LATE TO THE PARTY -
This advice will be feature film-centric.
I'll start by telling you that I don't know a single person who got a gig because of a degree ... twenty weeks of Junior College here buddy. It's about your creativity.
I started at 30 and have been doing it for close to thirty years now with some success.
When I started I was a film geek and a music freak working in a completely different industry and decided to make the leap. What I feel you do need is a love and knowledge of film. Technical knowledge and skill with the machines alone are not enough. You gotta have an ear and you gotta be able to talk the talk with filmmakers and co-workers. When someone references other films or filmmakers styles you need to know what they are talking about. You have to have a sense of what makes a scene work and how it fits in with the film as a whole. You gotta know when to go big and when to go small. You have to be able to tell what feels real. I've found that some have a natural ear for what works and some no matter how brilliant or technically skilled they are just don't have the knack. "Oh that sounds cool" ain't enough. This ability to pick the right sound seems to be something that can't be taught.
You need to know how dialogue is cut and how it fits with what you do, when production sound will play and when it won't. Are the sounds you are providing gonna glue to that production or are they gonna sound separate and floating in space. You need to understand what foley can and cannot do and how it's gears mesh with yours. What's music doing here and am I going to step on it? It's a team sport baby.
You also at times need a thick skin. When someone tells you it isn't working it can be like an arrow to the heart (at least for me). Something you've poured your heart and soul into can get flushed in the blink of an eye and believe it or not there are some in our industry that can be kinda harsh with their criticism, imagine that.
Another discipline you'll have to learn is the dreaded change pass. I think any working sound person will tell you that they spend as much time (and sometimes more) updating for picture changes (recutting the film) and visual fx updates as they do creating the sound in the first place. This is not really a complaint as it keeps us working. Learning how to update pre-dubs and stems is essential.
You also need to be prepared for down time. A gig can last anywhere from weeks to months. I'm lucky in that I'm frequently the "stage guy", meaning I am on the dub stage through the end of the mix where the rest of the crew has been let go weeks before. A film can also "push" going away for weeks or months for recutting or reshooting just when you were going to pay for that new whatever the hell it is. I've seen good editors/designers go for months without work depending on what's going on in the industry.
So in a nutshell (oops too late for that) if you want to earn a living doing this be aware that the feature film sound community is relatively small with people competing for jobs on crews that are getting smaller and smaller, be ready to be the "new guy" at the bottom of the ladder who has to prove himself. Your first gig will not be cutting that cool spaceship or that end of the world sequence. In my opinion you should learn all the disciplines, be low maintenance, be easy to get along with, be dependable, be freaking weirdly creative, always be nice to ALL assistants, accept the fact that your vision isn't always the same as the vision of the powers that be, educate yourself about film and it never hurts to know somebody ...
or I could be full of shit.
Best, Chris Assells
P.S. - I have no clue if any of this applies to the video game industry.
P.P.S. - Just found this place, very cool.