Pursuing a Career in TV vs. Film


The following is a guest blog by Danielle Deffenbaugh. Danielle is an avid filmmaker that re-located to Los Angeles after finishing her degree in Film Production at San Francisco State and is currently happily working in variety TV.

Danielle is still exploring a multitude of different jobs in both TV and film productions.

Television vs Film: Which one is better to work in?

You’re fresh out of film school, a BA in Cinema under your belt, several independent student films on your resume and countless hours of PAing for your friends or productions when they come to town. You can load film into a Bolex in a pitch-black room in your sleep, set up a c-stand faster than you can say film noir, and recite every word from Citizen Kane backwards.

As you decide to move into the production world and start a career path towards your dream, there comes a fork in the road. For most people, you start working and therefore meeting people and making connections, and that’s how you end up working for one side or another. This divide is most blatantly between Television and Film.

In both facets of the entertainment industry, there are many more paths for you to choose. In Television, you could go into scripted, reality, variety, competition, game show… the list goes on. Film allows you to enter into features, independents, shorts, documentaries, etc. Aside from that, there’s animation, commercials, music videos, and more. Typically, you start working in one area, and that’s where you continue to get hired by the same people. Depending on the department you’re working in, there’s room to move around between different projects if you want. However, in most departments, a position title in film work can be completely different than in TV work.

An AD on a feature film is a drastically different job than an AD on a live TV show. When on a film set, the AD is responsible for scheduling, keeping the shoot moving along and on time, and the set in order among other things. On a live TV show, the AD works with the director to keep the show exactly on time, call out commercial breaks, and help oversee the cameras, again among many other things.

Another position on a film shoot, the script supervisor, is in charge of continuity; keeping every re-take of a shot the same, and making sure the eye-line between two characters matches. On some TV shows, however, the script supervisor is in charge of building scripts. Building a script entails creating an original document on word, and formatting it to look like a script the director will like. Page numbers, page colors, commercial pages, package pages, and music pages are all pieces to the puzzle that goes into a TV script. When looking at the difference between TV and Film production, the type of responsibilities and work that goes into most positions tend to be completely different.

If you’re just starting out in the business, my advice is to try out as many types of projects in production as you can. Even if you have your heart set on directing independent films, you never know if you’ll end up falling in love with directing a scripted TV show. I spent months trying out different types of production; I worked on an independent film, a major feature film, countless short films, a few commercials, a late-night TV show, a scripted TV show, and a live competition show. After all that, I finally decided I liked working in variety TV. Some shows are better than others, but now that I’ve decided this, I tend to only work in this area, and continue to get hired by the same people in that circle.

Some people swear film is better than TV, and vice versa. The beauty of this business though, is that there is something to fit everyone. Even if you find yourself on one side or the other, there’s a type of production to fit everyone’s lifestyle, whether you like the 9 to 5 job or the freelance life of working two weeks straight then two weeks off!

When you’re new to production, take the time to experience as many facets of this industry as you can. Even if you’ve been hustling in the industry for some time, and have always been curious if the grass is really greener on the other side of the production spectrum, take a chance to try out something new if you ever get the opportunity. It’s a crazy business we work in, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t like a certain job you have. Try something different, and see if you like it!

Mads Black

About Mads Black

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Mads is a Scandinavian-born, Los Angeles-based actor and aspiring film maker. He's dabbled in stunt driving (no one got hurt) and once rescued a baby bunny from his garage.

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