A filmmaker differs from a director in that a filmmaker is the one who writes the script, auditions the actors, directs the piece, cuts the film and even supervises the sound design of the film. At the bottom of this article you can find 115+ resources that will help you become a better filmmaker and jack-of-all-trades.
Filmmakers have a hand in every aspect of the production process. Filmmakers wear many hats, they work long irregular hours, and endure possible harsh weather conditions on set. However, being a sort of jack-of-all-trades can lead to many opportunities in a more specialized aspect of filmmaking.
The thought of a filmmaker conjures up the image of a seasoned veteran operating expensive equipment on a large budget set with producers breathing down their neck. However, in this day and age smartphones and free video sharing platforms, such as Vimeo and YouTube, have made a career in filmmaking more accessible than ever.
There are essentially three different categories of a filmmaker:
The Employee Filmmaker – this is someone who gets a job at a production company and is basically formatted like a typical 9-5 job. You show up on time everyday, you start at the bottom and work your way up in hopes that one day you will be allowed to helm a production.
The Freelance Filmmaker – you work for the highest bidder and are usually paid on a per job, daily, or hourly rate. You use your networking skills to find work and then it’s on to the next project.
The Entrepreneurial Filmmaker – this is the filmmaker everyone wants to be. You write, produce, direct, and distribute your own stories. You shop around for potential investors that can allow your vision to come to life. This is also the hardest plan with which to make a living since if your project fails or doesn’t get made you will likely not see a paycheck.
What does it take to be a filmmaker?
The road to becoming a filmmaker is not an easy one to travel. You have to have heart, thick skin, and an incredible work ethic and quite frankly it is not a career one should choose for the money. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual income of all producers and directors was $71,680. A career in filmmaking is a marathon, not a sprint so take pride in the small victories. Comparing yourself to Martin Scorsese after your first, second, or even third finished project will drive you crazy.
All that being said, there are no defined qualifications to be a filmmaker as is the case with a more typical career. However, there are several key skills that can help separate a filmmaker from the crowd:
Creativity – film is as much an art form as painting or sculpture.
Attention to detail – a great film often boils down to minute details.
Organizational skills – staying organized is key to staying on schedule which in turn saves money and keeps the crew content.
Leadership – it’s up to the filmmaker to delegate the work amongst the crew and ensure that everyone is on the same page to keep the production running smoothly.
Resource management – a good filmmaker knows exactly what to spend time and money on in order to keep the production on track.
Technological skills – this includes proficiency with camera equipment, lighting equipment, and editing software.
Research skills – studying and analyzing the films of master filmmakers can help inspire you to keep creating your own.
Social skills – filmmaking is a team sport so to speak. One of the largest problems you will face early on in your career as a filmmaker is getting other people to show up on time and in the correct place even if you live in a “film hub” such as Los Angeles or Atlanta. If people are happy to work with you, the risk that comes with relying on other people is significantly lowered.
How to become a filmmaker
By definition a filmmaker is anyone that picks up a camera and presses the record button. However, there is a difference between a filmmaker and a professional filmmaker. There are several steps one can take to become a professional filmmaker:
Get a bachelor’s degree – the degree itself is certainly not necessary for a successful career in filmmaking. However, in film school you will learn the technical and creative aspects that will help you excel as well as open doors that will provide invaluable experience and connections in the industry.
Volunteer – doing free labor isn’t great, but you are investing time into learning and building a network. Volunteering is a good way to get to know people and find new opportunities.
Make a short film – this is an opportunity to apply the creative and technical skills you learned in film school. In addition, it gives you some material to show off to producers and executives in the field. Personal tip: think of it as practice. Don’t make the project too ambitious. Instead, take your time and focus on creating a technically sound film in all aspects.
Gain experience – in the beginning, a filmmaker should seek as much experience on set as possible while continuing to work on their own content. This will allow you to build your resume and make invaluable connections. Most entry level jobs are as production assistants, but there are many other jobs one can land such as a camera operator, editing assistant, or even a writer.
Keep up with the industry – it is important to keep up with trends, business developments, and know specifically what projects larger production companies may be looking to take on.
Keep an open mind – exploring many different “ecosystems” can be very helpful. There are many overlaps in the industry of entertainment. Just because you have chosen to focus on cinema doesn’t mean you can’t branch into the world of television, theater, or even music and establish more connections in those fields. In addition, exploring other artistic fields for yourself, such as painting, can help keep your creative juices flowing. Personal tip: try your hand in acting, especially if you want to become a director. Understanding what an actor goes through on set can help you better communicate what you are looking for in a performance and can even help you write a script that actors will be interested in.
Find a mentor – Finding a mentor may come naturally with following the past tips of networking and gathering as much experience as possible. Most seasoned filmmakers love to share their experience with a younger generation.
Don’t quit – you will quickly find that you learn something new with every project you write, direct, or edit. Socrates once said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”