This article was written by freelance writer Georgina Lawton.
Breaking into TV and film doesn’t always mean bagging a job as a director, producer or scriptwriter. Getting into the industry is hard work, but there are actually a whole range of incredible jobs up for grabs that you may not even have heard of.
To celebrate our incredible film-making opportunity with O2 and the BFI, we’ve profiled three cool people who have awesome (and lesser-known) jobs in the film and TV world. Prepare to be amazed…
What on earth is a greensman?
I am the person in charge of all the plants on set! I transform a vacant studio space into a convincing natural environment using just plants and natural materials, which is very satisfying as you’re largely relying on nothing technical (unlike most of the other departments!).
What are the best and worst parts of the job?
The worst bit about the job is that, in a lot of cases, the rest of the crew don’t share your passion for the plants and materials! Other crew sometimes trash our dressing without giving it a second thought – they don’t consider a specimen plant to be worth anywhere near as much as an expensive lens. However, the perks are numerous. I’ve worked on lots of cool films: Legend, Mr. Holmes and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Also there’s a lot of scope to travel. Our company does the greens dressing on films in Europe and North Africa but usually if you want these jobs abroad you have to be the best greensman in your field.
The job is also very varied: in the morning I could be designing a moonscape, then in the afternoon dressing a jungle, then the following day a Victorian hotel lobby etc. I am personally a full-time permanent employee for a greenery rental company, so work for me is regular. The greens department isn’t the place to meet famous people but I’ve been on the same set as at Bryan Cranston and did a very close up shoot with Cate Blanchett in Berlin and got to chat with her which is cool!
I’m sold. How can I get there?
To become a greensman, you need to begin with a basic knowledge of plants and natural landscapes and how things grow. This isn’t something you can bluff as you’ll get caught out very quickly, so you either have a flair for it or you don’t! Work experience definitely helps, but with this job it’s not necessarily about being on set all the time either – sourcing and prepping materials is just as big a part of the job as the on-set dressing.
What is a foley artist?
Foley artists work in isolation away from the actors and directors, our job is to make the everyday and unusual sound effects that are added to the film post-production. We make unusual noises with our imagination! An interesting fact about my job is that it is named after Jack Foley, the first sound professional to use the sound of his walk and make bespoke character sound effects in time with the picture.
What’s the job like day-to-day?
I use some props which are go-to items that can be used time and time again. Chamois leathers soak up water and squish nicely so that’s helpful for blood and gore and I have a pair of industrial rubbery gloves that I swirl in circles on the floor to make the sound of car tyres scraping on tarmac. I also work with a Foley mixer (they record all of the sounds) to create a great soundtrack and I love that my job is very much a team effort.
However, physically my job can be so exhausting! Walking (or running) the footsteps for many characters and running around the studio to find the right props, all whist being ‘switched on’ to the character’s emotional states AND being poised for all their movements, means some tired legs on the way home from the studio.
How did you get to where you are?
I was studying music technology at college and university when I first learnt about Foley artists. Once I graduated, I read and watched anything I could get my hands on and volunteered my time on short films, learning the craft. Eventually I was picked up by a sound designer who was looking for an apprentice to train.
It’s not necessary to have any formal qualifications to be a Foley artist but some skills are necessary. Foley artists are essentially actors who only use their body language. A keen ear, awareness of human emotions and fast reactions are necessary skills. If you want to know more about my profession then check out my blog, The Foley Diaries.
What do you do?
I work with sound! I work mainly on documentaries at the moment. This involves spending the first hour of my day editing the music, making sure all of the edits are in time with each other and ensuring that they work musically.
Then I spend the majority of the day working on the dialogue, making everything sound natural (you’d be surprised how much sentences are mix and matched to tell a story) and cleaning up any background noises and humming or buzzing. Then I add all the background stuff required (traffic, birds etc) and any sound effects (footsteps, doors and perhaps whooshes and other ‘discing’ sounds.
Do you enjoy it?
Yes! The best bits about my job are getting to be creative and make something sound so much more interesting than the original recording. Plus watching (or listening) to my work on TV is awesome, especially when/if your name comes up on the credits. The worst part is probably be the uncertainty of the work (welcome to the world of freelance). The hours are long but you get used to it and, to be honest, in a job like mine, you don’t mind being at work for 12 hours.
Ok, how can I do it?
You don’t have to have a degree or any training to start as a runner (it is unlikely you will start out in the industry as a sound editor, you need to work your way up). You should, however, have some work experience under your belt. It shows initiative and a genuine interest in the industry.
I started out as a runner at Envy Post Production making tea and delivering tapes across Soho. I trained with the assistants in the Machine Room and I had to learn more than almost all of the other runners because I didn’t know any of the theory they had from their degrees. Once I was promoted to audio assistant and was settled in this position, I concentrated on spending extra hours in the studios watching the editors and mixers, practising and asking questions, before finally moving up to sound editor four years ago. For more details on my work, check out my website.
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