Interview with film historian and lecturer, David J. Skal

The person that I was privileged to interview was David J. Skal.  He is an esteemed lecturer, archivist, film historian and documentary maker.  He did commentaries/documentaries for the release of the Universal Monsters series, (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.) on DVD and on the new series of Blue Ray disks that were released last year.  He is very active in writing about how the monster movies were made in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  He was very gracious to do this interview for the class.

• What path did you take to get to your current position?

I came to my present career after 20 years employment in the non-profit performing arts world (theatre, dance, and music) where I specialized in public relations, fund-raising and marketing. I began writing books and documentary scripts in the 1990s, when there was a major recession that made it impossible to work in the nonprofit sector any longer

• What kinds of projects do you work on?

I write books, essays and articles, occasionally produce, write and direct video documentaries, and guest-lecture at colleges, universities, and cultural organizations.

• With what kind of people (demographics, occupations, etc.) do you typically work?

Mr. Skal did not address this question.

• Do you have autonomy to pick your own projects, or are projects generally assigned to you by others in your organization or elsewhere?

I work by myself and choose/propose my own projects (which, of course, are approved and contracted by my publishers. Occasionally a publisher will approach me on a work-for-hire basis for a project it has developed in-house.

• What are the current issues in your field?

Current issues in my field are dominated by the massive consolidation of publishers and the proliferation of e-books, which has had a negative effect on the earnings of many freelancers like myself.

• What skills are expected of applicants for an entry-level position?

The only entry-level requirement for a freelance writer is to produce a manuscript a publisher deems publishable.

• What is the current starting salary for entry-level positions in your field?

I’m not a salaried employee, and there is no guaranteed minimum compensation outside the advance offered by each publishing contract. Lecture fees are also widely variable.

• How is your position funded? Is this typical for positions in your field or organization?

Publishers offer advances based on their own calculation of potential sales and this can vary widely from project to project. Lecture fees are usually paid from an educational institution’s special fund for this type of activity.

• What level of education is necessary for advancement to the different levels of this profession (e.g. entry-level, mid-level, and senior positions)? Are there specific degrees that are favored, and if so, what are they?

There are no educational requirements for my type of work, only the ability to produce work by which a publisher can make a profit. I have a bachelor’s degree with a split concentration in English, theatre, and journalism.

• What advice do you have for people interested in entering this field?

My advice to people seeking a similar career is to always have a back-up source of income. In other words: never quit your day job until you are very well-established professionally.

Again, I would like to thank Mr. Skal for taking the time to answer these questions.


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I am a non-traditional old goat! I am a disabled, retired Army veteran with 29 years of service and two combat tours behind me. I want to be able to work in Public History because I have been in so much of it!

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