Movies are much more than simple entertainment. They have the power to change the world; the stories, performances, and lessons in movies can make even the most powerful world leader change their mind. That’s why, if someone tells you that it’s impossible to make it as a professional filmmaker, you should disabuse them of that notion as quickly as you can.
However, that doesn’t mean becoming a professional filmmaker isn’t a monumental challenge; if it wasn’t, then everyone could do it, and that’s simply not the case. If you’ve got what it takes, though, there’s a lucrative and rewarding career waiting for you out there. Here’s how you can start a career as a professional filmmaker.
Build up some funding first
Of course, one of the best ways to fund your career as a filmmaker is simply to keep working your normal job while you create your portfolio and establish yourself. However, in some cases, filmmakers quit their jobs simply because they cannot stand the working environment any longer. If that’s you, then it’s important to build up some funding before you take the plunge.
There are many different sources of funding available to you if you’re looking to become a filmmaker. Different projects can, for instance, be funded by various government organizations or private grant providers. You could also dip into personal funds or take out an online loan; even a 3000 loan could help you to pay for important equipment or travel to film on location, for example.
Create a portfolio
Like any artist, a great filmmaker must have a portfolio. You need to show off exactly what you can do so that you have a showreel to demonstrate your skills to people who might want to hire you. Of course, you don’t need to “complete” your showreel before you start looking for work; in fact, it’s a good idea to keep adding to it as your complete projects so that you can have a record of what you’ve worked on.
Your showreel should show off your range and breadth as well as your filmmaking skill. Try to include lots of different kinds of projects, each of which demonstrates a different facet of your skill. For example, including documentary-style footage alongside conventionally shot narrative drama and nature sequences is a good way to get people to engage with your showreel.
Don’t work for free
As a filmmaker, it’s important that you know the worth of your skills. Creating art for free will just denigrate the worth of not only your work but that of others as well; it will perpetuate a perception that art should be free and that anybody who asks for payment to create art is wrong to do so. That’s why it’s important not to work for free. If someone asks you to do so, then they likely don’t understand what your work is really worth.
There can be exceptions to this rule, of course. If the work is highly meaningful to you – if you’re working with a childhood favorite creative, for example, or alongside a trusted friend – or if it’s for charity, it may be acceptable to work for free. However, even organizations that do charitable work should offer to pay you, and if they don’t, you should think carefully about whether the job is worth accepting or not.
Expect to do a lot of work yourself
Most professional filmmakers will work with writers and sound engineers in order to achieve the perfect result. However, if you’re a smaller indie-level filmmaker, you may not have access to people like this, so you might need to do everything yourself. Be prepared to do a lot of extra work on your productions in order to get them looking and sounding as good as possible.
Of course, there’s an upside to this as well. If you’ve had to work on your own audio engineering and your own production, then you’ll know how to do these things, which will come in handy later on when you do work with others. In addition, you can develop a stronger sense of your own creative craft and style, which means you’ll be able to defend it better if others try to change it later on.
Take entry-level jobs
You can’t expect to build a showreel, then enter the world of professional filmmaking fully formed. There’s a good chance you’ll have to work some entry-level movie industry jobs before you actually manage to get any projects made, so expect to enter on the ground floor and work your way up slowly. Opportunities will eventually start to present themselves. Film production internships are also worth paying attention to because you are developing professionally while doing them. You can go to a job search website to find a film production internship.
This could mean working as a production assistant (PA), or it could even mean simply making coffee and performing menial tasks for filmmakers on a day-to-day basis. As long as you maintain a passion for filmmaking and a drive to succeed, you should eventually find yourself face-to-face with the perfect moment at which to pitch your own filmmaking to prospective employers.
Build a network and elevate others
It’s not helpful to think of other filmmakers as rivals or enemies. Instead, think of them as fellow travelers on the road to success. You’re helping them to achieve something great, and they’re boosting you in turn; you’re looking out for opportunities for one another rather than trying to stab each other in the back. This will help everyone much more than an adversarial attitude in the long run.
That’s why it’s also important to build a network as a filmmaker. Creating a network means you’ll always be able to speak to other filmmakers about prospective opportunities, and it means that you’ll have somewhere to go if an employment opportunity turns out to be one that other filmmakers should know about (or even avoid due to bad working conditions).