Josh Carlon was a graphic design major at University of Minnesota Duluth when one of his professors asked if he wanted to edit a film for her. “It was a documentary about Japanese-Americans interned in World War II,” he recalled. “It was two people talking, a close-up head shot. The first shot I cut, that was it. That little bit of editing hooked me.”
Carlon next said “sure” when a Duluth TV station needed someone to shoot a short segment for a documentary. “It was just me and a camera and my friend’s dad out in a field. It just seemed like something I could do,” he said.
While Carlon acknowledges that a degree from film school is probably a more direct route to a successful career, he followed a more roundabout path. “I learned the skill to get job A, then added another skill and another skill. I’ve had a lot of people criticize me for saying ‘yes’ to everything. I’m busy all the time. But I’ve had no jobs I regret taking, because you always learn something.”
Carlon worked as a freelance editor and producer for several years. Eventually, the growing volume of projects for Catchfire, a downtown agency, turned into a full-time job. A long freelance relationship helped him know he was a good fit for the company. Despite his title, he does a lot of editing. He also continues to work on the creative side. “I like having a steady job that pays the bills so I’m stable enough to take the passion projects,” he said.
Along the way, Carlon has learned which parts of the job he likes and which parts he doesn’t. “Being a producer is a lot of paperwork, being on the phone, Xcel spreadsheets. It’s a really stressful job. You have to love being part of the process. I like being on a set, but I don’t like to be holding the camera. I want a lot of information. I want to think about the project. As a producer I do that in preproduction. I think it’s a different kind of being a geek.”
What does a producer actually do?
Normally the producer is the person who gets everyone together. The job of the producer is to make it happen. Generally I would hire a director of photography, a photographer, the actors. It’s bringing everyone together to get things done.
Could someone still become a producer like you did, without going to film school?
If all you want to do is make a movie, if you’ve got a phone, you can make a movie. If you want to be a producer, you just find the friend with the best phone. As for getting paid, if you start proving that you’re doing quality work, that’s how you roll it into a job.
What was your best experience as a filmmaker?
One of my best experiences was the first time I was ever on a set. I was a production assistant with no experience, so I did it for free. They were shooting a trailer to get a budget for a real film. There was a really big crew — 30 or 40 people, a big cast. I believe everyone was working for free. It was a 21-hour day. That was my first day in the film business — no money, getting coffee. I was part of this great mass of people, all dedicated to getting a job done.
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