If you’re one of the many cinephiles out there who absolutely adore film and dream of becoming a filmmaker someday but aren’t sure how to start and can’t afford to go to a fancy film school, then you’re not alone. There’s a dearth of new and fresh voices in the film industry these days, and they are in desperate need of a new crop of film lovers to come in and infuse the industry with spirit and innovation once again. Rest assured that so long as you have the passion, there are different ways you can become a filmmaker and that the path to success is not always linear – which can be said of most professions, no matter what the naysayers will tell you. If you’re tired of shooting quirky movies with your friends on an old Super 8mm camera or your phone, and you’re ready for the real deal, then let this article help you figure things out.
If you are a true lover of film, the first thing you need to do is educate yourself on the discipline. This doesn’t mean going to school – not yet anyway. Basically, any good filmmaker worth their salt knows that watching a lot of films, both good and bad, will give you a strong sense of what makes a film work well, or fail miserably. Watching a film, knowing the history of cinema and how its formal qualities have changed over time, is a great way to prime yourself for the experience. It will also keep you inspired, and spur many ideas in your head about different approaches you’d like to try. If you really love an art form, then the first rule of thumb is to immerse yourself in it as much as you can.
Then, if there are particular films or filmmakers you enjoy, seek out any books they’ve written or interviews they may have given about the craft. Some filmmakers like to keep their methods and processes a bit of a mystery, but others are open to sharing their experiences, and these are always eye-opening for any budding filmmaker looking to learn more about the art form but also the industry.
Get Educated Part Deux
There is an element of the educational process that you can and should do on your own. But, you may need further guidance on the technical aspects of filmmaking, or maybe you just need to meet more industry professionals to get an idea of how to succeed in the business. This is where going to school can be extremely helpful. In class, you can workshop different ideas and see what works or what doesn’t, better understand the kind of equipment you need, and get your first taste of what it’s like to work in a collaborative environment. Even if you can’t go to a Master’s program for film, you should look into workshops or contracted seminars that you can take, both in-person and online. There are plenty of discount codes for filmmakers available, and a few freelance classes to help you get your feet wet may be just the ticket. Being self-taught is great, but it’s hard not to stress the importance of community when it comes to filmmaking and trying to make it in the industry, since you’ll need to get used to working with other people right away.
PA Jobs and Internships
One way to begin familiarizing yourself with some of the more business aspects of filmmaking is to take on some fieldwork and apply for internships. Sure, for some of these jobs you may find yourself getting coffee or doing more grunt work than you would like, but this is actually the best way for you to get a bird’s eye view of how a set functions. Also, if you do a good job, it will land you in the graces of many people who will be willing to hire you for another job in a different production. Paying your dues is a very real thing, and it has special saliency when it comes to the movie industry. You’re pretty much expected to do a lot of unattractive or boring work in the beginning but look at it as being part and parcel of the entire learning process. Besides, you’ll eventually find yourself having to deal with film equipment yourself, or setting production schedules and helping to monitor budgets: these are all highly valuable skill sets to cultivate as you move towards your own dream of being a filmmaker. Yes, a film is an art form, but it also has a business side, one which benefits tremendously from someone with a strong administrative background. Being a filmmaker isn’t only about daydreaming of different stories to tell – there’s a lot more to it than that.
Build a Portfolio
To seriously be considered for a job within the industry, you need to continue doing production assistant work and internships to build your resume, while also further developing your artistic portfolio. Besides, one of the best ways to learn how to make a film is to practice on your own. Write a brief monologue for an actor friend, and then shoot that in an interesting way if you simply want to highlight your strength with words, performers, and lighting. Or, work on a short film, and find ways to do it on a tight budget. Or, you can start a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign if it has a particularly complex idea, but stick to your financial means, and build your artistic vision around that. Prospective employers will be wowed not only by your stunning visual sense and capacity to tell a unique story, but they will also admire your resourcefulness and ability to work creatively with a budget: something that producers are always on the lookout for when trying to scope out new talent.
The key to becoming a filmmaker and working within the industry is remaining persistent and never giving up. While you will be tempted to throw in the towel every so often, just bear in mind that the experience will give you thick skin, and practice makes perfect. Most people break into the industry later in life, but we don’t hear about those success stories often since the media is obsessed with young wunderkind. Don’t let that get in your way, and continue to do what you love best.
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash