All college graduates benefit from having practical experience prior to landing their first job. In videography it is essential.
To work in a technical role on a television or movie set, or at a live concert or athletic event, the stakes are clear: Know what you are doing or be replaced by someone who does.
That’s why Film and Video Studies (FVS) instructor Bobby Chastain encourages students in his Cinematography and Videography course to do whatever they can to sharpen their skills, whether it’s starting a wedding video business, working events with Hall of Music Productions or participating in his Big Ten sports production course.
“This is crucial: It is very difficult to land your first job with zero experience,” said Chastain, a Purdue alumnus who once worked as a special effects technician in Los Angeles. “So our job here as faculty is to give students both: the great liberal arts education that we want them to have, and also a high level of practical exposure and experience.”
They gain a measure of that practical experience in the Cinematography and Videography course by developing camera skills and learning about the technology that is at their disposal. Chastain also introduces his students to FVS program alumni who have gone on to work in the production industry, allowing them to share personal knowledge, experiences, and advice for breaking into the business.
Two such alumni spoke to Chastain’s class during the spring semester: freelance camera operator Will Cabral and Denver Bailey, a camera operator on numerous TV productions over the last several years.
Both alumni validate Chastain’s advice about gaining practical experience as students since undergraduate work shooting Purdue athletic events helped launch their respective careers in video production.
“Looking back, working with the Hall of Music was so valuable. That was a lot of on-the-job training before I would go out and do that stuff in the real world,” Bailey said. “So that’s why I want to encourage people to do much more than just what they’re doing in the class.”
Cabral has shot live video of everyone from Aretha Franklin to Jimmy Buffett, and from Kanye West to Pope Benedict. The 2009 FVS graduate gave a hands-on workshop to Chastain’s class on Steadicam use, demonstrating how to properly operate the various cameras, mounts, and harnesses that allow a moving photographer to maintain a smooth, steady shot.
He also shared thoughts on his career as a freelance camera operator. Among his most recent credits is a role as a specialty camera operator on tour with country music superstar Kenny Chesney – one of eight Purdue grads working on the tour.
“Just like you buy toothpaste, if your toothpaste doesn’t taste good and doesn’t do the job, then you can’t sell it,” Cabral said after speaking to Chastain’s students. “So when you’re on set, being professional and courteous, knowing what the rules are, and just getting your job done the best you can possibly do, that’s what your job is.
“Outside of even camera operating, it’s being a good crewmember and respecting the artist and the other crewmembers. It’s a lifestyle that you’re choosing as a business/freelancer.”
A few weeks after Cabral’s visit, 2014 FVS graduate Bailey discussed some of the things he wishes he had known prior to landing a job as a production assistant on the TV show “Criminal Minds” in Los Angeles.
The must-know terms. Understanding the differences between union and non-union gigs. The essential tools to always have handy on set – for example, a Leatherman Wingman multi-tool and a “hot brick” (a charged battery) – and the skills necessary to succeed in various assignments.
Bailey shared thoughts on each of these subjects while speaking to the class for more than two hours.
He advised students that sometimes it’s necessary to take on projects that are not especially exciting – like shooting weddings or working for a reality show – in order to fund passion projects that often will not be as lucrative. In Bailey’s case, the passion project was a documentary about Christian rapper KJ-52, titled “The Jonah Movie,” that he shot, produced, and directed himself.
Like Cabral, Bailey also expressed appreciation for how the FVS program has sharpened its focus under Chastain’s leadership.
“That’s really why I want to come back and why I stay in contact with Bobby. I can say, ‘Hey, you should think about teaching this,’ ” said Bailey, who now lives in Atlanta, a hub of American television production. “It’s really cool to see that now there’s a cinematography class that’s more in line with what I do, and so I like to come back and say a little bit about what’s out there to expect.”
Working in the video production field, where technical employees often move from gig to gig, requires ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit in order to succeed. Chastain has lived that lifestyle – working as a camera operator, in special effects, and even as a licensed pyrotechnician in Los Angeles – so the message that he and the program alumni delivered to his class came from a real-world perspective.
Chastain said it was important to him that students meet alumni like Cabral and Bailey, not just because of the valuable lessons they can provide, but also to inform the undergraduates of professional possibilities that exist once they complete the FVS program.
“Having successful alumni, that’s what we’re here for. That’s amazing,” Chastain said. “On top of that, we have successful alumni that are showing enough character to want to come back and give back and meet the next generation and talk to them and stuff, and that’s just unbelievable.”