Dave McVeigh - ECD KryptoniteDigital.com
A few months back, I was asked to give a graduation speech at the film school here in Cebu, Philippines. The school, called the International Academy of Film and Television (http://www.iaft.net/), is pretty impressive, attracting a global student body. Why they asked me, a smartass creative director who specializes in creating work generally runs 2 minutes or less (oddly, my average attention span), was baffling. But I was intrigued and accepted.
I was also completely at a loss about what to say. I assumed that most of these kids went to film school to learn how to make films. I'm not as dumb as I look. But beyond that, crickets sang songs in my empty head. What aspiring filmmaker wants to hear from damn entertainment marketing guy? I don't even want to hear from me, and I think I'm fascinating. Then it came to me ...
That's my angle.
This was my speech:
My name is Dave McVeigh and I am the Creative Director at Kryptonite Digital, a creative marketing agency. First, I want to congratulate all of you on your graduation from IAFT. I’d also like to thank the Dean for the invitation to speak.(I may have mentioned his name). The name of this speech is “Go pro.” Not the camera – but instead a strong suggestion – Go Pro. As in “become a professional.”
To steal a line from comedian Eddie Izzard ‘I’m not a career advisor, but if I was -- I’d advise you to get a career.'
I’m sure you’re all very excited to get out there are do great things. You’ve got your cameras, your scripts and your big ideas. I’m not going to talk about big budget special effects films, about Christopher Nolan or Tarantino, although he does come up later in. I’m going to talk about the reality as I see it and about your choices now that you’ve got you pieces of paper.
My background is as a editor, writer, director and producer, mostly in television. I have made a good living for 20 years making shows like HBO First Looks, promotion pieces on the making of movies, promos and commercials. I’ve flown all over the world. I’ve shot massive explosions, edited together action sequences and pretty much been paid for my work since I was 23 years old.
I have interviewed Oliver Stone, Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Bob Zemeckis, Ryan Reynolds, Matt Damon, Steven Spielberg and few other names you’d probably recognize. But the thing is -- I’ve never made a feature film. And in that fact is today’s lesson.
But enough about my favorite subject – me. Let’s talk about your future. First of all – the bad news. The world economy sucks. The economic collapse of 2008 was not good for the entertainment business. It made this industry, which already had a line out the door of people wanting in, even longer. Budgets are being cut, there are less people getting in and when they do get in, they are fighting harder to stay and compete for less dollars. This is just reality.
And face it -- You’ve picked the most competitive industry in the world, bar none.
And why is that? Why do so many people want to work in the entertainment industry? For one reason, it seems very cool. Filmmakers are lionized in our culture. And they often work with famous people. The premieres on E! seem fun, the behind the scenes specials look amazing and it all glows like some sort of daydream. I know because I used to make those behind the scenes specials. It was my job to create that illusion.
Filmmaking is also one of the only businesses where people who love the product think they can make the product. There are very few other industries where that is true. I like watching the Lakers. But I never once thought to myself while watching a game on the couch – “I can do that.”
But something about filmmaking – it might be the ease of getting the editing tools and cameras or the fact that we all quote films daily makes us think we can make them.
And maybe we can.
But can we make a living at it? Perhaps, at best.
The reality is that the percentage of people now standing in line to make films vs who will actually get paid to make films is probably the exact same as it’s been since 1975. And it’s very very low. Knowing the tools is 10% of the battle. The rest is an insane, rare mix of talent, persistence, ego, humility, mental toughness, political mobility, who you know, and business savvy.
Only a few have that.
I love Tarantino, Nolan, Rodrigues and Kevin Smith as much as the next guy. I love what they did and how they did it. But I am going to tell you the exact opposite of what you may have heard: admire them. Study them. But do not let those guys be your role models. It makes about as much sense as modeling yourself after a comet.
They are the filmmaker versions of Steve Jobs or Michael Jordan. Genetics, charm, luck, timing and talent all collided. They are not the norm. They are freaks. They got lucky or they were 1000 times more talented than the others. The stars lined up or they had the sheer force of will to push those stars into alignment. Learn about them because they are great storytellers. But if you want a realistic and steady career, study people you’ve never heard of.
People like me.
Because here’s the good news. Because of the splintering of the entertainment focus between TV, movies, online content, mobile and gaming, there has never been a better time to have a sustained career in the entertainment business.
This is not to suggest that you never make your movie. Please do. We all have at least one in us. I know I do. Never give up that dream if you have it. But making movies is just one small slice of the career pie. There has never been more viable options for creative people – for storytellers - who have the good fortune to know the tools.
People like you.
Marketing and advertising has opened up incredible new opportunities to make a living as a visual storyteller. Everything has changed. Every idea is on the table. So my advice is to get out and find that work. Get paid immediately for your creativity. Become a professional. The work is there for you if you open your mind and redefine your vision for success.
Doing this, you may think, is selling out. But think about that – isn’t ‘selling out’ another way of saying ‘having a career.’ When people started accusing Metallica of selling out when they got popular, they responded by saying – ‘yeah we do sell out. Every damn night. We sell out Madison Square Garden, we sell out stadiums, we sell out everywhere we play.' Here’s how you too can sell out every night.
It’s a short list – just a taste.
Promotional documentaries, editing for hire, commercials, crew work, story editing, TV promos, explainer videos, copywriting, web series ties to a product, interactive flash sites, testimonials, industrials, branded mobile content, podcasting, videogames, 'how-to' web videos, broadcast motion graphics, after effects, final cut, final draft, cinema 4D, maya, cad – and that’s just off the top of my head.
There are many more options. Don’t just consider jobs like these – go after them. With a vengeance. They will lead to so many options in the future because you will then be a professional.
You will have gone pro.
Case in point. A recent gig I had was directing a behind the scenes series for the videogame company Ubisoft on the making of Assassins Creed 3 that only aired online. I was paid well for my work. Think about that. An online documentary about the making of a video game. Ten years ago, that gig would have not existed.
But with emerging technologies and platforms, now it does.
My point is this. Now is a time for creative thinkers to thrive, and perhaps the most creative thing you can do right now is find a job that pays you to be creative. Do not limit yourself and you will find more opportunities than you ever dreamed existed. Yes the economy is lousy – but chaos breeds opportunity.
Make it happen. Don’t wait.
You guys are lucky. You’ve received valuable training. You learned the tools and you made movies, which is more than most people can ever say. Pat yourselves and eachother on the back. But playtime is over, folks.
It’s time for your next phase – making a living at it. I now challenge you all to be the first one to get a paycheck in the entertainment business. Challenge eachother. In fact I’ll take it a step further - the first person in your class to get a paying gig in this business will get a night out on the town - drinks and dinner – all compliments of ... the Dean.
And no I didn’t clear that with him.
Good luck to you all. Make it happen. Open your minds. Think big. This is a fantastic time to be you. Thanks for your time.
The speech was well-received by the students, but now that I read it over, I realize I wrote it for myself.
We all need to be reminded, no matter where we are in our careers, that getting paid for it is a beautiful thing.