Beginner's guide for breaking into filmmaking
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
If you’ve thought about becoming a filmmaker or working in the industry, but don’t know where to start, you are not alone. And unless you grew up around filmmakers, or have an uncle that is an exec at Warner Bro’s, the chances are you're going to be starting from scratch like the rest of us. So, here is some basic advice for the newbies out there.
Learn by doing
Of course, taking classes, watching YouTube videos, and reading blogs is a great way to gain an understanding of the industry and the different roles within it. But, for me, there is no substitute for getting out there and immersing yourself in the process. Now, this may seem daunting, but getting out of your comfort zone is a big part of any worthwhile new endeavor, and filmmaking is no different. There are two ways you can do this, one of which is to…
Grab a camera and start shooting
This is a great way to learn the basics of filmmaking and have fun. Get some friends or find groups online and just start shooting. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter what you shoot, just get familiar with the process of visual storytelling. And don’t worry if the result is bad, even terrible, that’s okay…it is all about learning! But with that in mind, I would definitely suggest not going out and buying a truckload of expensive gear when starting out. I know it’s tempting to buy a nice new camera, especially with the deals that are available online these days. But trust me, the smartphone in your pocket is plenty good enough to shoot your first few projects.
The other way to learn by doing is to…
Work on indie productions
Indie film crews are always looking for an extra set of hands on set, especially micro-budget productions, and especially If you are willing to work for free! Yes, you might be grabbing sandwiches and coffee, or ferrying cables from the back of a van to the set. But, this is a great way to get on set and watch how a film or commercial is made. It doesn’t matter if you have zero experience, as long as you are willing to work hard and have a positive attitude. And after gaining experience and building a network, this will soon turn into paid work. Of course, before this, you will need to know about…
Finding projects to work on
The best way to find projects is to search online job sites and see if any productions are advertising for help. Even if you have zero experience and just want to get on set to help out, here are some great places to start:
Craigslist – check out the gigs section, and you’ll find tons of unpaid opportunities on a wide range of projects.
Casting websites such as backstage.com – home to both unpaid and paid postings. (note that casting websites often have membership fees)
Meetup.com – connect with indie filmmaking groups and collaborators.
Community-based independent film production cooperatives like Scary Cow in San Francisco – this is a great option not only for working on other people's projects, but also if you have an idea or script that you want to film but need a crew. They often have their own festivals, so you are guaranteed to see the project you worked on up on the big screen! (note that production cooperatives usually have membership fees also).
Even if you see a project that has filled all positions, don’t be afraid to reach out to the production team and offer your services for free! Any way you do it is fine, just make sure when you get on set that you…
Shooting a movie (or commercial/music video/documentary) is a slow process with many steps, which often means a lot of waiting around on set. This is a perfect opportunity for you to mingle with the rest of the crew/talent and ask them questions about their roles/background. For example, while the gaffing crew is lighting the next scene, why not chat to whoever's doing sound. Maybe offer to hold the boom in the next scene to give them a break. If making small talk isn’t your thing, try asking a crew member about the equipment they’re using. Most people are passionate about their equipment, especially items like cameras, rigging devices, vehicles, etc. Top Tip: Make sure to swap numbers with anyone you get along with on set, or at least follow each other on social media. You never know which connections could turn out extremely helpful in your career (plus, it’s always great to make friends with people who have similar passions and interests). No matter what you start out doing for the production team, it’s important to…
Try every role you can
There are many roles to choose from – from a Production Assistant to a Director, a Cinematographer to a Script Consultant – and it can be overwhelming. But the key is to try as many as possible. That way, you quickly learn what roles are best suited to you. Also, if you plan to produce your own projects, knowing/understanding what everyone on the crew does will come in extremely handy. And my final piece of advice is…
(Don’t) Move to L.A.
Not yet, anyway. If you are new to filmmaking, you have probably heard a million times during your research that if you want to work in film, you MUST be in L.A. And yes, I did move to L.A. for the entertainment industry. BUT not until I had already gained experience and an understanding of the industry beforehand. The film industry in L.A. is extremely competitive and filled with rejections. This can make it tough to get gigs and can be very demoralizing for beginner filmmakers/actors/writers. But the truth is, you don’t need to be in L.A. (or New York, Atlanta, Chicago for that matter) to find projects. Almost every major city has some form of production happening, and they all need a cast and crew. I know a lot of people (including myself) who have gained a ton of experience working on projects in cities with a smaller, less competitive, film industry, and it has been very beneficial. So there is really no excuse, you should definitely have some projects under your belt before packing your stuff and heading for Hollywood.
Thanks for reading. If you have any advice or questions to share, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.
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