Filmmaker: Are you a Handyman Or Contractor | Elliot Grove |Raindance

Have you ever had a domestic technical issue? Like a leak, flood or a burnt electric circuit? Or, have you ever wanted a new bedroom closet or a room decorated. Who do you call?  Handyman Or Contractor? It’s a handyman of course. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good, old fashioned handyman.

A good handyman can handle a wide variety of jobs around the house. A handyman can even handle some relatively big jobs if given enough time.

But the really big jobs, like a attic conversion or extension or a whole new house you hire a contractor.

Anyone reading this post could become a pretty good handyman. Get a toolbox some basic tools: hammer, saw and drill. Read anyone of the plethora of “How-To Books“. Then watch some online how-to videos, and presto. You become pretty good.

Becoming a contractor is a much bigger deal.

A contractor needs to assemble a team of qualified specialists. A good carpenter, an excellent electrician, a skilled plumber and decorator, and so on. As the owner of the contracting company you also need to know about finance. You need to be able to manage cash flow to keep your employees happy with enough money left over to pay for the timber and nails you need each day for the job. You also need to know about local planning laws. You need a good knowledge of contracts. And you need to understand how to project manage a job from concept to drawing to actual execution.

Handyman Or Contractor

Filmmaking is no different to the construction industry.

You can learn some decent filmmaking practices from books and courses and become a pretty good “handyman” (or “handywoman”) filmmaker.

But building a filmmaking business? That’s like building a house.

You need to learn how to become a filmmaking “contractor.”

How Raindance started

I entered the film industry after leaving art school. I worked for three yers as a runner at the BBC in London. I worked on some of the most iconic British TV shows ever, such as Monty Python, Old Grey Whistle Test and Dr Who.

When I returned to Toronto in the late 70’s I worked as a freelance scenic artist on dozens of movies as a ‘handyman’. I am pretty good at turning a white studio wall into what looks like period barn boards using the decorative paint techniques I had learned in art school.

When I moved back to London in the late 80’s I realised my scenic painting days were over, and for a while ran my own building contractor company in London. It was called The Cheyne Gang. Most of our work was in the Cheyne Walk part of Old Chelsea. The property crash of the early 90’s put paid to that business. And that’s when i opted for a new career as ‘film contractor’ and started Raindance.

It’s taken me a long time to realise that the handyman or contractor expertise I had gained in housing would serve me well as a filmmaker ‘contractor’. And I want to share these “filmmaker contractor” strategies with you.

Questions a Handyman or Contractor need to answer

1.Are you the go-to Handyman? Or the go-to Company?

One freelance option is to become the go-to person. The trick is to become known as the person who can execute certain specific types of work. What’s your specialty? Is it sound? Makeup? Editing?

In the 2019 Raindance Film Festival trailer, we employed a range of handy persons:
Our London HND student Ivory Campbell was the brilliant art director. You’d want to work with her, right? The DOP was the excellent Zoran Velkovic, known for his ability to shoot under diverse and challenging conditions.  Again, another top notch portfolio piece. Jon Campling is a journeyman actor (about to explode to A-list) known for his enthusiasm, his ability to innovate and his distinctive looks. Who wouldn’t want Jon in their piece?

But director Simon Hunter had a vision for a ‘look’ that needed the services of a contractor. He needed a company with enough resources and manpower to execute 19 major special effects shots. And this was beyond the bandwidth or abilities of anyone I knew.

So we found an excellent contractor – a company that was skilled in a wide variety of post-production processes. We Are Tilt is a bunch of strategists, artists, filmmakers, animators, producers, illustrators, writers, coders and creatives.  The interface was between myself and director Simon Hunter on the Raindance side, and senior creative producer Ivor Sims, head of creative strategy Paul Mallaghan and head of motion Stig Coldham on the Tilt side.

These top creatives at We Are Tilt convinced us they could handle anything. And they did. On time and on budget.

2.Can you deliver?

It’s one thing to pitch and get the job. The next is to be able to deliver the goods. If you over promise and under deliver word will quickly spread that you aren’t very good. And your work will dry up fast.

When I first moved to Toronto from London I was desperate for work. Believing myself a reasonable handyman from my experience running the Cheyne Gang I decided to apply for some highly paid work decorating sets at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. At that time there was also the complication of union membership which I didn’t have.

Luckily for me, they were very short staffed, and the day I phoned up was a snow storm and half their normal crew couldn’t make it downtown. Since I could walk over I got the job.

The first task was to hang wallpaper on a row of flats about 100 meters long – something I had never done. I had only ever worked in paint. I told asked an old-timer how they liked their wall paper hung here, and he showed me. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult, and I was onto a ‘handyman’ carer as scenic artist working on 68 feature films and over 700 commercials. And I like to think that I kept getting call after call because I had a reputation or delivering. On time. On budget.

handyman or contractor

3. Can you promote yourself or your company?

OK. So you have the skills. Or you have assembled a diverse and passionate team. Can you get enough work and money coming in? Can you keep the lights on with enough left over for your humble living expenses?

How do you do that?

You advertise of course. And really the task of advertising both a handyman and contractor use the same basic principals. You need a great social media presence. You spend money creating good images of your work. And you try and get as many people as possible commenting on and commending you for your work.

Fade Out

Understanding whether you want to be a handyman or contractor will enable you to focus on the business, technical and creative skills you need to acquire. I am now going to laud the Raindance film training program’s. Why?
Because at Raindance we don’t teach film making. We make filmmakers. And both kinds of filmmakers: handyman or contractor.

Which one are you?

Ask a question about Raindance Film Higher Education



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • skype
  • twitter
  • youtube