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The Internet is awash with useful resources for filmmaking, especially when you're working on independent films, shorts and low budgets. A bunch of the sites we've used at different times are listed across the following sections and

you can find a useful new filmmaker's guide to the essentials if you scroll down the page
.

And thanks but we're not interested in link exchanges with your coffee packaging company.


HOW DO I BECOME A FILMMAKER?

Possibly the most commonly asked question in our mailbox, even though our contact page says you can find the answers to such questions online and in the links listed above, but to save you emailing us and to save us typing out the same answers any more times here's a bullshit free rough guide...


TOTAL NEWBS

If you are absolutely new to filmmaking it's important to understand that it doesn't matter how great you know you are, no one else thinks you're at all great and there is no magic place to send a script and get a cheque for $5m back in the post from. Filmmaking technology getting cheap means millions of people want to get a job in film or land a budget, but no one gives money to people who have no experience, so you either need to self finance a load of your own films and answer the multitude of questions you will have by researching them online and in books as any other film producer does or you need to work on other people's films to learn your trade.

The second important thing to understand is that you don't just apply for a full time job as a cameraman / editor / director and get hired with a yearly wage and all that stuff. Such jobs do exist in some areas; post production facilities, TV studios and many broadcasters will have full time people, of course the downside of these places is that a lot of the work is highly formulaic commercial product, there really are a tiny group of exceptionally high end specialist companies who get to do all the features work available, and by the time you've got the necessary experience to get work in one you'll have figured out who they are and how to get it.

Almost all filmmakers doing the more exciting, high end and cutting edge features or artistic work are freelancers, most jobs are awarded via word of mouth, and total newbies have no chance of getting paid work without building up experience and knowledge first, there are just too many other people around with some experience also looking for the entry level gigs. You need to start out looking for work experience at the commercial places or on low budget short films; you will make lots of tea and you will have to work with some colosally untalented douchebags on truly appalling projects, but you should also get to make a few useful contacts, learn some ropes as to how things work, and get a clear idea of what role you want to play in filmmaking.

The leading site for finding such opportunities is Shooting People which operates mostly in the US and UK. It's a low cost subscription service worth every penny, coming in the form of a useful website full of member's details for networking, articles, events and so on. The real value is in the daily email digests, there are several (ie for general filmmaking, animation, screenplay pitching etc) full of members asking questions, getting answers, debating and posting crew and casting calls mostly for unpaid short films. You will be applying to be a runner or production assistant, ideally you will have a car and you will live near London as there's a lot more happening there than elsewhere.

Working out where you might fit in on a film set is a big part of the process; most people just assume they want to be a director, producer or "filmmaker" without entirely understanding what those jobs entail or what skills are needed to do them. The director, for example, is not "the guy in charge", the producer is not "kinda the same as the director" and the role of "filmmaker" applies to absolutely everyone on a film set.

When you work out what you want to do you need to geek out and really learn the trade; no, you do not just so happen to be born knowing everything there is to know about cinematography because you have some awesome shots on Flickr, nor are you going to break down the invisible walls of screenwriting structure by not learning anything about it, if you want to progress in filmmaking you have to remember Tyler Durden; "You are not special. Your are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else." because no one likes a pretentious dickhead, there's more to learn than you can possibly imagine, and it all completely changes every couple of years anyway. There's a great article online which expands on all this very well, drop by Cineman for an entertaining and accurate guide to where your talents might fit in on a film shoot.

While you're doing all this applying and reading you should also practice, you will learn best by doing so get hold of any kind of video recording device (smartphones will do just fine), any editing software (Windows Movie Maker will do just fine) and start learning the basics; framing a shot, editing shots together, working with available light, structuring a story... These are the building blocks of filmmaking and you don't need fancy cameras or post production facilities to start learning them; we had to start on VHS cameras and edit tape to tape between two VCRs (if you even remember what a VHS tape or VCR is), it totally sucked but we learned a lot. Shoot short documentaries on friends, make a music video for your mate's band, write a little story, don't get bogged down in the details just do stuff and start thinking about your masterpiece further down the line.

There are tons of websites going into filmmaking jobs and techniques to guide you as you seek work and experiment using whatever camera you can get your hands on. These websites change all the time so make some use of Google to find them, create an account on Vimeo which has a good filmmaking community to hang out with and learn from in the forums and get involved in the Shooting People debates. Over time you will find more specialist communities and websites dedicated to particular skill areas such as screenwriting or cinematography.

Of course, no matter how much you geek out you will need some talent, a lot of people are hopeless directors but great at other stuff, hardly anyone artistically creative is any good at producing, very few writer/director/producers are even good at one of those jobs and so on; keep your mind open, be humble, work hard and maybe you can start becoming a beautiful filmmaking snowflake after a while.


UNI NEWBS

If you're just out of uni you probably have some idea of the above, the unfortunate news for you is that no one in the production industry gives much of a shit about your 1.1 in film studies / other film course that didn't involve making several films. It's virtually worthless to be honest with you, but universities know everyone wants to learn filmmaking and bullshit thousands of people every year because universities like making money just as much as businesses do, sorry if you haven't already figured that out for yourself. If you're one of the microscopic fraction who actually got a good course with plenty of practical work congratulations, you can probably skip forward a couple of paragraphs.

If you haven't already made several short films during your time at uni and figured out what you want to do as a film career then scroll up and read the "Total Newbs" section above. If you have already done that then you should still utilise Shooting People to keep building experience, and you can probably apply for the paid jobs offered as well, you might even find some stuff you can do on the Mandy jobs board which advertises both freelance and contract opportunities.

You also need to start putting yourself out there, Mandy also has a "Production Services" directory full of film and TV industry companies; put together a good cover letter, a resume of what you've done, a link to your showreel and start contacting people to get on crew lists as a runner, production assistant or other assistant more specific to your interest (like clapper loader, edit assistant etc.). Most companies have a "feel" or specific interests so try and apply to places you feel a liking for, and make sure your cover letter refers to this, try and look interested in that company rather than job application spam, it doesn't work because we all have a thousand other applicants to choose from plenty of whom will be really interested in what we do rather than just throwing shit at a wall and hoping some sticks.


GOT SOME SKILLS

If you have reached the point of actually building a showreel with more than three projects on it then the chances are you might be able to make a career, at least you're trying hard. Definitely get applying for paid work on Mandy, Shooting People may or may not remain useful depending on how well you're doing and what kind of work you're into. you also need to be putting yourself out there to companies in the Mandy production directory, but you knew that already. Set up a website and get it listed on Mandy and in things like The Knowledge and Kemps and consider attending some industry events where you can network and get to actually talk to busy people like producers on a less formal basis; people like to work with people they think are nice people or they have some connection with. The big film festivals and markets are the best places to meet producers like Cannes or Berlin, but there are lots of specialised things around for specific skills or areas in filmmaking, like Wildscreen is great for all things wildlife, work your network to see what's hot or not in your particular area of interest.

Now's also when you can start hanging out with other specialised geeks places like the Cinematography Mailing List (useful for directors too) and learning about Arri, Red and 35mm rather than DSLRs. Lurk and read for a while before diving in with dumb questions, these kind of sites are really for the advanced stuff not "how does HDR work?" or "how do I get that JJ Abrams lens flare?"; you'll quickly get the vibe and learn a lot. Not every technical role has a professional online community but there are usually a couple of general filmmaking sites with buzzing discussion boards focused on editing/writing/CGI etc., again, ask around the contacts you've been making what's cool now.

Some technicians find themselves agents if they have a really strong showreel, the quality of the agent and your work will dictate the kind of work they can get you, but nearly all of them farm people out on commercials and music videos, feature film work usually gets offered word of mouth, headhunted or via personal networks, everyone needs a regular income though and technician's agents are usually pretty decent at keeping people working. Actors agents are an absolute essential to have and because of that they'll do almost no work at all until you make yourself a little bit famous and they have less work to do; it's another thing that varies from job to job and over time so consider it and ask around for opinions.

The people much more on their own are the producers, screenwriters and directors. Getting a directing agent is acheivable but getting onto a feature is very hard because getting a budget or cast with a "first time director" is very difficult for producers to do. Screenwriters won't get an agent until they've had a film made but will struggle to acheive that without an agent and producers have to set up their own production company, option scripts and do their whole job with very few of the contacts or up front money they really need. Starting a production company sounds very cool but bear in mind you will spend a substantial amount of time doing non-filmy things like book-keeping, PAYE, and trying to find the money to insure yourself as filmmakers get anally raped "just in case you employ Leonardo DiCaprio, pick him up from the airport and have a car crash that cripples him". You shouldn't even be remotely contemplating this unless you have diversified into regular money earning work (like commercials, music vids, corporate stuff) or until you have produced several shorts, have feature screenplays optioned and know you're ready to find financing and name actors, at that point you have to have a real company to get taken seriously.

By now, I shouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know, if any of that was a surprise jump back a section and keep building experience, if you've heard it all before then go get on with your career and make some cool stuff.


CONCLUSION

Filmmaking is hard and getting that dream career in feature films is acheived by a truly tiny percentage of the people farmed through university courses; there is always someone more talented than you and someone else less talented who works harder or shouts louder, the thing you'll need more than anything is longevity, so one of your most crucial links in the early years, sadly, is the jobs page at your local paper's website. Find something simple you don't care about, that has some flexibility and that pays the bills, in LA it's waiting tables, here it's usually call centres, wherever you are remember it's a means to an end and preferable to carrying around tens of thousands in credit card debts for a decade, take it from someone who did just that.

And yeah, we know, Oren Peli did such and such and Blairwitch did something else; the number of filmmakers who got a genuine overnight rise to indie film stardom with no "uncle on the board at Universal" incest going on you can count on a few fingers, that's in the entire history of filmmaking, and all of them did it through luck rather than any outrageous judgement or talent. Citing such examples as a serious career path is more ridiculously stupid than mere words can ever describe, so don't, get on with the above advice and if you are the second coming of Kubrick someone will recognise your genius don't worry, even he had to start with low budget shorts.

On a similar note it's also worth pointing out to emerging producers that citing Blairwitches or Oren Peli's in business plans as the reason why your own $20,000 found footage masterpiece is going to make everyone $500m is equally stupid, everyone you sent your business plan to thought exactly that as they threw it in the recycling bin. Anyone who answered is even more colossally stupid than you are so if they have a ton of money you've hit paydirt, have fun but expect them to be colosally pissed when they don't make any money.

Finally, if you set up a production company and get a shit load of email from people asking you this question or variations of it, don't spend a decade repeating yourself thinking "it only takes a minute" or "I'll add a page to the website next month when it's less busy" or "it's bad karma to just delete it"; write a page like this one immediately or you'll feel like gouging your own eyes out at some point in the near future. And if you're one of the people asking, show a little gratitude to anyone who answers because most professional filmmakers barely find enough time to sleep let alone answer questions which have already been answered in a thousand websites and books. Insight of various kinds can be gained from an American executive we approached at a film market back in the early days who hit us with the gem "FUCK OFF! I'M DOING BUSINESS!"; advice from pros is gold dust so be nice or you'll end up fat, sweating and American at a film market where no one wants to talk to you except some irritating British kids...


Steve Piper
3am, 7th Feb 2012, around 12 years on from answering this question the first time and not quite as bitter as I might sound...