your apprenticeship.

Do some research regarding your field. Be bold and realistic about where you want to end up (what is your desired position) and where you are now. What are the steps required to make your goals a reality. What are the realistic time frames involved in reaching you goal?

You may begin with a simple diagram of how your field/ industry works. What are the positions? How are they related.

If it helps, you may research on job sites: look at  job advertisements that specify qualification, skills, and attributes. But use this information as a guide – don’t be too locked into this framework, as we hope that you may enter into jobs/ career pathways that do not yet exist.

Draw a visual diagram of these relationships.

Exercise Two: Identify potential Mentors.

There are 4  or 5 people in my life that have been crucial to my professional development. Only one of them employed me directly but all have led me to employment. These are my professional mentors.

These relationships are not generally one of direct responsibility. I am not going to ask them to employ me but to offer me frank and fearless professional advice.

Offering to buy them a coffee and pick their brains about their career is a good way  to begin a conversation with your professional mentor.

Identify three potential mentors – work out who they are, how they got where they are, and how you can contact them. Superstars are hard to contact and London is hard to get to- so be practical in your choices. You want someone with local contacts, knowledge and experience who will have the time and generosity to offer.

Miyazaki (left) and Takahata (right) Switzerland 1973. It is said that Takahata, 5 years senior, 'discovered' Miyazaki while they were both working at Toei. Miyazaki has always credited his colleague for mentoring him throughout his career.

Miyazaki (left) and Takahata (right) Switzerland 1973. It is said that Takahata, five years senior, ‘discovered’ Miyazaki while they were both working at Toei. Miyazaki has always credited his colleague for mentoring him especially at the beginning of his career.

Internships and Free Labour.

By far the best way to research an industry or an organisation is as an intern – it is rare that this isn’t the first step in any apprenticeship. As unfair as it is – it is very rarely your qualifications that will get you a job or create opportunities in the creative industries. It is definitely case of ‘who you know’ a much as ‘what you know’.

There are very good reasons for this – employing someone is a big commitment and many small to medium sized business (which the most interesting employers in the creative industries generally are) will want some assurance the person is a safe bet – that it is a person they want to hang out with every day and who will get the job done. So your best strategy is to prove that you are this person before a job/opportunity becomes available.  Most employers will be looking for a colleague not just an employee. 

Mat /Jo/ Student Stories? Lets discuss pathways into internships or organisations that have worked.

Jo: This is one of the very first video I made (which I planned, shot, directed, and produced) for West One Services. I had been employed as a multimedia developer/ media designer at the organisation for a year or two, one day one of the managers said ‘hey you have experience making video (I made ‘experimental works up till then), do you want to work on this production idea I have?’ I said ‘of course’ so I was put on this project called ‘Try if for 5 as a production assistant. At first, it involved driving the producer around (a lot), be there at all the pre-producing and planning meetings, filling in shot lists during shoots, buying coffees, lunches etc.). I learnt the ropes (through the production of the pilot) before I was given the opportunity to make one myself.

It was a career profile program – idea of the series was to present the audience with the experience of a career/ occupation/ profession for 5 minutes (hence the name). The ‘commissioner editor’ was inspired by the ‘look’/ idea from the film, Being John Malkovich. The entire 5 minutes (bar 1 shot) was shot as POV. It was physically demanding to shoot over the shoulder of someone the whole time and required a lot of communication and negotiation. I picked up a lot of the tips and tricks when I was working on the pilot as a production assistant.

Exercise Three: Targeting some internships/ apprenticeships/ professional pathways

Identify some target organisations/professionals for internships. A good internship is (in this order);

  1. a way of building relationships.
  2. a way of researching an industry and an organisation.
  3. a way to gain professional experience and reference

Identify three target organisations/professionals/pathways?

  • What are/their/its hierarchies?
  • Who are the key players? (around your desired position- in the organisation – in the positions that lead to your desired position?)
  • How might you initiate contact with these key players – what are their backgrounds and histories? Are there back doors to the organisation? Are there extended networks you can tap.
  • Can your mentors offer advice or contacts?

Exercise 4 : Being Prepared.

There is an adage of amusingly contested origin (It originates from an American Footballer in 1942 or the roman philosopher Seneca – or from somewhere in between) that;

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

And the Scout motto of ‘Being Prepared’ has stood the test of time for good reason. When someone comes to you with an opportunity you need to be able to say with some confidence ‘I can do that’ and its even better if you can prove it by pointing and saying – ‘I did that here’.

  • Research and Develop a Strategy of what Being Prepared might mean in your industry. 

In my early career knowing ahead of time how a partcular recording desk worked got me in the door. I learnt that from studying its manuals and reading industry magazines like a maniac. In fact being ahead of the technical curve has often opened doors for me.

In some occupations (anything animation/3d/motion design) a show reel is important – but what does the show real for your job/occupation look like?

In many occupations a portfolio is important (creative arts/design) – do you have enough appropriate work in your portfolio – how can you ensure that you do?

  • Put some deadlines and hard goals to this preparation. Make a timeline that ensure you are well prepared when opportunity has been created.


  1. Continue blogging/ research and writing up summaries/ entries for assessment 1
  2. Listening to Paul Jones’ story of his practice in the guest lecture – can you map out his journey? What opportunities presented themselves to him? What forms did they take?
  3. Research Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital exhibition for week 5’s excursion (details are posted on Medadada here).

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