Thoughts on The 10 Worst College Majors

Posted on by Larry

I’ve been thinking a lot about careers in media recently.

It started with a recent blog I wrote, called: “Can You Still Have a Career in Editing?” which generated a LOT of comments, both pro and con.

Then, I was asked to moderate a panel as part of the Post-Production World at the 2013 NAB Show, discussing “The Future of Editing,” with Scott Simmons, Jeff Greenberg, Michael Cioni, and Tibor Spiegel. With more than 100 people in the audience, we had a wide-ranging, thoughtful discussion of our industry. (Sadly, our conversation was not recorded. However, I reference some of the key points that were made, later in this blog.)

Then, this week, Forbes ran an article, based on research from Georgetown University, called “The 10 Worst College Majors.” Georgetown analyzed career prospects and expected salary and mapped them against popular majors.

Well, when it comes to filmmakers, the results could be worse, but not by much. While Anthropology took the highly-uncoveted number 1 spot, Film, Video, and Photographic Arts ranked #2. Fine Arts was #3. Music #6. Graphic Design #8. How Dance managed to avoid this list amazes me. Otherwise, it was a clean sweep for the arts.

Desolation everywhere you looked. Gosh, this is depressing.

I have a hard time justifying studying media as a major today. However, I think media is an essential minor, as a support for whatever else you are learning. I teach my students at USC, none of whom are filmmakers, that their ability to succeed in business in the future will be based upon their ability to use images – both still and moving. Media skills today are similar to when I was going to high school and took a one-semester touch-typing course. NOTHING I’ve taken before or since, has been as essential to my career as that one skills class.

As I wrote in my earlier blog, I think we are in a “best of times/worst of times” situation. Visual literacy, the ability to communicate and tell stories using both still and video images, is an essential skill today. The need for this ability will only increase in the future, because, for a variety of reasons, reading has fallen into disfavor. Watching videos is the new norm.

Yet, there are so many new people trying to create careers in a media industry that can’t support them, that not enough newcomers are able to make a living at it.

I think careers in media are cyclical and are clearly tied to the economy. When the economy is doing well, companies and people are willing to spend on video. When times get tight, they aren’t. The last ten years have clearly illustrated the validity of this concept. Yes, it is getting cheaper to create media, but, in many cases, the media we create is “cheaper” as well; less visually interesting, more like an illustrated radio show.

However, I don’t think the answer is to give up.

At the NAB panel, I asked Jeff Greenberg if his training business had dried up. He said that training will always be in demand, as long as we focus on more than the technology. We need to focus on using technology to tell stories.

Here, I disagree with my good friend Norman Hollyn, who preaches the mantra that “story is everything.” To me, a successful career in our industry is built upon Four Foundations:

  1. Our ability to use technology
  2. To tell stories
  3. That other people want to watch
  4. By building on strengths that are unique to each of us.

Each of these is essential – but the last point is a bit obtuse. Before I explain it, though, let me talk about the first three.

Clearly, if we don’t know how to shoot or edit video, we need to partner with someone who does, if we want to tell a story. If we do know how to shoot and edit video, but don’t have anything to say, we also need to partner with someone who can tell stories. Partnerships and collaboration are long-standing elements of successful people in our industry. Very, very few people have all the necessary skills to do everything. And, the sooner a newcomer realizes that they don’t have to do everything, the sooner they start creating professional grade work by collaborating with people that can fill in the missing blanks.

But story-telling isn’t enough. We need to tell stories that others want to watch. Otherwise, we are shouting into the wind, with as much effect.

For me, though, my fourth foundation suggests a way to create a career. What strengths do you have that make you unique? I don’t speak Spanish, so I would lose a potential job to someone that does. Spanish isn’t my strength, but perhaps it is yours.

Or, I have no interest in motor sports. Someone that does would make a much better videographer than me, because they are leading into a strength – a love of motor sports.

One of my strengths is an ability to speak well in public. I enjoy it – a lot. And I’m good at it. But, that’s been true all my life. I don’t really consider it a strength, because its always been part of me. This is true for many of us, we worry about what we can’t do and minimize what we can; because “well, that’s always been easy for me.”

Taking the time to evaluate what makes you unique will give you the edge you need to explain to clients, and audiences, why you are exactly the person they need to tell their stories. A man who shoots weddings and a woman that shoots weddings can both create beautiful videos, but they won’t be the same. Each brings their unique perspective to the images and story they create.

And building on those personal strengths, combined with a knowledge of technology to tell the stories audiences want to watch, is the best way to build a career; whether you are just starting out, or have been in this industry for a while.

As always, I’m interesting in your comments.


7 Responses to Thoughts on The 10 Worst College Majors

  1. Jeff Orig says:

    I don’t think there was ever a “good” time to have Film, Video, or Photography as your major. I disagree with the sentiment of the Forbes article and the depressed attitude in general.

    Yes, the old way of doing things in media is dying if not completely dead. I say hooray! The old way was full of cronyism and barriers to entry that were based on access to expensive gear. It was not largely based on talent and competition.

    I would add a few more things to your four foundations:
    5. The ability to tell our own stories to our clients so that they invest in our professional fees.
    6. Create original content that is awesome. There is always room for awesome. People will pay good money for awesome.
    7. There are no more excuses.

    I have to guess most of us got into this field because we love it. A love so undeniable that we would suffer tremendously to do it. Low wages, sleepless nights, weight gain, and on and on.

    Also, I think most of it got into this field to create works that were personal and satisfying to us. Maybe it is a feature film, a documentary, or a TV show that we thought would be great.

    I doubt most of went into this field thinking, “I can’t wait to make a wedding video for strangers” or “I can’t wait to make a video about health care laws and how it affects liability in a hospital.” Hopefully you get the idea.

    My point is this: while I love making wedding films, corporate videos, and other works where I am hired to provide our skills, talent, and technology it is not the reason I majored in film.

    I’m not sure if you can get rich being a hired gun. I’m not sure if that was ever the case. But I believe you can make a living doing it. And if you want to get rich, then the only way I see doing that is to make that personal piece that is dear to your heart. In fact, make all of those things there are dear to your heart. The world wants to see them.

    But be smart about it. Have the end in mind. Where will you show it/sell it when it is done? Does the length and format make it easy or difficult to sell/distribute? If it does not sell, will it kill me (financially/physically/mentally) or will it be a learning experience? If I were to make this for a client, what would the timeline look like? (Don’t take forever to do it.)

    Here are some examples of success stories:

    Lena Dunham wrote and directed “Tiny Furniture.” It was shot on a Canon 7D and probably edited with FCP. She now directs a TV show called “Girls” on HBO.

    Jay and Mark Duplass shot “The Puffy Chair” on a Panasonic AG-DVX100. They have gone on to do several features and series.

    Top youtubers are making six figures a year uploading weekly shorts shot on DSLR’s, webcams, laptops, or whatever else they can get their hands on.

    It will not be an easy path. It never was. But you already knew that.

    I don’t know if this is the answer or not, but it is what I believe.

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks, Larry, for a couple of informative blog pieces (this, and the earlier Can You Still Have a Career…, which I hadn’t seen before.)

    As a former network editor forced out into the freelance world with the eventual cancellation of his show, I can attest that it is not nearly so pretty. It is a shame, too, to read how all the “arts” including the “liberal arts” (which to my mind include those which help us learn how to think) are so poorly valued, although this is not a new phenomenon.

    Things change. Not always for the better.

    You do good work in the world. May we all do good work in the world.
    And let it multiply abundantly.


  3. Juan says:

    Thank you larry for providing us some inspiration and strong words to continue in our path..

    I believe technology has had a great big part into making everything easy for new comers to get into a field that otherwise used to be ruled by people who went to school for it.

    I think is ridiculous of Forbes to say to people not to be part of these careers when these are the music that we hear day in day out 24 hours a day.. the billboards we see on the road, the brochures we get in the mail, the logos that adorn our government buildings, the content that makes up for the 500+ channels that we watch and not to mention all the photographs that capture our hearts when tragedy strikes. and those people who make sure all these videos and pictures are nicely placed on the web… goes to show you again how non artist look at us, they see us not worthy of our talents when everything that surrounds them was created by people like us.

  4. Andy says:

    I made a lot of money when film was the only photographic medium. With the advent of 1) digital and 2) the internet…. the skill level has diminished and access to the public (with no requirement for brick and mortar stores) has increased. I used to have 6 major competitors, now I have 6000 in our market. Everyone has a ‘store’ and everyone is a ‘photographer’ and everyone has a student loan to subsidize this area of learning. Get wise people, only a very small percentage are going to make a living in film, video, or graphic arts… make it your minor, and get a CS, Law, Bio or other degree where there the supply is more in line with the demand.

  5. Terry S. says:

    Wise words Larry. Thanks again for your insight. If you could, next time Jessica Sit omer comes on the BUZZ, bring up the article and subject with her. Would love to hear her thoughts on this. Many thanks.

  6. wayne says:

    Interesting above commenter, with no disrespect, he says “..nobody wants to make a wedding video for strangers” or “… nobody wants to tell people about health care”. I would love to do that, to know a couple can look back on their wedding day or the public is more informed about health care. Its all about personalities. There IS a lot of room for storytelling in SOME form.

    But yes I think making a good living in this business is creating a business of some kind, and it would be a great idea to have supporting experience/knowledge in computer science, information technology, engineering, hard business skills etc. The combination of skills, experience and knowledge is what makes us valuable and unique.

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