So, you want to be a filmmaker huh? It seems everyone does these days. So, how do you actually get started? This is a blog for those at the very beginning. The bottom of the ladder. There’s a lot of climbing involved but, it’s really, really rewarding. In fact, it’s all about the journey. The chances are that if you’re getting into this industry, it’s because you’re passionate about it anyway. It’s not about the money or the fame, it’s about doing what you love. Even if this wasn’t going to be your career and job, you’d do it in some capacity anyway, right?
Whatever your final goals and aspirations are in this industry, there’s a few things you can do to get off to the best possible start.
This one is so simple. So easy. Get out there and film.
It sounds so obvious and you may be thinking ‘duh?’ but, it’s quite astounding the amount of people who say they’re a filmmaker, yet aren’t out there shooting videos and making films on a regular basis. The number one thing you can do to become a filmmaker is to start. There’s no excuses. For example, Josh started out shooting on his humble iPhone 5. The best camera is the one that you have with you. We all have phones. So get out there and start shooting. Doing that, by definition, makes you a filmmaker straight away. You’re making films. So that’s the end of this blog. Job done.
Nah, just kidding. There’s plenty more you can do to get yourself up the ladder. This one may seem really obvious too, but it couldn’t ring more true. Work. Hard. With so much competition, one thing that you’re in complete control of and something that can set you apart from the crowd is how hard you work. Every decision you make can have an impact on how far you go. Do you spend 10 hours on the weekend binge watching a new Netflix series? Or do you spend 10 hours on the weekend shooting and editing a video of your adventure to the mountains? Do you go out and spend £50 on a night out drinking with your mates? Or do you make £50 shooting a short promotional video for a nightclub?
It’s all down to you. The harder you work, the further you go. The more you shoot, the more you learn. The more you practice, the better you get. Practice, practice, practice.
Linking into this, rather than watching brain-dead comedy in the evenings and wasting hours scrolling through an endless timeline on Instagram, start teaching yourself new things with tutorials on YouTube. Yes, social media and the internet can be really, really bad for productivity as we just mentioned, but it has some incredible upside too. We live in an age of insane opportunity. Use the internet to your advantage. There used to be a time where you would have to go to film school to learn all of this – now it’s free and readily available at our fingertips. Whatever you want to learn, it’s on the internet. It’s right there. Need to learn how to mask on Adobe Premiere Pro? YouTube. Need to understand the basics to colour grading? YouTube. Want to understand the key components of a good story? YouTube.
Actually – that’s a good point. Even if you’re not specifically watching tutorials about how to do X, Y and Z, you should think about the filmmakers you look up to and admire. Absorb their content and analyse it. Why do you like their videos? What is it that makes them so good? When you’re developing your own style and voice, you’re taking different things that you admire from different people and putting your own spin on it. We love (and highly recommend) Casey Neistat, Peter McKinnon, Tim Kellner, Mr Ben Brown. Seek out the filmmakers that inspire you!
Dare we say it, even watching Netflix can be beneficial. This isn’t an excuse to go back on what we discussed before about not binging 10 hours of a new series. But, if you’re watching a documentary, you can analyse the edit. Why did this shot follow on from that one? Why did they include this piece of the interview here? What lighting have they used? Why have they made this object the focal point of this shot? Why have they chosen to go with this warm colour grade? You can learn so much if you’re switched on.
Alongside YouTube, consider other platforms like Skillshare – there are thousands of amazing courses on there that really drill deep and go in depth about different aspects of filmmaking. Chances are that some filmmakers you follow, like Peter McKinnon for example, are running and selling their own courses that can help teach you. There’s other video platforms like Vimeo where you can find award-winning films of a really high standard. So much inspiring content.
We haven’t even started on podcasts. We looovvve podcasts here. They’re great because you can get on with your day-to-day activities like driving, walking the dog or doing the dishes, whilst absorbing knowledge. It’s like reading, for the ears. We’re particular fans of Studio Sherpas who put out weekly episodes all about building and running a successful video production company. There’s so much knowledge in there for free!
Share your work
As you start shooting and working hard, you’ll likely start imitating the creators and people you look up to by putting out your work on the internet. I find it amazing that we live in this day in age where we can just put out our work and have it seen by the world, for free. Twenty years ago we would have had to jump through hoops by approaching the ‘gate-keepers’ – the people who would say yes or no to your project. You’d have to know these people and get in with them to have any chance of your work being put out on TV.
Now, you can just hit record and then upload. Okay, maybe not quite so simple but you get what we mean right? Take advantage of the fact we can freely share as much as we want with the world. Shoot your films and put them out there. Share them with people in the community so that you can get constructive criticism and feedback that will help you get better and better. You’ll also be building up a portfolio of your work – more on that later.
Stop comparing. Patience is key
You know that saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day?’
Steven Spielberg didn’t wake up an Oscar award winning director. Casey Neistat didn’t reach 10m subscribers overnight. This. Takes. Time.
You can’t afford to waste your time and energy comparing yourself with others. You have to understand that it will take many years of hard work and practice to make your way. Decades, even.
Comparing yourself with others distracts you from your own work and goals and will likely leave you unmotivated and down. The only reason the people who are doing well – the people you’re comparing yourself to right now – got to where they are is because they were patient. They stayed in their lane and focused on the work at hand. Heads down. They didn’t care about what anybody else around them wasn’t doing because they didn’t have time to do that. You just need to keep chipping away every day, taking little baby steps. Brick by brick. Eventually, when you put your head up you’ll see how far you’ve come. Start playing the long game, rather than the short. Are you going to panic and give up because after five months of making films you haven’t got a job making films? It might take five years so buckle up.
Gear and numbers. They don’t matter
Linking with this and going back to what we mentioned earlier about the negative impacts of social media, you need to stop worrying about the numbers. The numbers don’t matter. Having 1000 followers on Instagram isn’t going to make you better at editing. Having 10,000 subscribers on YouTube isn’t going to improve your drone work. Yes, it’s nice to have some validation through an audience appreciating your work but the number of likes and followers do not matter. At all.
The same goes for gear. This is an interesting one because yes, you want to achieve a certain degree of quality with your films, but we often get far too caught up with what gear we’re using. When you’re starting out, the best camera you’ve got is the one you have with you. So if that’s a phone, that’s okay. As long as you can hit the big red button and it captures what’s in front of you, you’re good. Because in these early stages it’s all about learning the very basics. You need to understand what it takes to create a good story. Because that’s what filmmaking is – storytelling.
You could have the greatest camera in the world – the Canon C500-beast-oh-whatever but if you don’t know what shots to get, how to frame and how to use the light, there’s really no point. As you grow and develop, of course, you want to start looking at which camera is best suited to your specific needs. But for now, stop worrying about gear and go shoot some video. Please.
Find your niche
Talking of ‘your specific needs’, the more videos you make, the more you find your niche. In a world where video is more popular than ever, you can really do anything. By practicing and shooting as much as possible, you’ll start to develop an understanding of what it is you enjoy shooting, and perhaps what it is that you don’t. For example, you might love documentaries. You want to be up in the mountains shooting rock climbers in a tense, nail-biting, real-life drama. You’ve found that you really know how to interview people on camera and get the best answers that evoke a real emotional response from the audience. Or, you enjoy product shoots. You want to shoot an ad for Loreal. Because you know you can nail that hair swoosh shot. Ooft.
There’s a million different ways you could go when it comes to filmmaking. At first, it’s important to try everything and dabble in as much as possible. As you develop, you’ll know your taste and the direction in which you want to go.
We encourage you to make mistakes. You HAVE to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid. If we don’t make mistakes then how are we supposed to learn?
Mistakes are often seen as a negative thing – something we’re scared of and really don’t want to make. You need to flip that and embrace them. They’re there to help you. After each shoot, we still write down all the things that we could improve on and identify mistakes we’ve made. For example, whilst on set recently, one of our phones wasn’t on silent. It ruined the audio when it rang and we had to stop. Awkward, because it’s a rookie mistake, but guess what? We’ve learnt from it. Now we know to ensure our phones are always on silent when on set and it won’t happen again.
So go out there and let yourself mess things up. Ran out of batteries halfway through the day? Oh well, too bad. Now you know that you have to ensure everything is fully charged up the night before?
Josh – the writer of this blog and the voice inside your head as you read this – made his worst mistake by not backing up my hard drive. He had about a year’s worth of footage on this little portable drive – not backed up anywhere. How could he be so stupid? When the drive died, he lost all of that material. Game over. It was pretty devastating at the time but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. He’s now learnt his lesson and has everything backed up in multiple places. He can count himself fortunate that it happened early on in his career where it was still all personal stuff on that hard drive – no clients involved. Phew.
This is the last and most important step. You need to network. As you upload your videos and as you watch those who motivate and inspire you, you’ll find yourself in a community. Utilise this! Filmmaking at its best is a collaborative process. Get talking to people in the comments and the DMs – trade knowledge and tips, laugh about the stresses you face, find out why they shoot with that particular lens.
Then take it a step further and find people in your local area who you can go out and shoot with. Don’t be afraid to make new friends and surround yourself with people who have the same passion and love for filmmaking as you do. For example, when Josh met Ben it was awesome. Their work improved because they were able to start bouncing ideas off of another creative and would always have tips and advice for eachother.
Furthermore, when it comes to networking there really are no limits. You know how you look up to all those filmmakers who are creative amazing films and video on Netflix, Vimeo and YouTube? You can reach out to them. You want to shadow people in the industry and get as close to the fire as possible. It’s the best way of learning.
Last year, Josh reached out to Abraham Joffe – an Australian cinematographer based in Sydney. He owns and runs a production company called Untitled Filmworks. They go around the world filming amazing things – documentaries including ‘Tales By Light’ (go watch on Netflix and thank me later). Josh sent him a message asking if I could perhaps come and shadow him and his team, maybe work for free etc. He wasn’t expecting any reply.
But guess what? Abraham replied. Before Josh knew it, he was on a plane to Sydney (from Melbourne because he was living in Australia at the time). He met Abraham and we hung out for the day editing in his office. He met the team, got to ask questions, gave his input on the edit they were working on…it was a priceless experience and a real turning point for him. Actually seeing this production company in the flesh and realising that his dream job was a tangible, achievable thing, did wonders. Being able to glean that knowledge from someone much further down the line than him – an expert – was so important.
So get online and start identifying the people you want to meet and the people you look up to. Offer them value where possible and ask if you can shadow, or somehow get closer to the action.
We hope all of this advice helped you! If you really, really want this, you can get it. The opportunity is there – don’t wait around. Get started today. Above everything else, enjoy the ride. There’s no point in doing any of this if you don’t love it, right? Fall in love with the journey and the process.