How Do You Become a Filmmaker?
Many people don’t realize how many different individuals collaborate to make a movie. Everyone, at one point in their life, has walked out of the credits for a movie. Job definitions and responsibilities are illusory.
So how does one begin the task of figuring out what everyone does and what is a worthwhile career to aspire to do? The first step is self-reflection. To take a critical look at one’s own personality and delineate one’s own inherent characteristics can be a challenge. It’s often good to ask friends and family members for a fresh perspective. If someone sees that as a daunting task, then they’re most likely an introvert and belong in post-production. Joking aside, there are all manners of people working in every career in the film industry, however, knowing oneself can give a general sense of where a person belongs.
In our discussion of how to become a filmmaker, we’ll look at:
- The pathway to becoming a filmmaker
- The lifestyle of a filmmaker
- The type of gear used by filmmakers
- Advice and final thoughts on becoming a filmmaker
There aren’t any hard and fast rules and every personality type is required for every stage of production but generally, each stage of production lends itself to a specific type of person. Typically, people with an extroverted personality will thrive in production due to the constant communication that comes from large sets, while an introvert will benefit from the small pockets of people and isolation granted in post-production. Meanwhile, those who enjoy business, paperwork, financing and making deals thrive in pre-production and distribution. Those who love cinema and are gifted with a linear mind with a propensity for numbers are the backbone of the industry. They’re the reason a film ever comes to life. The film industry has a general category for every type of person, but these aren’t hard and fast rules — just general guidelines.
The pathway to becoming a filmmaker begins with a person critically evaluating themselves. People shouldn’t let their choices negate options but expand them. For example, if a person wants to become a Director of Photography because they like shooting video but they don’t like working with a lot of people, then they should also consider looking at becoming a Colorist before investing years of their life into a specific niche. A person taking the time to not only evaluate themselves but also how their natural character traits will interact with their interests will lead a happier life (and find success faster)!
The Lifestyle of a Filmmaker
Almost every position in the filmmaking industry, except for executives, works in the “gig” economy. They are freelancers moving from opportunity to opportunity because basically every job, including big studio films, has a definitive end date. There is a constant hustle to find work and it’s usually gotten through referrals. Additionally, each production has its own dynamic. They can shoot nights, weekends and holidays with over twelve-hour days. Therefore, it’s good for a person to know what they are getting into, so they can set the right expectations for themselves and their future. Each section of production has a unique disposition as well.
Pre-production and distribution are generally corporate, dealing with paperwork and legalities. These careers typically work on spec or are corporate jobs. A lot of time is spent pitching, developing and coordinating a project. The artistry is found in determining what could be and the hours are much more regular but when deals go down, it’s intense. Within the independent sector, that means attending film festivals and buying property to later distribute and sell.
Film production is almost like summer camp in a way, with large amounts of resources on the line. A lot of strangers come together to do bizarre activities that are wildly different from shoot to shoot. They must constantly work together to achieve success for grueling days on end. When not working, there is a lot of downtime. These individuals will often work for a month or two then have a month off. Work usually goes in waves. It’s either all at once or nothing.
The post-production world works with a sense of isolation. Each has their own departments, almost like individual splinter cells working together. In the end, the creative work must be cohesive, so they still talk and coordinate, delivering and receiving assets, but most communication is done remotely. The secular nature is further propagated by the fact with advancing technology, these departments can be found all over the world. A project can be doing sound design in California and visual effects in Canada, putting them in separate time zones. Often, post-production careers will work on multiple jobs at once as well. Due to the hiccups in communication and delays imposed by other departments, they fill out their days by juggling multiple clients.
The individuals themselves usually work alone for long periods of time, or next to one key collaborator, like the film’s Director. Travel is usually limited, and with the advance of computers, many people have their own home studios as well as a professional one. Typically, post-production careers work longer on one project than other professions, but their paychecks are still freelance, and project-based.
A filmmaker’s lifestyle varies depending on what section of production they focus on. Most of the time this aligns with individual’s personalities but there are no hard and fast rules. Many Cinematographers are introverts and there are a lot of Editors who are gregarious. If someone is breaking in, then it can be good to explore each of the different realms and determine which one best suits their nature.
Becoming a Filmmaker
Once someone has taken a critical look at themselves and determined what section of filmmaking they’re best suited for, it’s time to break in and learn what the different career possibilities are. For example, if someone likes to be alone and is technically savvy then they’re best suited for post-production. Read all the different career profiles. Getting a general overview will give a sense of direction, not only for a specific career track but also how it falls in line with other professions. A Picture Editor coordinates the workflow for Visual Effects Editors and Sound Editors but is overseen by the Post-Production Supervisor.
Many professions share similar characteristics and it’s easy to crossover, however, figuring out one specific department is key. When starting out, it’s okay to try multiple jobs and that will be required for low-budget productions as well as in film school. However, if a person can get an internship or apprentice with a veteran in a specific field then it’s going to speed up their career. But to get this opportunity, a person must know what they want to do.
Once a person discovers their passion, it becomes a balance of working inside the “system” (like a large company) or striking out on their own. Some people work as a professional technician right away and are “self-taught.” This can be quite difficult because they will be at a disadvantage when it comes to resources, skills and professional relationships. If someone truly believes they have found their calling, then it can still be advantageous to work as an Assistant to a specific career role and take side jobs in their evenings to build their personal brand. This gives the benefit of living in both worlds, plus support and training, as well as flying on one’s own wings.
The Type of Gear Used by Filmmakers
Many careers in the film industry require expensive equipment. While each position requires different things, they are all plagued by the same question, “Should I invest in my own equipment or not?” Many people will, because it gives them more opportunities right off the bat, but it can be a steep financial commitment. What if someone buys an expensive camera, works as a Cinematographer for six months and realizes it’s not for them? Or what if a new and upgraded camera is released? The benefit of working in a large company or attending film school is that equipment is usually provided. It’s a place where a person won’t have to take out loans to practice with the tools of their trade. Therefore, it can be highly advantageous to work for someone else and use their stuff before racking up a large credit card debt on a piece of equipment that can easily become outdated.
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