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Your options in a growing media industry

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February 28, 2007

Part I: Want to be a digital film maker?
Part II: Digital filmmaking: Trainees earn Rs 20,000 a month!

The rapidly growing digital film making industry offers scores of job options to you. They are...

Screenwriters or scriptwriters

Authors who write the screenplays from which movies and television programmes are made. Many of them also work as 'script doctors', attempting to change scripts to suit directors or studios; for instance, studio management may have a complaint about the characters or dialogue being weak.


A type of journalist who researches and presents information in certain types of mass media. Reporters gather their information in a variety of ways, including tips, press releases and being present at events. They perform research through interviews, public records, and other sources. The information-gathering part of the job is sometimes called 'reporting' as distinct from the production part, such as writing articles.

They split their time between working in a newsroom and going out to witness events or interview people. Most reporters are assigned an area to focus on, called a beat or patch. They are encouraged to cultivate sources so they will not miss news.


The driving creative force in a film's production who acts as the crucial link between the production, technical and creative teams. Directors are responsible for creatively translating the film's written script into actual images and sounds on screen -- he or she must visualise and define the style and structure of the film, then act as both a storyteller and team leader to bring this vision to reality. A director's main duties include casting, script editing, shot composition, shot selection and editing.

First Assistant Director (AD)

The director's right hand person, who takes responsibility for a number of important practicalities so the director is free to concentrate on the creative process. During pre-production, First ADs break down the script into a shot-by-shot storyboard, and work with the director to determine the shoot order, and how long each scene will take to film. They then draw up the overall shooting schedule (a timetable for the filming period). Once the film is in production, ADs are in charge of making sure every aspect of the shoot keeps to this schedule.

Second Assistant Director

The First Assistant Director's right hand person. The Second AD's main function is to ensure the First AD's orders and directions are carried out. Seconds have two main responsibilities during production: they prepare and draw up the 'call sheet' (a document detailing daily filming logistics, which is distributed to cast and crew), under the supervision of the First; and they oversee all movements of the cast, ensuring the principal actors are in make-up, wardrobe, or standing by on the set at the correct times.

Director of Photography (DoP)

The key Heads of Department on film productions, theirs is one of the major creative roles. They are requested by the director, and must be approved by the financiers, studio and/or completion bond company. DoPs work closely with the director and production designer to give a film its visual signature. Lighting is one of the fundamental elements in filmmaking; the way in which light falls on an actor's face, reveals an interior space, or illuminates a landscape, can create mood, drama and excitement for the audience. The role of a DoP or cinematographer is to provide a film with its unique visual identity, or look. Most DoPs work on commercials and promos as well as on feature films. Although the hours are long, and some foreign travel may be required, involving long periods spent away from base, the work is highly creative and very rewarding.

DoPs must discover the photographic heart of a screenplay, using a variety of source material including stills photography, painting, other films, etc. They realize the desired look using lighting, framing, camera movement, etc. They collaborate closely with the camera crew (camera operator, 1st and 2nd assistant camera, camera trainee and grips). During filming, DoPs also work closely with the gaffer (whose lighting team is key to helping create the required look of the film), the production designer, costume designer, and the hair and make-up department.

Camera Operators

They usually begin work at the end of pre-production. They work closely with the DoP, director and grip, and are responsible for the 1st Assistant Camera (AC), 2nd Assistant Camera (AC) and the camera trainee. After the director and DoP have rehearsed and blocked the shots, the camera operator and DoP decide where to position the camera, and what lenses and supporting equipment to use. Camera operators work with the grip and other heads of department, and keep them informed about how the position and movement of the camera might impact their work.


The way a story unfolds and grabs the attention of an audience is one of the most important elements in filmmaking. To ensure the story flows effortlessly from beginning to end, each shot is carefully chosen and edited into a series of scenes that are, in turn, assembled to create the finished film. This highly creative, challenging and rewarding job is the work of the editor, who works closely with the director, crafting the daily rushes into a coherent whole. Editors work long, unsociable hours, often under pressure, in an edit suite or cutting room. They are employed on a freelance basis by the producer (sometimes with the approval of a film's financiers), based on their reputation and experience. Editors often work on television drama, as well as on feature films.

Editors work closely with the director before shooting begins, deciding how to maximise the potential of the screenplay. Editors check the technical standards, as well as the emerging sense of story, and the actors' performances. They select the best takes and edit them together to create scenes. During the post-production period, the editor and director work together, refining the assembly edit into the director's cut, which must be approved by the producers, until they achieve picture lock or fine cut (when the director and/or executive producer gives a final approval of the picture edit). Editors usually work in a supervisory role during the subsequent music and track laying, and sound mix.

Assistant Editor

When it comes to digital editing, assistant editors often work in a different room away from the editor and, on low budget films, may be required to sync rushes early in the morning or late at night when the editing machine is not being used by the editor. Consequently, the traditional apprenticeship model for assistant editors has changed, as less time is now spent watching and learning from the editor. Assistant editors must therefore be more proactive in monitoring how the edit is progressing.

Depending on the workload, and providing the editor trusts the assistant, whole segments of the assembly edit may be given over to assistant editors, who can use this opportunity to demonstrate their flair and ability. When a picture lock is achieved, one of the assistant editors' last tasks is to compile an Edit Decision List, which provides a record of all edit points on the film for the negative cutters.

Production Designer

Major heads of department on film crews who are responsible for the entire art department. They play a crucial role in helping directors achieve a film's visual requirements, and in providing producers with carefully calculated schedules that offer viable ways of making films within agreed budgets and specified periods of time.

Art Directors

They act as project managers for the biggest department on any film -- the art department. They facilitate the production designer's creative vision for all the locations and sets that eventually give a film its unique visual identity.

Sound Designers

Previously known as Sound Effects Editors or Special Effects (SFX) Editors, they are responsible for providing any required sounds to accompany screen action.

Production Managers

They run productions on behalf of the producer and line producer. They help determine the most efficient and economic way to schedule shoots, negotiate business deals for crews, locations and technical equipment, and make day-to-day production decisions to ensure that productions proceed smoothly. Production managers are in charge of the expenditure of the 'below-the-line' budget. In pre-production, production managers work closely with the producer, line producer and first assistant director to break down the script page by page, and to prepare a provisional schedule.

During production, they ensure all bills are paid, tasks are delegated properly, and people work well together. At the end of the shoot, the production manager 'wraps' the production. This involves ensuring that all final invoices for services provided are received, checked and passed for payment, overseeing that locations are signed off in accordance with agreements, all rental agreements are terminated, and equipment returned on time.

Production Assistant or Runners

The foot soldiers of the production team, performing small but important tasks in the office, around the set and on location. Their duties may involve anything from office administration to crowd control, and from public relations to cleaning up locations.

Graphics Designers

They design the graphics for a film or TV show. These could include the opening titles, show open montages or any other input that requires graphic representation such as graphs, charts, maps, etc.


They build three-dimensional computer models of everything that is needed for a CGI (computer-generated imagery) project. As they develop their skills and interests, modelers may concentrate on different areas such as characters, objects, environments or special effects.

Rotoscoping (In CGI)

The process of tracing elements of live action images -- characters, objects or backgrounds -- frame by frame. The tracing is done with a vector line in order to obtain a sharp, clean matte. Mattes are needed to allow the final images to be manipulated and composited without affecting the rest of the frame. The technique is also used to make changes and fix mistakes.


In visual effects post-production, compositing refers to creating new images or moving images by combining images from different sources � such as real-world digital video, film, synthetic 3-D imagery, 2-D animations, painted backdrops, digital still photographs, and text. A compositor uses software like Adobe AFX, Apple Shake, and Autodesk Combustion to achieve this.

Sources: &

Part I: Want to be a digital film maker?
Part II: Digital filmmaking: Trainees earn Rs 20,000 a month!

-- The author is CEO, SAE India, a media education college with 49 centres in 22 countries. For more information, log on to

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