How to Make a Practical and Fun living With Your Film Degree

Graduating college or university is a hallmark moment in the lives of many families, inspiring many sentimental social media posts and banners advertising it to the whole world. However, the graduate, especially if they’re in film or media studies or some other Liberal Arts program, is agonizing with self-doubt and despair (ask me how I know). “How will I be able to enter the real world with my useless degree?” is a question many of us ask ourselves. Before we bury our heads in the sand, here is a trajectory we might consider that could act as insurance of not having to go into insurance after graduation.

Case study: Kathy Cabrera, Founder and Head Writer and Producer of Red Clip Video.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Cabrera craved warmth and sunshine. This and the prosperous job market brought her to Atlanta in 2001 after getting her Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Cabrera relocated to LA for two years while completing her Master’s in Screenwriting from UCLA. In her short tenure in California, Cabrera produced multiple award-winning short films, wrote several short and feature-length scripts (one of which was optioned), and won The Young and the Restless Fellowship in Television in 2008.

That same year, Cabrera, who realized after graduation that she “wanted to work in an independent and entrepreneurial venture versus working in-house at a company or studio,” returned to Atlanta where the cost of living is more affordable than LA.

Around the same time YouTube came into our lives, Cabrera observed that businesses were turning to this platform as a way to engage prospective customers. Cabrera, who had prior experience in corporate marketing in addition to her storytelling skills, had the perfect combo to help these companies stand out from the pack in the ocean of virtual content.  Thus Red Clip Video was born.

There was some trial and error at the beginning of her producing career. Cabrera remembers, “I found myself for the first few years having the same conversation with businesses when it came to video. The sky seemed to be the limit when it started as a brainstorm, but their budgets couldn’t match up with the videos they’d envisioned.”

By the time Red Clip came around, Cabrera perfected a cost effective system catering for a wide range of small to mid-sized businesses. Her company offers a selection of video templates or “styles” that are determined by budget and the needs of the individual client, and can be modified or tweaked (for more information visit her Services & Examples page).

Ultimately, the beauty of this venture is that many of the skillsets for corporate are essentially the same as a “standalone short film.” Firstly, she assembles the core team, a producer, director, and writer. She contracts out other jobs to local people (keep your eyes open as Red Clip posts listings around town. From sources, I hear Cabrera is a good employer). 

The number one priority for each assignment is the story. This is why Cabrera and her team take the time to map out a three act script with plot points to keep things entertaining, or YouTubeable. Rather than bombard the audience with the product and put them off, it is important to draw them in and build up their interest before deftly slipping in the product or service. From her experience, Cabrera found that narratives with a relatable protagonist and an interactive format go over best with consumers.

A good example of these principles in action is her latest series of ads for Jelastic, a software company that offers services for businesses such as high-tech cloud and web hosting. Fascinating, right? Cabrera transforms much of technical gobbildy goop of computer programming and presents us with “The Most Interesting Developer in the World,” (parts 1 & 2) an amusing parody of the popular “The Most Interesting Man in the World” beer commercials.

Through the protagonist, who is the stereotypically nerdy, but appealing computer programmer, Cabrera’s production finds a good balance of poking fun at IT people while revering their (and Jelastic’s by osmosis) technical wizardry. Jelastic isn’t even mentioned until the very end, though it’s memorable as the non-handsome protagonist says it in a pithy imitation of the Most Interesting Man’s Spanish accent.

Cabrera encourages recent graduates of film and media to follow their dream, but she also stresses the importance of remaining open to other (paying) opportunities along the way. Often times those life experiences can act as inspiration for future creative projects. Cabrera, who teaches screenwriting and filmmaking courses for the Atlanta Film Festival and continues to write screenplays to keep her creative juices flowing, lives by her philosophies.

Cabrera asserts that studying film is actually a highly worthwhile degree because students are trained in the art of storytelling, which is a highly valuable skill that applies to many professions. She adds, “Having more than one skill – in the entertainment field alone – will increase your chances for long-term success in the industry.” For example, if you’re a writer, you should learn another skill such as producing, directing, or acting that can aid you from paper to film.

Good luck with your future endeavors. Hopefully, you’ll be my next case study.

Adam is a freelance writer who owns and operates the entertainment blog The Tawfik Zone. You can follow him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn.