Planning a Career in Production - Generalize or Specialize?

Jeff Bukowski (Edina, Minnesota, USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Jeff Bukowski is a video producer and editor working in advertising in Minneapolis. He graduated from Bethany with a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has worked in a variety of roles on network television shows, feature films and commercials. He has also worked for Time of Grace Ministry, taught a college course & produced videos for pro athletes, charities and production companies.

Are you considering a career in video production? You may wonder: what does it take to make it in this industry? What job will I do and how will I glorify God through this vocation? What training do I need and should I specialize in one very specific niche or should I generalize, become good at many things? There are benefits to each approach but generalizing, building a unique complementary skill stack to maximize your talents, will make you more versatile, employable and better equipped to spread the Gospel. It is an intense, exciting industry! Talk to 15 people in production and hear 15 different stories about their journey. I want to open a dialogue and hear from people with questions as well as insight from our many talented industry professionals of all backgrounds so we can help each other learn and succeed in this industry!

Specialize – Finding Your One Big Thing

The first approach is to specialize, to become extremely good at One Big Thing. Child prodigies are a great example, the genius violinist or golfer who spent every free moment of his or her life practicing until they become in the top 1% in the world. You may decide early on exactly what you want to do in this industry, and knowing what that is will help you focus time and energy on that thing. A famous film composer, director or movie star could fit into this mold of being the best in the world at their craft from specializing from day one. There are examples of very technical positions in the industry where specialization early on led to success.


  • You can become a leading expert in a niche and build verifiable credibility in it faster.

  • In an oversaturated, distracted world, some say the way to stand out is hyper-specialization.

  • It's easier to dominate a niche.

  • You can become the go-to person in a smaller market if you are the only one who knows a certain program or owns and runs a specific camera or special lighting equipment.

  • Time is limited. It's been said that it takes 10,000 hours to master a specific field.

  • You can potentially do higher quality work.

  • Some consider it easier – less to learn – less to keep up on.

Technological Renaissance and the need for the Skill-Stacking Generalist

We are at the dawn of what's been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a technological renaissance, which has radically changed the video production industry. One piece of editing software that cost $90,000 in 2002 costs $750 today. The video quality in smartphones blows away expensive DV cameras of 15 years ago.The popularity of internet video and cell-phone social apps has exploded in recent years creating amazing opportunities for all types of new video production. YouTube vloggers and Vine video stars made careers for themselvess and reached millions doing all aspects of production themselves. If you have a smartphone connected to the internet you have the potential to become your own media empire. This also means more competition in the industry. What only a select few had access to years ago is available to many more people. Because of all this, knowing just one thing really well may not be enough!

Generalize – Start with a Broad Background

The concept of generalizing is to stack complementary skills that are all related so that you can maximize your impact and potential in the field. Knowing how to use multiple software programs and technical knowledge of specific equipment is important, but it is only the beginning. Think beyond pushing buttons. Companies in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the advertising world have recently pursued some applicants with a broad liberal arts background, who have critical thinking skills, writing and persuasive skills, ethics and creativity in the arts. "We look for unique thinkers, artists, makers and doers," says one agency recruiter. Employers also list concepts and traits like "inquisitive," "original," "unexpected," "artistic," "storytelling," and "aesthetics." Get a broad depth of training and knowledge. Literature, Visual Arts, and Communication still matter!


  • Trying a lot of things helps you decide what you like the best and what fits your skillset.

  • In a competitive field, you can become more valuable to an employer the more versatile you are.

  • If you know only one thing you could overspecialize yourself right out of a job!

  • Certain hardware and software can become obsolete almost overnight.

  • Freelance work can give you more options.

  • If starting your own company, you don't have to hire as many early on.

  • A smaller company may value you more if you can do multiple things.

  • Variety keeps life interesting, and helps prevent career burnout.

  • Every experience can add to your skill stack.

Approaches to Generalize – Evaluate and Experiment

  • Keep an idea journal – write down ideas constantly, and periodically re-evaluate your skills, passions, talents, needs and what employers look for. (Browse job openings on Linkedin/Job boards for this.)

  • Try out and research as much as you can. Pick a favorite, then build complementary skills that relate to it. I am not suggesting one could master all of the following skills, but that they can all help you become a valuable, well-rounded production professional.

Genres to consider

  • Sports/ Commercials/ Narrative/ TV/ Film/ Documentaries/ News/ Corporate/ Travel/ Religious

Examples of Skills to Stack and Categories of Study to Choose from

  • Editing/ Audio/ Shooting/ Writing/ Directing/ Lighting/ Branding/ Speaking/ Shooting/ scriptwriting/ communicating with people/ persuasion/ aesthetics/ web design/ drawing/ painting/ graphic/ music/ design/ business/ semiotics/ art/ art history/ literature/ storyboarding/ acting/ voiceover/ grip

Get in the Door – Work towards what you want

Whether it's on a television show, movie, or in sports, being a Production Assistant is a great place to experiment early, a gateway to opportunity and a training ground to stack skills. Learn as much as you can, find what you are excited about and good at and stick by the people you want to become. Take advantage of opportunities and be ready when you get your chance.

  • Be intentional – let it be known that you want to move to your desired spot.

  • Recognize there is still a hierarchy especially in Hollywood. You can't walk in and direct a $100 million dollar movie overnight.

  • One director went from art school to set design to directing hundreds of commercials to big budget features. Film critics have become directors, actors direct, director's edit and act; there are countless examples of crossovers in the film industry.

  • Recognize that there are gigs in this industry that pay little or no money. Whether it's an internship or an indie film, evaluate if the experience and skill you will gain is worth it considering where you are in your life compared to your needs.

  • If you get in at a full-service ad agency, embrace it and build up your skill stack! In the agency world, I spend most of my time editing videos, but I've also written scripts, engaged with clients, acted on camera, shot video, produced, run a teleprompter, set up lights, come up with creative ideas, trained-in new people, all related activities that have become part of my skill stack.

Networking and Communication – Important skills in this industry

Who you know is an important factor in this industry and networking is a key communication skill that can be stacked. Mixers, internships, Linkedin, Facebook Groups, and alumni of your school can all be very helpful in connecting you to industry professionals who can share key information and may help you land a job some day! People skills matter now more than ever. Be the salt of the earth! Be interested, be respectful, target the right people and don't necessarily expect anything. You could find a great mentor, a trusted peer, or a friend for life.

  • A key factor in job interviews is likability. Production is still mostly a team sport, and people want to work with others they like and trust.

  • Speech classes, mixers, acting classes and groups like Toastmasters are all ways people can improve their verbal skills.

Ways to Stack Skills

  • Work to stack complementary skills in your down time from your job.

  • Make your own movies/videos/commercials even if you have no budget.

  • Don't be afraid to try being on camera. Learning about acting will help in directing.

  • Speed is a skill – clients expect videos almost instantly. Practice speed!

  • Try combining a personal passion that is unique to you with skills you have learned. Experiment with different niches. This can lead to extraordinary results.

  • Try creating your own website or learn to create a phone app if that interests you.

  • Think of certain social apps and video sites as creative outlets to showcase your creative projects and learn. Put your stuff out there and see what happens!

Moving from General to Specialized – but always use and build on your Skill Stack!

As we think about these two concepts, maybe there is a healthy mix of the two, starting general and working towards multiple specialties while using different complementary skillsets along the way. We can aspire to be a person of many talents while recognizing that is important to surround ourselves with people with different talents than we have. Everyone's journey will be different and there is no perfect path. As you move towards a generalized or specialized job in the industry use your entire skill stack to do your job to the best of your ability. Never stop learning, and be open and ready for changes and possibilities, all for the Glory of God!

Keeping it Real – Things to Consider

  • Balance big ambitions/dreams with realistic expectations of the work and the time it takes to get there.

  • Discover your direction and general goal but be open to many options within the industry.

  • Consider location. What city/region/country will best fit what I most want to do, or matches my skillset? Am I willing to move there?

  • You may have to take side jobs to support yourself while you pursue your desired area.

  • Try to keep a healthy work/life balance as many jobs in production can require travel and long hours.

  • Some production gigs require a lot of lifting during setup and takedown. Editing is sitting staring at computer screens. A healthy diet, exercise, and a standup desk are all key to maximizing potential.

  • Research the different unions in the industry and join at the appropriate time.

Luther's Talent Stack

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is remarkable to think about Martin Luther's talent stack. He didn't do only one thing well, but many things – he was an outstanding professor, theologian, writer, preacher, composer, translator...the list goes on! What a great example of complementary skills used for the glory of God! How can we learn from him and maximize our talents for God's Kingdom?

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. - Colossians 3:23

Work Ethic – Show a strong Christian work ethic and you will stand out in today's lazy world.

Enthusiasm – Inspire others with a positive attitude and high energy. Let your light shine!

Morality – Don't be afraid to refuse to do something you find unethical or immoral.


As you are learning skills in production, be bold in volunteering to experiment while learning to...

  • offer to help run a video promo campaign on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram for your church, school or a mission field. There are great resources in previous GOWM conferences to learn about this: Using Social Media to Become Known Throughout Latin America.

  • offer to do a promotional video for your school – for example Making Videos that Promote Your School (and Your Lord).

  • offer to create content for a YouTube channel for your church/school or your own Christian-themed channel.

  • do the same for Instagram/ Snapchat/ VSCO.

  • take part in a comprehensive social media program for your church or school, with guidance from #Social - Getting Started with a Church or School Social Media Program.

  • offer to help film or livestream worship services (see Streaming Worship in World Languages in this conference).

  • offer to film or edit a mission video. Go on location! Or do it from home (see Promoting Mission from a Distance – Haiti in this conference).

  • start Facebook groups with videos for Christian purposes in the USA and abroad.

Whether you decide primarily to specialize or generalize, remember there are so many things we can do to excel in life by making the most of what God has given us in our jobs and for the church!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13

More Questions to consider:

  • What are some other ways that you could Skill-Stack for your church or for a ministry?

  • What are other examples of Skill-Stacks within Video Production?

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Walker (Bethany Lutheran) 2017-10-30 8:53:19pm
I really like how you give multiple different benefits of both generalizing and specializing. I believe that your take at the end on how people should generalize to begin with and then specialize is something that can be talked about forever. As someone who enjoys sports, the best players in their respective sports know what everyone else is supposed to be doing on certain plays but they're specialized to play just their one position. I think that specializing in something right away can sometimes be problematic because there is not always a spot in the work force for one set position and if you have no back-up plans you can run into trouble. That's a great thing about getting a liberal arts education here at Bethany as well is that you get to get a taste for everything and broaden your spectrum of knowledge.
Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-02 3:01:54pm
Thanks and I agree that is a great thing to have that broad education! The sports metaphor is a helpful way to think about it, especially for the production of big live events and movies where everyone works together in their specialty to execute the project.
Clayton (Bethany Lutheran College) 2017-10-30 8:53:41pm
I really enjoyed reading your article, being a film student it was very interesting and applicable to my future. It is useful to see a graduate's perspective is once they are active in the field of study. I especially appreciated the section titled "Keeping it Real" because it puts everything into perspective, especially for a new student who might not be aware of some of those points. Great thoughts and ideas, it was really interesting and helpful!
Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-02 1:22:51am
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it useful!
Robert Barr (Bethany Lutheran College) 2017-10-30 9:10:01pm
This article puts into practice what I personally think as an individual. I am an indecisive person that does not know what he wants to do with his life. Though I digress with personal information, I agree that learning all that I can to have as many skills as possible will be helpful. Also, in agreeance with this as well, I clinically have ADHD and a personal diagnosis of OCD which is helpful and painful at the same time. I have an attention to detail that is helpful in trying to make something the best I can that does most of the time fall into trying to be a perfectionist which makes getting things done hard. Then in addition to this, I have a tendency to lose focus on what I am trying to accomplish and at times lose complete interest in something. Bukowski's section of generalising has many ideas that are applicable to me as an individual due to the previous statements. This article is help to gain an idea of how I could go about learning to be better as a video production person.
Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-02 2:48:06am
Thanks for your openness and there are definitely aspects of jobs in production- like certain types of editing- that take a high attention to detail, where being a perfectionist pays off. At the same time- deadlines, budget & workload - all will help a person get more things done. A nice thing about this industry is the possibility for variety- whether that is embracing the gig culture, doing videos for many different industries or switching jobs- so you don't have to feel like you have to make one huge life decision right away, especially as you learn these foundational skills.
David (Martin Luther College) 2017-11-01 12:22:23pm
Mr. Bukowski,

I really enjoyed the transparency about the video production business. You provided a wide spectrum of the rewards of the business, the challenges of video production such as the long hours and the speed in which the final product must be completed. The final “Luther Talent Stack” was a big encouragement and example of how a man of faith like Luther can excel at many different things.
When I read the section the importance of networking and communication, I agree with you completely. These social skills are vital in all work environments, especially in a people centered work environment like video production where you either work with our production crew or with your audience
After finishing reading your article, I was wondering with your own personal experience would a person almost alway be better off learning to generalize and be good at many things or to specialize and be fantastic at one thing? Or do you think that generalizing in an area comes before an desire to specialize or vice a versa?
Again, thank you for your contribution to this conference!
Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-05 11:45:13pm
Thanks for your comments and questions! I agree that is nice to think about and appreciate the many talents of Martin Luther and how his legacy can inspire us all to put in the effort to maximize the gifts God has given us.
For your first question-It does depend on the individual. But the way the world is now, I think it is better to generalize especially while a person is still in school. It is a great way to become a more well-rounded person, and to discover your interests and what your talents are best suited for. I like to think in terms of building your personal talent stack, building complementary skills that will make you better- to try to become a modern day "Renaissance Man" or "Renaissance Woman."
For the second question- I think generalizing would come first usually, as you try out a variety of things and perhaps focus in on a favorite. It could also work the other way around- if you decide on one specific thing and excel at it- it's not going to hurt you to work on complementary skills- like personal branding, shooting, editing, lighting, etc. Because people in this industry usually switch jobs quite often- you might be primarily shooting for a few years, then editing- then producing etc.- it does pay to know how to do more than one thing well.
Tim Weddle (Martin Luther College) 2017-11-01 2:26:33pm
I thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of this article as it is applicable to me as I train for my ministry. I appreciated your candor regarding the benefits of both specializing and generalizing in the subject of film and it has made me actually stop and try to consider the cross-over into ministry, as well as other fields. What helps me find application and connection through this is your "Luther Talent Stack" section which shows how even people of faith can use their multitudinous talents by focusing them into a specific field, in Luther's case being witnessing and reforming.
In regards to your section on the "Technological Renaissance," I found it remarkable how technology has changed from earlier days to now, especially in the rapid pace it has, in order for everyone to have access to a whole world of information and entertainment. Something you said within the section was, "if you have a smartphone connected to the internet you have the capability to become your own media empire." This statement resounded with me as it shows that literally anyone can become a huge sensation amongst people. This makes me consider the impact that can have on ministry and how a called worker or layman can spread the Gospel in a whole new front. What that, how viable do you think the film industry would be for Christian themes, especially if it is open to anyone with access to phones and cameras and (potentially) little film experience?
Tim Weddle (Martin Luther College) 2017-11-01 2:29:12pm
An addendum to my post - thank you for this contribution. It was a very thought-provoking, insightful read!
Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-05 11:54:27pm
Thanks, I appreciate that!
Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-07 2:27:46am
Thanks! I'm glad that you found things applicable to your future ministry! It is amazing to think about the potential that we all have using our smartphones to spread the Gospel. I hope you come up with some great ideas! I don't think that everyone should necessarily try to do a feature film, but there are all kinds of other ways to reach people with the Gospel using short impactful videos, whether that's through interviews, stories, Scripture, testimonials, humor, parables, music videos... the list goes on. Even for those with little experience- you can find people around you with the experience or work on learning the techniques yourself and you'll improve the more you work on it.
As far as the mainstream Film and TV industry, I think Christian themes are absolutely viable, especially if they are produced well. With over 500 scripted shows created in 2017 alone, there should be more with Christian themes! We need to overcome any stigma with "Christian" films, improve the quality & push back against the negative stereotypes of Christians that are often portrayed. There are great presentations in this & previous GOWM conferences that dive into the topic of Christian films in greater detail.
Emma Hislop (Bethany Lutheran College) 2017-11-13 9:48:10am

I found this article fascinating, as I had made plans in majoring in film before I changed to a different major. As someone who has some experience in this field, I have many questions about it.

How does one switch from filming and producing videos for free to actually being paid to create them?
If you have a particular genre of film you'd like to do, but it isn't something people would pay to watch, and therefore not a source of income, what would be a good response?

Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-14 12:16:53am
Emma, thanks for your questions! They are important to consider. I think while one is learning the craft there is nothing wrong with working for free, especially in school, and working on class projects, etc. I know people who did entire summer internships for no pay in the sports world, and those internships eventually turned into lucrative careers in that industry. That being said, I would rather see internships that pay students. A few years ago Fox was sued for having unpaid interns work on a big budget film. There are unions in the creative industry that help fight for fair wages for people, and I know many people even in the Midwest who are members of these unions.
Joining the appropriate union can be a way to build a network and credibility as well as a minimum amount of cash per gig. Also there are some jobs that will only hire union workers.

Once one has the expertise and some experience, it is very possible to make the switch and start getting paid to create videos. Advertising and sports are two genres that generate a lot of revenue. Every small and large business in the world will eventually want videos to promote themselves online and they are willing to pay for it. Figuring out what to charge isn't alway easy if you are freelance- but research what the going rates are in your area at least as a starting point. It is quite a bit harder to make money with documentaries, but there is still a pathway whether it's through theatrical release or online distribution.
There is an old saying - "I can't afford to work for free." Everyone has to assess where they are in their lives financially and professionally as they decide what type of projects to take on. Sometimes a young professional has to be firm and only do paid gigs as they attempt to establish themselves and build a career.

Jeff Bukowski 2017-11-14 12:38:23am
There are other ways to get paid for creating videos. Even if a viewer won't pay directly for your content-you can get approved to put advertising on your videos on Youtube. Posting your videos on Youtube or Vimeo can also lead to possibilities- meeting great contacts or landing a job. There are also credible websites where you can resell your raw or creatively edited footage to media companies around the world. Filmmakers can get grants from a variety of organizations to finance documentaries, narratives or short videos. Some states in America offer large film tax incentives to filmmakers to produce something in that state. Entering contests is also a great way to get exposure and make connections. Time of Grace is a great example of a ministry that thrives primarily using video. I think more churches, schools and missions will put some video production into their plans & budget as video continues to be a great communication tool online to spread the Gospel.