To film or not to film?
Lighting director Katie Mitchell, along with a fellow student film crew, produces a preliminary filming of “Little Spoon” in 2010.
By Dan O’Neill
After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008, film enthusiast Alex Withrow knew exactly what he wanted to do and that was to make movies.
Even though he received a degree in print journalism, his main intention in life was to make money as a film maker. That is, until the recession hit as soon as he left college and found out that getting his dream job was harder than he expected.
“I had to work little odd jobs to make ends meet,” said Withrow in an e-mail. “Finally though, I got a job at a newspaper, and was shortly brought on as desk reporter.”
After a brief stint there, things began looking up for Withrow in 2010 when he landed a job as a reporter for the Loudoun County, Virginian newspaper, and covered the education beat.
Withrow was pleased, considering that Loudoun County was “the richest county in America,” he said.
But Withrow didn’t stay there as long as he planned. “I left there for another line of work,” he said, “and then finally ended up at a non-profit, where I’m the Editor in Chief of a quarterly magazine.”
Withrow said that he loves everything about film. The art, the energy and the creative labor that is necessary to bring a project to fruition.
He knew that he wanted to make films right out of college, but was stymied by the limited salaries typically earned by most film school graduates.
“My college’s filmmaking program was and remains a complete joke,” he said. “It’s a very long story, but basically, attaining a film degree from VCU is next to impossible.”
Alex shares the same thoughts, ideas, and dreams that nearly every film student in the world feels, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Students with a film video and photography art degree seem to be having problems finding jobs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, they are ranked #21 among 174 college majors with the highest unemployment.
The study also concluded that the unemployment rate, as of last May, has risen to 7.4 percent.
Another study done by Georgetown University last year, concluded that recent graduates with a “film video and photographic arts” degree have an unemployment rate of 12.9%. Whereas experienced college graduates with the same degree have an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent.
The above statistic is more alarming as it is not inclusive of all colleges, but focuses on those schools that hold film as their top priority.
Students who have graduated from colleges such as Temple, New York University, Harvard, USC, Manhattan College, and etc. are also finding problems in either film or non-film related jobs.
“Many of the most successful actors, producers, and directors have extraordinarily high-earnings,” reports the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, “but many more of these professionals, faced with erratic earnings, supplement their income by holding jobs in other fields.”
More than likely, film students will find themselves in sales, food service or construction jobs that have nothing to do with the movie-making business.
Unfortunately for most students, they also have to pay for more bills that have to do with the college, including loans.
The Art Institute is a film and arts school supported mainly by donations and pledges.
In one of its most recent statistics, they showed graduates of one of their $99,000 film programs have a 65 percent job placement rate and starting salary of $30,000 a year. Doing the math, this is about $460 a week after taxes.
Meanwhile, according to FinAid.org, a website that helps college students find scholarships to help them save and earn money when going to college, showed how the monthly payment on a $99,000 student loan is about $755 a month.
On top of that, a student ends up paying double for a loan in 20 years ($180,000 total) in order to go through the program.
Not only do many students have to attend school, study, and earn some money for expenses, but they also have to divert earnings to pay off loans and debt.
This is all before they get to even begin directing their first film.
Today, Withrow has done just that. He has written, directed, and produced a short film titled “Earrings” and writes a blog all about film called “And So it Begins…”. Most recently, he has taken a leave of absence from his editing job to focus on his film career.
“I have two film productions in the works”, he said. “One is a documentary that I’ll be able to shoot for cheap. When I was 17 years old, my best friend was in a car accident on Christmas Day and died as a result of his injuries on New Year’s Day.
The film is called “Remember” because that’s exactly what I want people to do: remember him.”
He’s also started production on another narrative-film titled “Wait.”
“Wait is my version of a modern love story,” Withrow said. “The film concerns four people whose lives are forever altered following a chance misfortune. It’s a film about love pushing you into a corner, forcing you to make impossible decisions.”
Withrow does hope that it reaches a wide audience once it is completed and released, because he says it will have an effect on those who see it.
“Raw, emotive and honest,” said Withrow. “My hope is that it devastates as much as it encourages.”