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What comes to mind when someone says “Filmmaker” to you? Do you immediately imagine figures like Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee? Or creatives outside the directing space like Producers, Cinematographers, Editors, and Composers?

The truth is that Filmmaker is a broad term that doesn’t necessarily apply to any specific role in Hollywood, though many people use it interchangeably with Director. But without a Producer, there is no movie. Without a Cinematographer, there is no movie. Dozens if not hundreds of people contribute to the making of a film and can be called Filmmakers.

But whether or not you consider Filmmaker to be a term reserved only for a Director of a movie, the goal of wanting to make films is one shared by people around the globe. And while there are many specialties that you can explore in that pursuit, there are some tried-and-true ways to make that goal a reality no matter where your professional interest lies.

The following steps break down the most common avenues to success as a Filmmaker in the entertainment business.

The term Filmmaker is not a specific role in the entertainment industry, but there are specific steps you can take to become one. Keep reading to find out what they are!

Getting an Education in Film

Filmmaking is in many regards a creative profession, which might make some people think creativity is all that’s needed to propel them into this career. Yes and no.

True, some people start simply by writing scripts on their own or making short movies with their smartphones. And to be sure, filmmaking is unlike most other professions in that you don’t need to prove you received a formal education to get a job. Unlike those who aspire to be a doctor or an attorney, no degree is required for you to be successful in Hollywood.

But… Going to school to be a Filmmaker can be immensely helpful for many different specialties. Take cinematography. Yes, it’s a highly creative profession, but Cinematographers must also be well-versed in all the many technical aspects of working with cameras, lighting, and other on-set equipment.

Film school can provide a foundation of knowledge for aspiring Cinematographers, giving them a safe space to learn about the mechanics and tech of their field, as well as the more creative elements of it.

The same can be said for other specialties. While anyone can sit down and write a script, a formal education can help an emerging Screenwriter understand how to properly format a screenplay, not to mention how to incorporate the many different aspects of this unique type of storytelling.

A college or university experience can also provide more intangible benefits such as making early professional connections and finding opportunities to test out new skillsets through student films and internships.

Film school is not mandatory to make it as a Filmmaker, but it can be a useful springboard for your career in terms of learning your specific craft, making professional connections, and gaining early experience.

What is the definition of a Filmmaker?

Anna Keizer

As its name implies, a Filmmaker is someone who substantially contributes to the creation of a movie. Largely, the term is used interchangeably with Director, but Filmmaker is not necessarily tied to any single profession in the industry.

Individuals such as Producers, Co-Producers, Cinematographers, and Editors are also Filmmakers given their importance in the creation of a movie.

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Developing Your Skillsets

Speaking of skillsets, regardless of whether you decide to pursue a formal education in film school, comprehensively understanding your specialty is the cornerstone to any successful career in filmmaking.

Some people just starting out as Filmmakers might be surprised to learn just how technical and detail-oriented the entertainment business can be, which is why gaining as much experience as possible is important.

Whether or not film school is part of your career path, make it a priority to work on as many projects as possible to build up your knowledge and expertise. And keep in mind that being a Filmmaker means making a lifelong commitment to learning.

Let’s use cinematography again as an example. Over just the last 30 years, the entire industry has changed with the introduction of digital filmmaking. While some Directors still prefer to use film stock, by and large digital is the more common format. This has meant Cinematographers needing to familiarize themselves with how digital photographs differently than film, as well as how to work with the kinds of equipment meant for digital capture.

Even specialties that seem somewhat static such as screenwriting undergo evolutions. Consider the introduction of streaming platforms, which don’t necessarily adhere to the conventional scripting rules for feature films, 60-minute episodics, or 30-minute episodics. That means having Screenwriters learn how to specifically write for this type of medium.

The entertainment industry is constantly changing, which is why Filmmakers both novice and veteran must always be changing with it through the continual building of their skillsets.

Keeping up with the everchanging entertainment industry is a must for Filmmakers no matter where they are in their careers. Staying current with the expectations of your particular specialty is a must for success.

What makes someone a Filmmaker?

Anna Keizer

The advent of the smartphone and similar technology has made it easier than ever to become a Filmmaker. Anyone can grab their phone, capture footage, edit it, and create a movie.

But a working Filmmaker – someone who is able to make a living from their filmmaking experience and expertise – is a far more intensive and challenging undertaking. The entertainment industry is a highly competitive field that makes it difficult for everyone wanting in to actually sustain a career.

With time, dedication to one’s craft, and tenacity, it is possible to be a working Filmmaker, but all who want to be part of this particular industry should prepare themselves for the inevitable instability that is inherent to it.

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Creating a Portfolio of Work

For virtually any specialty in the filmmaking world, your skills are proven by what you can show to others. That typically translates into having a portfolio of work highlighting those skills.

Putting together a portfolio – often called a reel – can sound intimidating. But piece by piece, even emerging Filmmakers can create a reel that shows off their aptitude no matter how far along they are in their careers.

What’s important to keep in mind is maintaining your portfolio. So if you’re working on someone else’s project, be sure to ask when appropriate if you can access it to include a part of the footage for your reel.

When is the appropriate time to ask? Usually once the movie is released, as many Filmmakers do not want eyes on any part of their movies until the distribution phase. If you happen to be good friends with the Producer or Director on a project, you can potentially ask sooner. Most importantly, don’t let it go too long after the project has been released to request footage for your reel, as it may become more difficult to track down the people who can get it for you.

Don’t have a ton of experience on other people’s projects? No problem! As mentioned, it’s never been easier to be a Filmmaker on account of the largely affordable equipment to which most people have access. Nothing can stop you from writing a short and shooting it on your own! That footage can then be used for your reel.

Film is a highly visual medium, which means that you need to demonstrate your proficiency in your specialty with a portfolio or reel of your work. Even those who work in sound need a reel that highlights their capabilities, so make it a priority to have one that is always up to date.

Building a Network of Film Contacts

Being a great Filmmaker who knows the ins and outs of their particular specialty ultimately won’t mean much if you can’t put those skills to use on a movie.

Of course, it is possible to write, shoot, and edit a film entirely on your own, but the filmmaking industry is one of collaboration. Especially if you want to be more than just a recreational Filmmaker, you must focus on making the connections that can lead to future collaborations and jobs.

Networking in Hollywood is a must, but it should be done with a sincere desire to get to know the people with whom you’re networking! Thinking of it as a “what can you do for me” proposition will quickly backfire. If someone believes – correctly or incorrectly – that you’re only interested in them for your own gain, that relationship will quickly dissolve.

Instead, foster relationships with creatives whom you truly admire and want to work with one day. Also, never hesitate to ask what you can do for them! Investing in legitimate professional connections is key for any Filmmaker, and like many of the other aspects of working in the entertainment industry, it’s one that you must nurture for the entirety of your career.

The saying “it’s who you know” is so popular in Hollywood because it is a cornerstone of success for many people in it. That being said, never look to your connections only for how they can benefit your career. Be kind and generous with your ability to support their aspirations as well.

Managing Your Career Expectations

We’ve already touched on it, but it’s important to make clear what you will likely be up against should you decide to become a Filmmaker.

Hollywood can provide fantastic opportunities to be creative and contribute to the making of films and other forms of entertainment. But the entertainment industry is also one that many, many people want to be a part of, which can make it a challenge to find your place in it.

It’s no surprise that you might look to high-profile Directors like Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee as inspiration for your own career. Or maybe you’re more a fan of producing great Jerry Bruckheimer, cinematography legend Roger Deakins, or famed editor Thelma Schoonmaker because they represent the pinnacle of success in their own respective specialties.

But everyone will have a different career trajectory in this industry, and few will become the next Spielberg, Bruckheimer, or Schoonmaker. There’s nothing wrong with that! You can still have a hugely fulfilling filmmaking career even if your name isn’t known to millions.

The truth is that the entertainment industry is made up of countless people who each have something special to bring to the proverbial table. They work hard and provide invaluable expertise, but they may also still struggle throughout their careers to find job security.

Which is another aspect of the industry to embrace. No matter how talented or hard-working you might be, it’s very possible that you may struggle to find regular work or take home a consistent paycheck simply because there are so many other people out there trying to do the same thing as you.

Plus, filmmaking can be expensive! Financing for movies disappears all the time, which only adds to the commonness of inconsistent work schedules for many Filmmakers.

Don’t be discouraged. If being a Filmmaker is the career you want, it becomes more a matter of accepting these aspects of the industry instead of letting them deter you from your professional goals.

What it means to be a thriving Filmmaker will be different from one person to the next. Motivation can come from admiring those who have made global names for themselves in the entertainment industry, but it can eventually be a deterrent to your own career if you compare yourself to them as a tracker of success.

Is a Filmmaker the same as a Director?

Anna Keizer

It is extremely common to refer to a Director as a Filmmaker.

Technically, though, the term can be applied to any number of other specialties such as Producers or Cinematographers who also play an integral role in the creation of a film. So while a Director is most definitely a Filmmaker, a Filmmaker is not always a Director.

In Conclusion

So, what can you do to improve your chances of “making it” as a Filmmaker? Everything that we’ve talked about in this article.

Be the most educated person possible on your particular specialty – whether that includes film school or not. Always be honing and expanding your skillsets to make yourself the most qualified person for a project. Make it a priority to keep current your portfolio of work so that you can demonstrate your skills to those in hiring positions. And just as important, continually build relationships with others in the industry with a focus on reciprocity and genuine connections.

Lastly, don’t let the common deterrents of the entertainment industry dissuade you from forging your own unique career in it. If you want to be a Filmmaker, you can.

It’s not easy to be a Filmmaker. But it can be achieved by focusing on the most common steps to success such as: getting a comprehensive education in your field; continually broadening and sharpening your skillsets; providing others with examples of your expertise; creating fruitful professional relationships with other creatives; and having a realistic perspective of what success in this competitive industry looks like for you.

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