Sunday, May 27, 2012

When I grow up, I want to be a Film Director

My friend's 10 year old son is going to be a film director when he grows up.  I know this because he is already a film director.  He has his own video camera, has made several (very) short films and does not hesitate to cast his 5 year old brother in whatever role is needed to make the scene pop. Of course it is tough to find investors for a big budget 3D movie when you are only 10 but he is in the enviable position of having time to build his resume and give himself the best chance of making it in the future as a director.

Film Directors are a fairly public bunch and it is easy to research the career paths of the big ones.  There are two likely avenues to becoming a world famous film director.  First, become a world famous actor and then start directing.  Second, plan on becoming a director first and focus exclusively on that function.  The first approach is the more difficult because the talent to be a great actor and the talent to be a great director do not always land in the same person.  The following is a brief synopsis of how a small sampling of super directors made it into the show.

1) Make movies now and keep making them -  Spielberg won his first award for a film at age 13 and directed his first independent film at age 16.  Lucas was a young photographer who became attracted to films in college.  Coppola began by building homemade puppet theater productions in his bed as a kid.  Scorcese watched movies and TV often growing up and started his film making in college. The Coen brothers saved money from mowing lawns to buy their first Super 8 camera.

2) Film School - Spielberg was declined admission to USC Film School twice and ended up going to California State University, dropping out to make films.  George Lucas started in anthropology at Modesto Junior College but later transferred to USC Film School.  Lucas went back to grad school at USC where he won first prize at a student film festival. Coppola entered Hofstra University majoring in theater arts.  After graduation he enrolled at UCLA for graduate film work.  Scorsese went to NYU's college of Arts and Science followed by a graduate degree from NYU's Tisch School of Arts.  David Lynch went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as a painter but then switched to film. 

3) Get into the business - Spielberg worked as an UNPAID intern at Universal Studios 7 days a week.  While with Universal he made his first short film for theatrical release.  When the VP of Production saw the film he signed Spielberg for a long term contract with Universal.  Lucas received a scholarship from Warner Brothers to observe and work on a film of his choosing.

4) Don't stop making movies - All the greats have consistently worked on films making, editing, camera work, etc.  David Lynch applied for a grant from the American Film Institute which he received and used to make a film.  Coppola made a softcore porn film early in his career.  Whatever it takes to keep filming.

5) It usually takes more than one person to make a film.  Many directors met the people they would work with in college or at film related events early in their careers.  Lucas and Spielberg met during their college days and went on to work together on the Indiana Jones films.

6) Let people see what you made.  The early lives of most successful directors include at least one award received after entering into a film contest.

Taking the above guidelines into account, here is an ad hoc plan for our young Scorsese.

Middle School - Age 10 to Age - Continue making movies and look for opportunities to show the films to an audience.  If at all possible, enter the films into contests whenever a chance arises.  Look for support from parents and other adults to meet film makers (even the small ones) and see what a real movie set looks like.  Parents should be supportive.  This is a legitimate career!

High School - Age 14 to Age 18 - Internships in anything related to movies.  Don't worry about making money, do it for free. The possibility to sit in on a movie set is worth looking into at this age.  Concentrate on getting good grades in school and building a portfolio.  The average GPA for admissions to USC is a 3.8.  For the SAT, a score of 2020 or higher is recommended.  Applications to most film schools will want letters of recommendation, a portfolio, film samples, and TOEFL scores for non native speakers of English.  Awards for your films and recommendations from anyone related to the film industry will help so get out and meet people.

College - Age 19 to 22 - There are several good film schools around the world but let's focus on USC for the purposes of this article.  Continue making movies and making friends.  This is the center of the film industry and professors, classmates, advisers and mentors will all contribute to your success.  Submit films wherever possible.  You never know who might see it and offer you a job.

Post College - Age 23 to ? - If you don't have a job in film yet, go back to school for a masters and keep making movies.  This is a lifetime career.  Don't give up!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Son, this is what your life will look like...

This is an interesting exercise to go through with your kids.  Contrary to what we all know is true, life can appear to be rather simple and straight forward when it is flowcharted.  I originally included a section on "Family" as well but removed it as it would have tripled the length of this article.

No choices, no tests, unconditional love, financial support and affection from your parents.  Just eat, sleep and poop, no worries.

Simple Choices - Which color crayon to use, what toys to play with.  No approval needed to move to the next stage other than learning some manners and how to stay out of trouble.  Still no tests (none that affect your future anyway) and your parents are still providing unconditional love, financial support and affection.

Elementary School
Choices become slightly more complex when confronted with the decision of whether to take after school soccer or after school basketball.  Classes have begun to challenge you as you begin learning the basics of math, vocabulary, study skills and social interactions with classmates.  You can fail here but for the most part elementary school is not competitive.  As long as you do the minimum required, you will still be moving up as equals with your classmates.  However, if you do not do your homework and pay attention in class, you may not be able to keep up with your classmates and you may have to repeat a year and all your friends will go on without you. Mom and Dad still love you no matter what and you have yet to pay for anything you consume with your own money let alone worry about paying.

Middle School
Suddenly, the grades you were getting on tests in class are now showing up on your report card.  An F is bad and an A is good.  If you plan to go to a different high school then your grades will be important in order to make the transition.  The admissions office at the high school (the people who get to say whether you can come to the school or not) will be looking at your grades and comparing them with the grades of everyone else who wants to go there.  Only the best students will be approved.  If you want to go to the same high school as your friends then make sure to get good grades so that you will be accepted.  You still have yet to work a day in your life and yes, you have unconditional love, financial support and affection at home although Mom and Dad can sometimes get a little freaked out about obedience issues and homework.

High School
Grades have now become really important.  When you finish high school and apply to college the admissions people at the college will throw away all the applications from kids who do not have high enough grades in high school.  Then, they will throw away all the applications of kids who did not do well enough on their SATs.  Of the kids who are still in the running, the admissions people will look for some early indications of interest in the subject they are applying to study.  If you want to go to college and study marketing, it helps that you did something related to marketing during high school, preferably some sort of summer job.  The colleges will also choose the kids who have achieved something.  Eagle scout from the boy scouts is a good one, captain of the soccer team is also nice, volunteering every summer to build homes in Indonesia stands out as well.  Top score in Mario Kart will not help.  Hopefully, you will have earned some of your own spending money during these 4 years but you don't need to worry about feeding, clothing or sheltering yourself.  Mom and Dad may be more stressed about your school and paying for college but rest assured, they love you as much as they ever did.

You got into the college of your choice and are now studying something relevant to your future job.  Mom and Dad are still paying for everything OR you took out a loan to help with the costs of school. You are making your own schedule and managing your days of school and social activities.  But, looming ahead is a job.  When you graduate from college you will need to work and start supporting yourself.  You will need to find a job that pays enough money so that you can rent an apartment, buy groceries, clothe yourself, pay off the college loan and maybe have enough left over to go out with your friends after work.  Employers are going to look at your grades and take the students with the highest so you need to keep shooting for high marks.  Companies also want focused workers so figure out what job you want now (freshman year) and study for it.  Get an internship EVERY summer that is relevant to the job and industry you are interested in and start making connections through networking both online and in real life.  Love and affection are still unconditional but financial support may be contingent on getting good grades.

Congratulations, you have a job!  Mom and Dad no longer pay for anything but love you and bestow their affection whenever you find time to visit them.  You have a personal life and are in control of your destiny.  Except of course that your boss can fire you if you don't work hard and show results. Grades don't matter anymore, you are back to pass/fail.  Decisions are all yours to make and they are not simple black and white issues.  Set goals for yourself and strive to achieve them.  Welcome to the real world.

As my son transitions from 5th grade to 6th grade one of the big changes will be the use of letter grades from now on and through the rest of his schooling life.  Effort, is no longer a meaningful form of evaluation, results are all that matter now.  The flowchart above grew out of my desire to share with him the benefits that come with good grades and why he should care about getting an A rather than a B.  Of course there are many variations to this chart depending on your location and situation so customize it to make it applicable to your own son or daughter.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

From 6th grade to the 1st day at work, not much has changed

Click to Enlarge
As my son prepares for the terrifying transition from 5th grade to 6th grade, we parents are being inundated with conflicting messages from his school.  An email will arrive letting us know that middle school and elementary school are so completely different that our children may literally burst into flames on their first day of school.  The next day an email arrives explaining that our kids are resilient and smart and wonderful and millions of kids not only start but actually finish 6th grade every year.  I don't actually remember my own "graduation" from 5th grade.  I think it was just another year separated by a summer break.   During one of the orientations held at the school to prepare us (I think the school is actually more worried about the parents than the kids) the handout you see here was... handed out.  It was a relief to read through it and recognize many of the symptoms of 6th graderosis that my wife and I had assumed were exclusive to our son.  Who knew that other 11 year olds were "often aggressive and argumentative" too!  The more disturbing discovery though and the reason I am sharing this on Headhunter Dad is the spooky similarities with several of the common traits of a 6th grader and the complaints made by corporate recruiters after interviewing Generation Y candidates (the current new grad applicant generation).

Do any of these sound familiar to those of you who have interviewed, hired or work with Generation Y employees? 
  • Egocentric
  • Short attention spans
  • Erratic and inconsistent behavior
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Moody, restless and self conscious
  • Needs frequent affirmation of love from adults
There may be more on the handout that match up with Generation Y'ers but the six shown above are ones that will cost our kids jobs.  Even if they make it past the interview process, if our sons and daughters have short attention spans or cannot handle criticism they are going to have a hard time in any working environment.  Assuming that 6th graders (kids aged 11 and 12) have consistently followed this pattern since time began, why is it that college graduates these days have not grown out of these young adult stereotypes?  More importantly, how can we as parents help our own offspring to overcome these weaknesses and stand out from the crowd?

Perhaps the most effective way for us to treat these symptoms is to focus on the root causes.  Short attention spans and erratic and inconsistent behavior could be blamed on the multi-tasking, electronic world we all live in now with instant gratification only fingertips away.  We can start by taking away the video games and cutting back on screen time in general.  Habits are built through continuous repetition.  Find ways for your kids to experience delayed gratification through longer projects or games.  Models, for example take time and patience and the achievement is delayed until the end when it is complete.

The other 4 traits point to insecurity and a lack of self-worth.  Building confidence in our kids is a recurring theme for The Headhunter Dad (To do lists build confidence and Confident Self-Starters).  Please read the other articles for further ideas.  Confidence begins with a secure home environment where our kids feel free to take risks knowing that Mom or Dad will be there to catch them when they fall.  Each time they take a risk and succeed, they add to their internal store of security.  Eventually, they will feel good enough about themselves that they will be able to take those risks even after they leave home.

As endearing as 6th graders are, no employer wants to hire one.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Help your 9 year old write his resume

It seems that regardless of the age of the job seeker, the foremost question in their mind is "How do I write a resume that will get me a good job?"  Unfortunately, this question is fundamentally flawed.  A resume does not get one a job.  There is only one purpose for a resume beyond the administrative record-keeping aspect of one, to convince the employer to interview the candidate.  Once the interview is arranged, the value of the resume drops almost to zero.  Any discrepancies in the document can be explained verbally and experiences that the candidate forgot to include can be brought up on the spot.
There has been much written about the death of the resume.  I would agree with this sentiment with a few reservations.  One only has to consider how many faxed resumes they have seen in the last few years to realize that how a resume is delivered has changed.  More often than not it arrives as a .pdf by way of email rather than printed on nice paper and delivered by the post office.  Many employers have dispensed with a resume completely by forcing applicants to fill out online forms which feed directly into their candidate tracking systems.  This makes it easier for the recruiters to evaluate and sort the various applicants in a uniform way.  So, the delivery may change (snail mail to email) and the form may also change (paper to electronic or even video) but there are some enduring elements of a resume that will remain: relevancy, perfection (no mistakes) and readability.

I am torn with which of these three elements to state as the most important as it is difficult to imagine a resume as effective without all of them.  Therefore, I am going to weight them equally here and endeavour to explain their value without ranking them.

Make no mistakes.  That is worth writing again and in big letters; MAKE NO MISTAKES!  A resume is not a test.  The job seeker is not forced to recall all he or she studied and made to regurgitate it in a specified time period.  The resume is created in the comfort of home (although more often than not it is done in one's office) and usually with the very weakest of deadlines.  The document or text or whatever format it is taking, can be drafted, re-drafted, edited and reviewed over and over again.  Friends, relatives and consultants can be asked to look it over and even our computers these days will tell us if words are spelled wrong or if a certain sentence is grammatically suspicious.  There is no excuse to send in a resume with mistakes on it.  Yes, some employers will overlook a small error. But why take the chance?

Your daughter might create a beautifully formatted and perfect (no mistakes) resume and still it would not be effective if the content is not relevant to the job she is applying to.  It is no longer good enough just to show that our kids have graduated from college.  Everyone applying to that job graduated from college.  It is also not enough that the GPA is high anymore.  Companies receive more resumes than ever thanks to the Internet and a GPA is now used just to screen out candidates in the first review.  The resume must show that our sons and daughters have learned something or experienced something relevant to the job and the company they are applying to. While equally important to a resume as readability and perfection, relevancy is the one element that requires some forethought and planning.  The business major with a summer job as a lifeguard will find it almost impossible to create a relevant resume in order to apply for the entry level computer programmer job.

So your son now has a beautiful resume with no mistakes and documented experiences extolling his relevancy to the job.  But, it is 4 pages long, size 10 font, single spaced and 1/2 inch margins.  Whoever in the organization responsible for reviewing the initial batch of resumes (possibly in the 100s or even 1,000s) will be exhausted half way through the first page.  If the reviewer is particularly conscientious they may read the whole resume but more likely they will either decline or put it aside to focus on other applicants first.  It does not help your son to have written about his relevant experience only to have it lost in the formatting or volume of the application.  Readability is about considering what the other person needs to see to make a decision and how to make it easy for them to get there.  I use the word "readability" as traditional resumes are print based but this also applies to the oft mentioned video resumes as well.  The video needs to be easy to watch and easy to understand so that the relevant strengths of the candidates can be recognized quickly.

I hope that this information is helpful to some of you parents as well as your kids.  Perfection, relevancy and readability are as important to a mid-career application as they are to a new grad resume.  Therein lies the rub.  Many of us "old" folks don't know how to write our own resumes and are therefore not equipped to help our kids when they need it.  Very few of the college students I teach come to my class with an understanding of what the real purpose of a resume is and how a recruiter looks at one. 

So, here is the exercise for today (it will be graded pass/fail as all resumes are).  Sit down with your son or daughter and write a resume with them.  This assignment is for those of you with children at the age where they can read and write well enough to accomplish this task.  If your son is finishing up elementary school this year and moving to middle school next year then use that transition as the goal for the resume.  Ask him what he thinks he needs to be accepted for an interview by the middle school admissions team.  Write out his accomplishments from elementary school and point out how those achievements might impress whoever reviews his resume.  If your daughter is a freshman in college then choose a company and a job she might like to apply to when she graduates.  Writing the resume now will help her to see the blanks that need to be filled in and it is much more useful to know them now when she still has 4 years to gain the experiences and knowledge necessary.  While you are at it show them your resume.  Maybe they will catch a mistake on it you missed!