Embarking on a career in filmmaking is the first step in what can be a rewarding journey. There are opportunities for cultural impact and to collaborate with artists and technicians whose diverse skills and perspectives help to make projects richer. Whatever aspect of the industry you want to specialise in — from camera operation to computer-generated (CG) design — there is potential for a life that is unlike any other.
The unique nature of a film career means that often there is no consistent pathway into the industry. While this has contributed to making it one of the most accessible and merit-driven options, it also means that newcomers can be uncertain about the most effective way to get their start.
The film industry is one that thrives from its rolling stream of contributors, so it’s important to do what we can to demystify the process of entry. We’re going to take a look at a few of the key areas you should be focusing on to get your career off to a good start. Bear in mind, though, that each of these is also dependent upon you adding your approach and showcasing your unique attributes.
Start Making Connections
One of the reasons that the film industry can seem impenetrable to outsiders is that there’s no “official” entry point. It’s not like being a doctor where there’s a clear route from school to residency to practice. In most cases, your film career will see you being a freelancer. As such much of your time may be spent finding your next gig. The good news is that one of the skills you need to make your start in the film industry will also serve you well throughout your career: networking.
Events are a good place to start. Attend film festivals, conventions, and screenings. Indeed, there are many online events, forums, and organisations that have become particularly vital sources of opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wherever you go, make the effort to talk to people who already work in the industry and can introduce you to other people who contribute in various capacities. Networking isn’t about finding that one person who can give you an “in.” Rather, it’s about building a community around you so that you can forge a diverse, solid support system.
While everyone in the industry knows that networking is essential, producers, directors, executives, and creatives don’t always want purely transactional relationships. Find people you might have mutual cinematic interests with and talk about their projects and what they want to achieve — alongside your own ambitions. Not only will this make you more memorable than the army of people delivering their elevator pitches as soon as they meet, you’ll also form stronger, meaningful bonds.
Focus On Skills and Experience
Okay, so you’ve started networking and making connections. However, that’s not going to get you very far if you don’t have the skills in place to be a reliable contributor. There is certainly some benefit to theoretical knowledge — it helps you to understand how to make your projects more emotionally, technically, and artistically impactful. However, this should be pursued alongside practical, experience-led learning.
There are a few good ways to go about this:
- Online Filmmaking Courses
You’re fortunate to be living at a time in which you have access to incredible learning resources at your fingertips. Whether you learn animation from YouTube or take a formal eLearning course in video editing, these provide you with visuals of the processes and practical guidance to practice yourself. Many of these courses are taught directly by technical experts in the field, rather than film school academics.
- Short Films
There is almost no better way to learn the skills you need for filmmaking than to just get on and start making films. Find like-minded creators and potential collaborators in online forums, or reach out using social media to locate projects. The more opportunities you can make for yourself to understand how the process works, the better prepared you’ll be for a professional environment. It’s also a great source of networking.
- Work in Other Fields
Werner Herzog famously encourages new filmmakers to avoid traditional film schools and instead gain skills more useful to production — like lock picking. There is certainly something to be said for gaining abilities not directly connected to cinematography. Experience in sourcing investment, and running a business can be essential for financing and running a production. Engineering abilities can be applied across a range of areas from set design to rigging. Don’t be afraid to explore other avenues on your way to filmmaking.
Whatever area of film you’re intending to specialise in, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have a solid combination of technical and creative abilities. This means that you need to spend some time putting together a package of materials that best markets your skills.
This is the most common form of career marketing those working in the industry use. It allows those who are hiring for productions to experience the quality of your work in the medium that you’ll be working in. Gather together short clips of your best work on films, preferably kept to 1-3 minutes in length. At the start of your career, this will largely be composed of personal projects, and that’s absolutely fine! Just make it simple, well-edited, and highlight your essential skills alongside your impressive feats.
Particularly if your work isn’t visible on-screen, crafting an appropriate resume for the film industry can be a vital tool. Most production staff hiring for movies don’t have time to wade through reams of paper, so make sure that your curriculum vitae is focused on skills. A good approach to getting your first job in film is to review the skills that the position requires and sculpt your resume in a way that showcases abilities and experiences that are relevant. This allows producers to immediately see what you can contribute to a project.
There are some exciting and creative opportunities available in the film industry, and these are developing all the time. While there aren’t many easy and traditional paths to get your foot in the door, this also provides you with opportunities to forge a path that is entirely your own and bolstered by your unique attributes. Gain experiences that enhance your skills, make meaningful connections and market yourself with a great showreel and resume.