Three Tips for Getting a Video Production Job – excellent advice from Columbia J-school’s Duy Linh Tu

Guest post by Duy Linh Tu:

Fifteen years ago, I went to journalism school to become a Cameron Crowe-style music reporter: Lots of think pieces about mid-level bands. But somewhere in the months before graduation, I abandoned the written word and fell in love with video storytelling. I had neither the looks nor the desire to be on camera, but I instantly fell for shooting and editing. Since graduation, I’ve been lucky enough to earn a decent buck producing videos.

As the end of this school year approaches, many of my J-School students are worried about getting jobs. They are laying out beautiful resumes and putting together WordPress portfolios with slick Snow Fall-esque themes. Over the years, I’ve been in the fortunate position of hiring crews to work with me on various projects. The resumes and sites my students are obsessing over are gorgeous, but I can’t remember an instance when either of these things compelled me to give someone a job.  

What makes me want to hire a shooter, a producer, or an editor?  I’ll admit a lot of it is pure nepotism: I hire my friends.Lucky for me, my friends are some of the best in the business. But, there are many times when I have to test the waters and use some new folks.

So, what do I (and presumably others looking for talent) want in a hire? Really, only three things:

1.  You Have Real Skills. I don’t care if your work has appeared on the New York Times site or only on your personal Vimeo page. I don’t care if your videos have been seen by millions or dozens. I just care that your videos are good. I care that you know how to:  compose beautiful images, properly expose footage, manage color, shoot complete sequences, get good sound in the field, manage media, and edit compelling stories. Your producer title at CNN and internship at The New Yorker mean absolutely nothing to me if you don’t have any real skills.

2.  You’ve Done A Lot of Work. I don’t care if you graduated from Columbia Journalism School or never even went to college.  I don’t care if you’re a “professional” or just learning the trade. I do care deeply if you have a big body of work.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve only produced student projects, practice exercises, or spec videos. If you work constantly (a story a week as Ira Glass suggests), I will know that you are committed to the craft of video storytelling. You’ve already made a lot mistakes and you’ve learned a lot on your own. More importantly, it shows that you’re not afraid to make more mistakes and you are willing to learn even more. I meet many people who think video production is fun and exciting work. It can be. But most of the time, it is just brutally exhausting. A big body of work helps me separate the dedicated ones from the posers.

3.  You Are Not a Dick. Video production is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s long hours in uncomfortable environments crushed under tight deadlines. And things go wrong all the time. I’ve learned to deal with and manage all this. But what I can’t stand to have on any of my shoots is a sour attitude or an overblown ego. Being polite is Rule #1 (Polite = “Please” and “Thank you.”). Being on time and reliable is Rule #2. Having a great sense of humor is Rule #3. It’s really not more complicated than that.

Be careful: This is a small, small world. If you were a dick to someone, then most likely word has gotten around. I am grateful whenever someone warns me about potential personnel problems and I’ve never hesitated to put dicks on blast. Also, sexist, racist and homophobic jokes on set aren’t cute. Go there, and you’ll will never work with me again.

And that’s it. Pretty simple. So, instead of spending time deciding on Helvetica or Arial, you should grab your camera and go out and make something now. Each and every time you shoot or edit, you get better. I (and others hiring) will be able to see your improvement with each video you post. You don’t need to be an expert. But if you have shown a commitment to getting better, then there’s no doubt I want you on my team.

Happy shooting,


Duy Linh Tu is Assistant Professor and Director of Digital Media at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University.

This post original appeared on Duy’s Tumblr and is reproduced here with kind permission.

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