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Lights, camera, action: North Lake College video technology students look forward to careers in TV and film

By Cesar Canizales.

The newscast’s director told one of the camera operators to zoom in on the anchor, then counted down as the show’s opening music started to play. The “jib” (or boom camera) descended on the set and slowly moved toward the anchor’s desk. Nervously, the director said, “Ready, camera 1; take 1,” into his microphone. However, on this occasion, one of the cameras was not framed correctly, and the control room crew and camera operators had to start again.

It was only the second day that North Lake College video technology students had produced a newscast, and most of them were still learning how to use the equipment and make all the adjustments that go into producing a news program. As a result, they had to repeat the process several times before they completed a full show.

The students train in a realistic studio environment where they learn how to use professional-grade cameras, digital video equipment, audio boards and switchers, according to Tim Dougherty, a video technology professor at the school.

Beyond the basics

The program teaches the “nuts and bolts” of video technology, but it also trains students for a variety of situations in the real world.

“We are preparing students for a career in video production,” Dougherty said. “That includes all types of production jobs, such as script writing, camera, audio, lighting, graphics and technical directing.”

Davis Trent, who graduated from North Lake in 2015 and now works as a freelance video editor and cameraman, said the education he received is valuable. He added that the school also teaches students how to present themselves in the industry.

“You can spend a year getting to know an audio mixer inside and out, but as soon as you move to another job, you’ll have to learn to use a different mixer from the ground up,” Trent said. “What the program really prepares you for is being resourceful and being able to handle situations like that.”

Dougherty said that while some students leave school before graduation to go to work in the TV industry, he encourages them to finish their degrees.

“We have students who launched their own production companies, including one who has a production house doing reality TV for the DIY and HGTV networks. Some go into broadcast news production,” Dougherty said.

David Koss was enrolled in the program from 1999 to 2001, but he did not graduate. Eventually he went back to North Lake and earned his degree in 2008. Today, he owns a motion graphics and 3-D animation company.

Koss applied what he learned in the program – including editing, lighting and camera work – to what his company produces for customers that include local and national TV, corporate clients and online companies.

“I like sitting down and doing 3-D animation,” Koss said. “It’s like the old saying, ‘Find something you love and do that for a living.’ I do 3-D just for fun on my own.”

Garrett Gilcrease, a second-year video technology major, hopes to get into 3-D modeling and animation after he finishes school. The 21-year-old, who directed the newscast, said he likes directing, but he prefers production.

“I enjoy every aspect of production,” Gilcrease said. “I like the idea of producing something and putting it out there for people to watch and enjoy.”

A bright spotlight on jobs

Students in the program can look forward to prosperous careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the broadcast and audio engineering industry will grow by 7 percent over the next 10 years, and the median pay is almost $42,000 per year. In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, salaries are slightly higher, about $44,600 per year.

In addition, the BLS data show that jobs for camera operators and video editors will grow by more than 11 percent in the next decade, a faster rate than average; the median pay in those careers is almost $27 per hour. In North Texas, those jobs pay almost $60,000 per year.

When Trent started as an entry-level, freelance editor, he made $25 per hour. But he said with one year’s worth of experience and his faster speed as an editor, he will start charging $30 an hour in 2017.

“A lot of these edit jobs are long documentaries that run 23 or 46 minutes, and that happens over three 45-hour work weeks, so I bring in a fair amount of money,” Trent said.

Creativity in demand

Kayla Milliron, a 28-year-old Navy veteran, is earning an associate degree in video technology and hopes to get a bachelor’s degree after that. She enjoys working with cameras behind the scenes, particularly because her family owns an independent film company in Dallas.

“It wasn’t until I was out of the Navy that I realized how much I enjoyed doing that kind of work. There’s an instant-gratification element of putting something on camera and seeing it work,” Milliron said. “I like the photography aspect of how you set up cameras, how you frame a shot, what’s in the shot, the lighting – all of it!”

Cici Reyna considers herself a creative person, and her previous career choice was not what she wanted to do with her life.

“Originally I was going to be a registered nurse. I thought about it, and I asked myself whether I really wanted to do that – if it was my passion,” Reyna said. “I decided, ‘No, I want to do something creative where I can put my mind to work.’ Nursing is a great job, but I don’t think I would be happy doing that, even though I like helping people.”

Reyna expects to graduate in 2018 and then move to Austin to work in that city’s film industry.

“I love producing and directing,” she said. “I come from a family that is very artistic, and I tend to be more on the control side. I like to come up with ideas and have them come to life by directing people on how to portray themselves. That’s more my cup of tea.”

Dougherty said that people with a unique blend of talents are successful in the industry.

“People who do well have a lot of energy,” he said. “Those who excel at writing and are highly literate make good employees, too. But creativity is a huge factor. We want creative students, and most young people are creative. They’re binge-watching shows, so they get it.”

In addition, Dougherty said people who like the technical side – software and computers – are going to excel.

“Those who are creative and also are technically- and analytically-minded will find work right off the bat,” he stated.

Sage advice for rookie video techs

Trent initially struggled when he first entered the industry, but he has learned from his mistakes.

“I learned that you have to pace yourself when you start in this business,” Trent said. “You can’t be overzealous, and you can’t go around giving business cards to everyone you meet. You have to be a fly on the wall, listen and learn first.”

Koss echoed the sentiment and added that people who go into the industry should always seek to learn and improve.

“If you don’t hate the stuff you produced a year ago, then you haven’t improved. You should never stop evolving,” Koss stated.