Let me tell you about a very talented, passionate friend of mine. The are also highly creative. We speak every day, and always I hear the refrain “I want to be a full-time filmmaker.”
In a way I am relieved when they don’t ditch their dull, boring and extremely demanding day-job. What if things don’t work out, and what if they end up broke mentally and financially. I would feel tremendous guilt for the encouragement I give through the Raindance channels to people exactly like them.
But would that be my fault? Is it true that you can only succeed as a filmmaker if you give up your day job? After all, there are dozens of famous writers, sculptors and poets who kept their day jobs.
Are you really sure you are ready to become a full-time filmmaker? Forget the myth of the starving filmmaker: with work and practical business skills, the dream is within reach! But going full-time requires more than simply making enough money to pay your bills. It means believing that your filmmaking can be a business.
i have put together a list of ten things you should do if you want to become a full-time filmmaker. If you follow this advice, and start preparations now, your transition will be so much easier. When the time comes you will be ready to take the leap.
1. Decide on the legal structure of your film business
Will you be a sole proprietorship, an LLC, a corporation, or something else?
US filmmakers can review the options at the Small Business Administration website: https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure
British filmmakers can check out the options at companies House: https://www.gov.uk/set-up-business
Deciding how your business is structured is a really important step before you take the leap. It will affect how you approach day-to-day operations. Company structures will have different ways of filing taxes. An accountant will have advice on the best structure for you.
For example, when I started Raindance I traded as a sole proprietorship. I couldn’t hire employees, and I was solely responsible for any debts. Now we trade as an LLP. It’s really important to consider the risks and limitations of each type of business structure before you take the leap.
This video might give you some ideas how to structure your filmmaking business.
2. Figure out your timeline
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is your decision to quit your day job. The video above recommends that you have at least 6 months living money in the bank. And then to wait until income exceeds your expenses before you sign off the steady income.`
It’s a really good idea to research how legalities and finance work in the film industry. It is information like this that I have used to compile 5 nights, with 5 truly successful filmmakers to create the Producers Foundation Certificate. I’m told there is nothing quite like it anywhere else.
3. Hire a bookkeeper
Most filmmakers I know don’t value the expense of a bookkeeper. Why, they say, can’t I do this myself?
Bookkeeping is timely. It also requires attention to detail. I was spending a third of my time bookkeeping at Raindance until I hired a wonderful bookkeeper. She not only relieved me of hours of work each week, but was able to help me analyse where my expenses could be trimmed.
4. Hire an accountant
You may get lucky and find an accountant like PGLemon, who also provides bookkeeping services, like we have at Raindance. An accountant will generally provide you with analysis and advice on a quarterly or yearly basis. An accountant will help you figure out your taxes, analyse whether you’re spending your money wisely, and find even better ways to make your money work for your filmmaking business.
5. Research resources, grants, and networking
I trained as a visual artist – a sculptor’s technician to be precise – and I have always admired the visual artist Jesse Reno. He always had an eye at going full-time, but he created a strict rule for himself. He took networking and research seriously.
“In the beginning… I had serious rules to get me here. I had a full time job and was like alright, ten hours a week either trying to get a gig or make 10 contacts, whichever one comes first. Then you’re off the hook and you can paint. It’s one thing to paint, it’s another thing to make a living from it. I did quick math and I was like alright, there’s 52 weeks in a year, that’s 52 contacts… (if I) contact 500 people, something should happen. I stayed on that level of hustle for probably the first four years, and then things started to happen that I didn’t really need to make ten calls.” – Jesse Reno (listen or read the full interview here: https://theabundantartist.com/podcast23/)
Connect with local filmmaking groups, like the Boozin’ n’ Schmoozin’ networking sessions at Raindance. Consider joining filmmaking organisations, like Women In Film and Television, and of course, become a Raindance member.
6. Consider a mentor
Everyone can use a mentor. Although I have been running Raindance since 1992, there are still three people I hold close and dear to my heart as mentors.
Raindance offers one-to-one film mentorships. or, ask filmmaker friends for recommendations. It’s also useful to have a business coach as well.
7. You need a website
A good website tells a story – the story of you and the type of filmmaker you are. People interested in collaborating or investing in your projects want to get an idea of who you are. and what makes you tick.
For inspiration, here are some of my favourite filmmakers websites.
8. Social Media
There is no getting around this one. As a filmmaker, you either have social media, or you don’t. Start building your personal brand right now on social media.
9. Identify your strengths and weaknesses
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to develop your social media and website skills. But have a really good audit of what your skills really are. Don’t view weakness as a failure. Rather, outsource those tasks which you aren’t so good at.
My deeply religious mother used to tell me that there was no such thing as luck. As a teen I rebelled against her strict Christian rules and became, I thought, agnostic. However, I could never explain to her how I was meeting so many wonderfully talented and inspiring people through my work at Raindance. I tried to tell her it was coincidence. She kept telling me that you make your own luck or coincidences. And you do this by doing good deeds for other people.
My mother finally led me back to her values. I now believe that there are certain things we cannot explain. And I put that down to a divine being. I don’t give It a brand name like Jahweh, Buddah or God. I now just accept.
And right before she passed away, she led me to one more understanding and belief. As I said, I now believe in a divine being. And my mother has helped me realise that this divine being isn’t me!
And with that realisation, I became a happier person.
I truly believe that if you abide by the rules my mother set out, and if you formulate a strong strategy, you too will be able to become a full time filmmaker.