• Maysa Monção

Being a mentee at ScreenSkills: how can you shift your career at 50 during a global crisis?

March 6th 2020: “SXSW cancelled due to Coronavirus

March 16th 2020: “Theatre closures to slow spread of Coronavirus”.

May 4th 2020: “The big screen drama not coming to a cinema near you”.

June 29th 2020: “After Coronavirus, cinema may never be the same again”.

September 16th 2020: “No time to die: will Covid kill cinema?

October 17th 2020: “Inside the sad, rapid collapse of the UK’s cinema industry

On March 16th, my world collapsed. I was sent home in the middle of my shift at a very famous theatre in the West End. My career was wind ahead -- I thought so --, and I had big plans to travel and celebrate my 50th birthday. I went home singing the verses of a very famous Brazilian bossa nova song, by Maysa Matarazzo: “Meu mundo caiu e me fez ficar assim/ … / Não sei se me explico bem/ Eu nada pedi/ Nem a você nem a ninguém/ Nao fui eu que caí”. (My world fell and made me like this / ... / I don't know if I explain myself well / I asked nothing / From you or anyone else / I didn't fall). My parents named me after her.

At home, I had finished writing my debut feature film and I was working to sort crew and scribble a realistic budget. I knew I would need help for that, and my first idea was to engage myself in a mentorship program at ScreenSkills to develop those skills. During the mentorship selection process, I already knew that theatres wouldn’t reopen soon and it was very likely I would be made redundant, as the Furlough scheme suffered alterations. I had to think quick and postpone my dream as a filmmaker. I also knew that all the film festivals I used to go as a film critic were being cancelled.

It takes a lot of determination to find a new career path.

At the same time that my mind kept saying to me that the mentorship was an opportunity to rethink my career path, my heart was grieving. I couldn’t breathe well under this crisis. Whenever I am low or have to decide something important, I find solace in the movie theatre and that was taken from me. So my first meeting with my mentor was a disaster. (My mentor denies, but that’s because she is kind.) When you start a mentorship your goals need to be clear. I found it very difficult to re-evaluate what I wanted from the partnership because what I really wanted at first was not possible anymore. By the end of the meeting, though, I had very clear ideas on what I had to do.

My first task was obviously re-read my cv and improve it. I am not someone who doesn’t upgrade my resumé. As a writer, I know my homework. But there were key points I needed to change. Considering that I was shifting my career from film journalism, theatre staff and dialect coaching to a role in film post-production, I needed to highlight my skills. My mentor asked about my skills. Those were written in the CV and they were about 5. (I thought I had to keep it succinct.) Little I knew how skilful I am! I have now one and a half page bullet-pointed skills, which I tailor to each job application I send. We just had to go from job to job and scrutinise everything I did in each job.

During the time journalists were publishing the “end of the cinema era”, I was taking online courses, engaging in workshops from the industry and making myself known. By my own initiative, I was transforming my little room into my own rocket cabin. I’ve always had the capacity to make myself noticed. In a press room, inhabited by 200 journalists, I am often chosen to participate in a Q&A, resulting in great insights to my reviews. My mentor made me realise that that piece of information is important. After all, I had an antidote to ageism: I demonstrate my ability to stay current in my field and use the latest technology to perform my role. (Here’s more to the subject in case you are interested.)

Some say I am lucky, and I don’t deny some privilege being manifested. If I hadn’t taken the chance of subscribing to the mentorship, my knowledge of the industry would be reduced to what the press publishes. If it wasn’t for my mentor, I would find myself struggling to crew up once the industry returns to full production. I didn’t know of a bottleneck effect of projects starting up again in an industry that already has a shortage of crew. That gave me hope. If you are on the same boat as me, bear in mind that it’s essential to prepare and train for that time. Do your Covid Basic Awareness training as I did.

I am now in the process of finding the right environment. A big-name studio might or might not be the right work environment for me. Being a mature professional helps in identifying quickly a better fit job. That lesson I knew, but I had forgotten. I now know that I want to be in an organisation that treat workers of all ages the way I’d want to be treated. Thanks to the pandemic, there was a wake-up call in the industry. I call the current times a transformational period.

Developing a relationship with my mentor helped me achieve something that is crucial to the new role I am about to do. Now I know I am able to forge relationships with co-workers, crew, and others in a healthy and collaborative way.

The industry is still changing. At a daily basis, studios and production companies find new challenges to overcome. We belong to the creative industry and now it’s time to honour our name.

This article is a tribute to the work we’ve been doing together. It’s just the start of my “new normal”. The end of Maysa Matarazzo’s song goes like this: “Se meu mundo caiu/ Eu que aprenda a levantar” (If my world fell / I learn to rise). But that was in the 50s. In 2020, we learned that the only way is by uniting forces. Thank you Shaheen Schleifer. Thank you ScreenSkills.

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