August 2011 BECTU Creative Toolkit - "Five Minutes with -"
Michael Carmody, writer/director, freelance.
When I set off on my long and winding road it was as a trainee in Pathe Labs, Elstree. When that was completed I was made sensitometric controller. (Only colleagues in the labs will have a clue as to what that means; perhaps that job too has long since gone). I then jumped across to ABPC Studios as a sound trainee becoming later a sound camera operator: shooting/location, post sync (dialogue replacement), EFX (Foley) and scoring theatre. I was promoted to 2nd assistant dubbing mixer, working on The Saint, French Dressing Ken Russell's first feature, Summer Holiday and Wonderful Life, among many others.
I left the industry in 1965, to return in 1974 to the then Thames TV as a freelance sound assistant. A permanent position followed in 1976 and I was later promoted to assistant/dubbing mixer. At the Euston base the output was mainly news, current affairs and docs. I made redundant in 1992. Amongst all of this I wrote and directed two non-exhibition docs: The Dresden Story and It's Not Magic, the latter an introduction to filming for trainee PAs at Thames. I am currently on the 5th re-write of an original screenplay for the cinema.
My advice to new entrants?
1. Decide where your real interest in the process of film/TV, production lies and focus on that. "I want to be a film/programme maker" is not enough. Then make a beeline for where you can best prise open a door: easier said than done.
2. Personally, I don't think it makes a blind bit of difference whether you have a degree, or not. There are more ways to skin a cat.
3. I had the advantage of a three year traineeship, and when I changed course another of two years, but crucially in a working environment and at professionals' elbows. Today, that seems to be nigh on impossible. If you can find an appropriate niche, be prepared not to be "top dog" too soon: look, listen and learn.
4. This is perhaps the most important. After you have got a toe-in, or indeed, a shoe-in get to know as much about your specialism as possible, and go on learning. Make yourself aware of other people's skills and contributions to a production (all grades, trades and skills). And if your ambition, in production, is to become one of the "top dogs", do not forget that you are still one of a team; treat your colleagues properly and they will work wonders, play the big "I am" and you could find it a very lonely place. From other positions, you're not a doormat either! You will have good times and bad times; either way embrace a union membership around you, especially in today's industrial climate and practices.
5. When the job is done I hope you'll be able to take pride in your work and anticipate being asked to work again --- hopefully.
6. As one who, thankfully, no longer has to rely upon being perpetually motivated, there is, nevertheless, always more to do.