How to Start a Career in Filmmaking

How to Start a Career in Filmmaking

The entertainment industry is highly competitive, and it’s not easy to get your foot in the door. However, you don’t need to have money or big-time connections to become a professional filmmaker.

With a bit of study and a lot of legwork, you can build a reputation that will lead to screenings and job offers in the industry.

Here is how to get started.

  • Identify your Passion

What inspired you to become a filmmaker? What kinds of projects do you dream of working on?

If you don’t know what your passion is, you’ll have a hard time developing an idea you care about. If you need some inspiration, think of some of your favorite films. They may help you identify the types of films you want to make.

Once you’ve got a direction in mind, you need to make a game plan that will help you to become an effective filmmaker. Different types of filmmaking require very different areas of expertise.

For example, if you want to make horror films, you need to start studying how to edit to create suspense. You also might want to research makeup and creature effects.

On the other hand, if you want to make documentaries, you’ll need to hone your journalistic skills.

  • Study up

Now that you have your aims in mind, you’ll need to do some good old-fashioned studying. Don’t worry, you don’t need to go to film school (although if you can, that’s a great way to learn!).

Many famous directors like Quentin Tarantino didn’t go to film school. However, he did have a passion for film that inspired him to study on his own.

Before you make your first film, you’ll need to know:

  • Basic scriptwriting and storyboarding
  • How to operate a camera
  • How to light a set or location
  • How to use editing software
  • How to use microphones and mix audio

Plus, you’ll need to learn about filmmaking techniques common to your genre.

Luckily, there are plenty of free online courses to help you get started.

  • Build a portfolio

Now for the fun part. It’s time to start creating content for your portfolio. That means writing scripts, turning on that camera, and making some films you’re proud of.

You don’t need to have a big budget to make a film and your films don’t need to be long to showcase your talent. You can make a series of short films and have an impressive portfolio in as little as a few months.

Here are some tips on how to create a great film without professional gear or a lot of cash:

  • Rent your gear: Renting is cheap, and the time restrictions will force you to meet your deadlines.
  • Limit your locations: One location is recommended if you’re on a small budget.
  • Use stock footage: Stock footage can make a small film seem big. It can also give the illusion of additional locations.
  • Use free software: There are several free storyboarding and scriptwriting apps, and your computer likely comes with video editing software pre-installed.
  • Get costumes from thrift shops: Thrift shops are great for props too!
  • Hire local actors: There are probably a lot of actors in your community who perform in local productions as a hobby. Put the word out and they may work for cheap. 
  • Submit and show off

Now that you have an impressive portfolio, you want your work to gain some attention. Start by searching for film festivals in your area.

You won’t be able to submit to Cannes or Sundance just yet, but there are loads of small film festivals organized by community film clubs, universities, and private organizations. You shouldn’t have trouble finding some festivals to screen your work if you select the right ones.

Film festivals are usually attended by people in “the business” who are searching for new talent. At the local level, they might just be marketing managers looking for someone to direct commercials, but that’s not a bad way to start a career. In fact, that’s how Joseph Kosinski, director of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion got recognized.

Make sure to be realistic about your chances and your budget. Many festivals have application fees, so only apply if you think you have a decent chance at getting a screening.

You’re just One Film Away from Being a Filmmaker

There’s nothing like the feeling of sitting in an audience and seeing your work flash on the big screen. At that point, whether you’re in a cinema or a local film festival with an old projector, you are officially a filmmaker.

It might be hard to become a Hollywood big-wig, but that shouldn’t be your goal. Take small steps and always look out for networking opportunities and new film festivals, and you’ll be able to build a solid career in filmmaking.

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