Stepping into the unknown can trigger a whole set of emotions – from excitement to paralytic fear. I bet anyone making a movie can relate to this: “Will I have the wherewithal to finish this, will anyone see it, and what if they laugh (or cry) in the wrong places?” All fair questions.
As they say, you’ll never know until you try it.
You aren’t the first person to start making a film. I thought I’d share with you some of the things I wish I knew when I started Raindance in 1992, or the British Independent Film Awards in 1998. I’ll bet you won’t believe how little I knew when I started out, and hopefully my tale will help you over that anxious moment at the starting post.
What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Raindance
1. Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
No BS here.
A film-making career is a long term investment. It just doesn’t happen overnight. Sure there are some filmmakers who gain some quick wins. In general, it takes ages to get your films recognised on the film festival circuit to the point where a distributor is willing to gamble on taking your film to an audience.
Let’s suppose you want to go modern with your films and self distribute, to cut out the distribution middle of the art-to-audience cycle. It takes a really long time to establish your following online using classic internet marketing skills. These techniques are the ones we are using in launching our new offices in Los Angeles and Paris.
The entire process takes ages. It’s not like I expected respect with Raindance or BIFA overnight – I didn’t. Looking back though, I can’t believe it’s taken over 20 years to get a certain grudging industry respect!
I used to constantly repeat to myself ‘Quitters never win. Winners never quit.’ But that’s OK ‘cos success doesn’t happen overnight and because filmmaking is a long term investment, and of course…
2 …The Movies You Create Now Will Continue to Work for You
A filmmaker’s goal is a bit like a musician’s: you need to build up a library or a back catalogue of work. This library will still be kicking out royalties and kudos long after you have finished and moved on to your current project.
There is stuff I did twenty years ago in my festival work that people still remember. Tom Petch wrote and directed The Patrol nearly ten years after we screened his short. Postgraduate mentor Kurban Kassam produced the critically acclaimed The Possibilities Are Endless – SWSX darling and winner of a five star review in The Guardian. The directors’ (Lovelace & Hall) first documentary Werewolves Across America screened at Raindance in 2007 too!
3. There’s Always Something New
The film industry stayed pretty much the same for a hundred years until Valentine’s Day 2005 – which was when the three co-founders of YouTube registered the URL. And since then virtually nothing has stayed the same.
Back in the early 90’s we screened celluloid, bought expensive newspaper ads and mailed leaflets. We don’t do any of that now.
The fact is, the industry is changing so fast it is almost impossible to keep up. But that’s part of the job: keeping up. Exploring new opportunities and seeing how you can leverage new technologies and distribution techniques is the filmmaker’s job.
I didn’t realise how quickly everything would change and always wish I could have used my crystal ball earlier in my Raindance career.
4. There’s More to a Successful Filmmaker Than a Film
Of course being able to produce a terrific film with compelling characters, sparkling dialogue and strong story is crucial. But today’s ‘filmscape’ means you need to consider yourself as a communicator, using all available media.
Add to this the fact that today’s independent filmmaker needs to be a master of social media. This alone is a full time job.
When I started Raindance I knew that it was a marketing and public relations exercise. I also knew that the British film industry and UK public weren’t ready for my brand of film ‘evangelism’. I had no idea at all how much effort it was going to take, though. And I couldn’t predict the domination of the Internet, could I? It was 1992 after all!
5. Shooting and Editing Aren’t the Only Skills a Filmmaker Needs
To build a successful film career, you need to add some brand new skills to the normal screenwriting, directing and producing skills. These are the social media skills that you now need to master. These skills are ones that you will use to assist in your crowd funding at the start of a new project, get you cast and crew for the shoot, and help you sell and distribute the film after it is completed. Funny thing though — no film school teaches these skills.
6. Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones
Nothing prepared me for the brickbats out there. I just couldn’t believe that I would be subjected to so many flamers and trolls when I started out. Sad but true. Add to that the professional jealousy one encounters (which I did expect) and you have a brew with the potential to boil over in a toxic and even lethal mess.
When you pursue a film-making career, you better get a pretty thick skin. ‘Cos names should never ever hurt you.
7. Making an Investor Happy is Hard Work
The minute you have a stakeholder (investor or sponsor) in your project or your business, your life will change. Remember, you can’t keep everyone happy all the time, so don’t even try. The biggest mistake is that you over promise. It’s far better to under promise and over deliver.
This isn’t about running scared and compromising. It’s about being direct and playing to your strengths and not your weaknesses.
8. Sometimes Film-making is Easier Than You Think
Filmmaking is not some kind of exclusive club that only a select few can join. All a career in filmmaking needs is for you to take that first step. Come on – you can do it! And as you get going you will develop a radar for what you like doing and what you are good at. Start completing a few projects and you will start to feel really good about yourself — your ego will strengthen and your career will flourish.
Have you been filmmaking for a while? What else did you wish you knew when you started that you know now?