As someone who makes films for a living, I’m often asked by people who want to pursue a career in film “how do I start?”
It's a valid question but one that's very difficult to answer. Filmmaking means different things to different people. Every culture, every country, every community has their own filmmakers and use filmmaking for their own ends.
I think it's really great to have mentors, even if those people don't know that you're their mentor. By this, I mean filmmakers and artists whose career and work you admire.
You can use what they do as a template and a roadmap for where you want to go. You can go back and watch their early work and see where they started – what they attempted and how they failed.
The next step to becoming a filmmaker is to try and have the experience of doing the work behind the camera – see how much work and labor goes into producing a film and telling a story.
I think a lot of people like the idea of filmmaking, just like a lot of people like the idea of being a pro athlete, but when you actually get down to it, they don't want to put in the work needed to make a career.
I really admire musicians and I love listening to their music. I know for a fact that I'll never be one: I just don't have the patience for that kind of practice. A big difference between filmmaking and music or being an author is that filmmaking is almost always a team effort.
Its a much more inter-human art form. It's also something that involves a lot of gear, a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of coordination. You have to have a head for the logistics of it and to be a people person. I big part of filmmaking is being able to get what you want from people and not burn your bridges.
I tell people who want to be filmmakers, go out and make a film. Everyone has a camera or an iPhone, and everyone has a computer. They're part of our everyday lives now. So make a film but make a small one.
Make a really simple, achievable. Smaller than you think is small. It can just be one simple thought or a recreating of a scene from your favorite film. Shoot it on your iPhone and edit it on your laptop. This exercise will give you an idea of what filmmaking really is, not the Hollywood dream that they sell you.
You’ll see the amount of time and effort that goes into getting what it is that you want to represent. In my experience, 80% or 90% of the people that attempt this will never go further when realizing how many hours go into every minute of film. It takes much more concentration and discipline than you think. It is nice to have creative control but that comes with a huge responsibility that is too much work for most people.
When you are an actor or part of the crew, you learn your lines and give your performance – that's your piece of the puzzle.
Then you leave and go on to the next project. The director spends a year before and a year afterward putting all those pieces together into something that they can tell a story. That's a whole different type of challenge. It can be a very difficult personal complicated experience. There’s no map for it.
When a lot of people decide to make a film, they have a tendency to go big. They think “well, I'm already spending this money, I'm already asking these favors. Why don't I make something that will really show the world what I can do?”. That's great, but if you don't understand what the process is and if you don’t yet know if you enjoy that process, then you can bite off more than you can chew. You get stuck halfway and you lose energy. The film will never see the light of day.
Get your hands dirty – start small and then get feedback on your idea once you've finished the film. Find people that you trust to tell you if they like what you’ve made and if they think it makes sense. This being your first outing, the chances are that the film won't make sense. It really takes a humble, mature person to see that a lot of the work, if not all, of the work they’ve done was for nothing. But to be a filmmaker, and to grow as an artist, you need feedback to be part of your process. You have to take advice from
people who around you and go back and work until you have something that fulfills your original intent.
The internet has become a great place to share your work and get feedback. It has the advantage of letting you learn different parts of the filmmaking process as well. Probably the best part of being a member of an online filmmaking community is the encouragement. Everyone who's made a film knows one of the biggest struggles isn't financial or technical, it's a struggle for energy.
Once you put your heart and soul into something and no one understands it, it’s critical for other people with similar tastes, wherever they are, encourage one another and help one each other take the next step.
YouTube, in particular, can be invaluable. You can connect with people who like what you do. We are no longer captive to the Hollywood tastemakers and the Network TV. We’re able to build a community around the work that you love to do and find collaborators.
So make a film. After you’re done, you'll have a pretty good idea if you like kind of grind, intensity and monotony it takes to turn an idea in to a moving image. If it gives you a buzz, makes you feel alive and makes you feel like this is something you could do for a living, then choose a bigger project. Branch out slowly and surely.
You need to put some part of yourself into your work and you need to get something out of it.