Some Tips To Aspiring Creatives Can Stand Out From The Crowd

Anyone interested in a creative career has probably already heard this refrain from a family member or dubious friend: “And how do you get a job doing that?”It’s true that competition is fierce for those seeking to become filmmakers, graphic designers, visual effects artists, and so on, but it’s not exactly out of the realm of possibility to make a living in these roles.

Take a look at this year’s Oscar nominees: plenty of Aussies have managed to find great success across a whole range of creative fields, from sound design to cinematography.With director George Miller looking to make a bunch more Mad Maxsequels in the future, maybe now’s the time to start getting skilled up for such gigs?The question is, how does a graduate stand out from the crowd? Student Edge asked the Academy of Information Technology’s (AIT) Industry Internship Liaison Officer, Tamara Popper, for her top tips.As the woman responsible for connecting “AIT to the industry” and bringing “the industry to AIT,” she’s plugged into the current state of the arts in Australia, as well as an export in teeing up students with on-the-job internship opportunities.Plus, as an independent film producer who has also worked for Screen Australia (then, the Australian Film Commission) and numerous local film festivals, she’s armed with a deep knowledge of what’s required to succeed in the arts both creatively and practically.Point being, listen to what she has to say.

1. Having a full portfolio is essential.Walking away with a degree or diploma certifying your expertise is certainly handy, but doesn’t necessarily separate you from the pack of graduates. However, having an impressive portfolio alongside that piece of paper can make for a pretty powerful combo.“Have a selection of your strongest work; work that, as a graduate, you’d be proud to show, that represents your skill set, and that’s presented in the best possible way and in a cohesive way,” she said.“There are so few places for so many graduates, and graduates can stand out by having their work presented in the best possible light: showreels; websites; booklets; and for graphic designers, a beautiful coffee table book.”

2. Get as much work experience as possible while studying.“[Work placement] can be a great way to further your portfolio,” Tamara suggested, adding, “if the organisation or company says you can use it as part of your body of work, of course.”Getting experience in a workplace also prepares you for the reality of employment. It may even effect your marks.“Being in that professional environment, so often, gives the graduates or students such a boost that actually their work improves, just by being in a work environment surrounded by practitioners,” she said.

3. Create something every day, even if it’s just for you.“The students here at AIT that we see faring best are ones that create something every day,” Tamara said.“They do work and create something for their own pleasure, off their back. It’s something they feel compelled to do. Like anything – sport, the visual arts – you need to practice and keep your skills up within a craft.”She also believes it can keep spirits high if jobs aren’t immediately forthcoming.“Everybody has downtime in between jobs, particularly if you’re a freelancer,” she said.“Having your own work to continue on keeps your morale up in those times when it’s tricky finding a job, or you’re waiting for a job to start.”

4. Start networking early. Like, now.Some young people may feel intimidated by the prospect of networking, but it really can be as simple as offering a compliment to another creative person.“If you’re at a festival and you’re in the foyer and you see the director of that film, whether it be an international film or an Australian film, take the opportunity in an appropriate moment to go and introduce yourself,” Tamara said.“Tell that person you liked their film. Thank them. Begin with that. It actually makes you feel good about seeing somebody’s work as well, and artists do like to be complimented.“Film festivals, or a games expo, or any event like that, when you get an opportunity to be amongst a peer group, even if they’re much more experienced or older, take that opportunity. Put yourself out there. Sometimes it takes courage.”She also encourages students to be a good collaborator from the early stages of study.“Your network starts really early on,” she said.

5. Proven ‘hands-on’ experience is great, but it’s good to have some theory behind it too.This, Tamara says, is “incredibly important,” to the disappointment of many students who prefer the practical elements of being creative than the academia behind it.“Understanding theory can help your practice. It shows you to be a person that has researched; that has a deeper level of understanding,” she explained.“Understanding another person’s body of work, in the theoretical sense – looking at another artist’s themes – can only help your own work as well.“You have to step outside of what you’re doing and see other peoples’ perspectives.”

6. Make sure you have a broad knowledge in fields related to your main passion.Not only does it make you flexible when seeking employment opportunities, having a broad knowledge across different areas just plain makes you better.“If you have that language to talk to other practitioners, you’ll be a good collaborator,” Tamara said.“So, in film for example, directors… understand the process of film editing and sound design. They have the language and the theory behind them to be able to collaborate with that expert, the editor. It makes the collaboration far more equal and satisfactory, to have that understanding of each other’s craft or field.”

7. Consider small colleges and their community of like-minded people.“There’s an intimacy there,” Tamara said, in regards to AIT (with its Sydney and Melbourne campuses of approximately 400 students).“Teachers and staff… talk about students and their work, and often I’m being shown something by another teacher, and then I can think about that person and their work and have them in mind for when an internship comes up,” she added.“It’s different to being on a campus with 30,000 students. We’re all on first-name basis, and I think that really helps people’s creativity, when you’re not just a number.”

8. Attitude is everything.Above all, Tamara suggests, one should remember to remain positive and develop a thick skin as they embark on a career in a creative field.“Don’t get defeated by the toughness of the industry. It is tough. Be resilient. Hang in there,” she encouraged.“Work begets work. It will come to you if you keep putting your work out there and having a professional attitude.“Be confident with your work. Share it with a handful of people you trust and take on their feedback. Get used to taking comments on board [even if] it’s daunting to get other people’s take on your work.”