Advice for how to “become” a successful filmmaker always boils down to one thing: make films. This is the first step. Make lots of films. Because if you’re just starting out, it takes a lot of experience just to get to a point where someone besides your friends and family can truly enjoy your movie. We know this from experience.
Make a film, get feedback, critique it openly and honestly, and then do it again.
You can do this with or without film school, with or without studying cinema history, and with or without the latest technology. But you can’t do it without being brutally honest with yourself, trusting your gut, and discovering what works best for you.
This reference guide is meant as a resource for people who have reached that point, and now are wondering “Okay, but where do I even start to get these made in such a way that actually pays the people who work on them, and then gets them seen by the people who actually want to see them?” Where’s there’s a will, there’s a way, and there are a lot of ways to go about accomplishing this transition from backyard-hobbyist to known-filmmaker.
This is by no means a definitive resource, and it does (as it should) take a long time to read and digest everything linked here, but isn’t it nice that once you have the tools it’s just a matter of showing up and doing the work? Also, please don’t think of this as a definitive resource– it is mostly meant as something to help motivate you to seek out whatever does could help you. The point is, the resources are out there if you’re willing to look!
Seed&Spark is a filmmaking-specific crowdfunding site, made by filmmakers, for filmmakers. With a successful funding rate of 84%, they consistently have the highest of all the crowdfunding platforms. More importantly, they have a spot-on philosophy of how things should be for filmmakers and their fans alike. Their just-the-best founder Emily Best puts it best in this Indiewire article:
“We spend a lot of time teaching filmmakers why building an audience for your film is important,’ said Best. ‘Your audience is your revenue source as an artist. Their support is the only thing that, long term, allows you to make and distribute the films you want to make. This is why we’re working so hard to help our filmmakers find and keep their audiences, and then deliver their films right to where their audiences prefer to watch, wherever that is.”
I include Seed&Spark here at the beginning not just because of the crowdfunding side of their site but for their GREAT collection of resources in the form of “Things to know” instructions, packets, and blog posts. They lay it all out for you within their materials: how to find and then reach your audience, and how to not be afraid of using social media; which brings us to—
2. Social Platforms
You actually have to be able to have a means to reach out to, connect, and keep in touch with the people who respond to your filmmaking. Here is a breakdown of some places you’ve probably heard of, but within of the context of being a filmmaker. In theory, the more prolific the better, but finding what works best for you is just part of the process.
a. Real life
This is why I use the term “Social Platform” vs. “Social Media.” People will be interested in your work if they are interested in you as a person, and the best way to do that is face to face, whether that be film festivals, parties, or your local library.
I’m not sure how to best use email for outreach or for keeping in touch, but I do know it’s important. Everywhere and everyone says E-mail is the best way to reach people, but we’ve have yet to find a resource that specifically lays out what that means for the independent filmmaker and/or production company. Please let us know if you have any thoughts!
Everyone is on this, and you probably are too. Facebook can be used for reaching out to the circle of people you actually know, and is good for making film-specific pages too.
People too often think of Twitter as just saying random stuff about yourself and trying to gain followers, but it’s really about being able to have conversations with people.
There are three subsets of people you should be friends with: 1) people who are trying to do the same thing you are, 2) people who are working to help people do what you want to do, and most importantly 3) individuals and organizations who are your/your film’s potential audience. Hashtags and search terms are powerful tools. If your short is a children’s film about talking appliances, then maybe you should start a conversation with anybody who has at any point tweeted about their favorite childhood movie, “The Brave Little Toaster.”
Tumblr is like Instagram or Twitter, but for pictures, video, text, audio, quotes, and blogs. Some tumblrs are more of a feel-collection of reblogged items, while others have a very specific thing that they provide. Tumblr has a very distinct tone and flavor. It’s pretty hip and cool, but smartly and somewhat cutely so. You can get a good sense of it just by poking around some, but depending on your filmmaking style and sensibilities, it could be a great place for building and reaching out to a community of like-minded individuals.
3. “The Biz” / Industry Things
a. Hope For Film
If the Hope For Film blog / movement is the bible for a forward-thinking filmmaking community, Ted Hope is its prophet and soothsayer.
Ted Hope’s blog hopeforfilm.com is probably the best primer and resource out there for discussing both the problems and what’s-working’s of the film industry. As a bonus, it’s also a great resource for discussions on what makes good films good.
Good all-around site for film news. Not necessary, but observing what’s happening in the film world is only a good thing when it comes to marketing your film.
c. Business of Film podcast from Craft Truck
A great podcast for making the whole film biz world feel less like a mysterious blob creature. Endlessly curious, host Jesse Ikeman is genuinely excited to talk to the experienced and opinionated professionals he has as guests. That list of guests, in and of itself, is a great resource of people you might want to listen to (assuming you like what they have to say).
Crowdfunding via Seed&Spark (or your other favorite crowdfunding platform of choice) is a totally viable option for raising budgets for your films. Examining how an audience responds to you and your film on a crowdfunding platform is a great way to evaluate the financial and artistic merit of your movies. If you can raise a $1000 budget and make a good short film that your audience responds to, that’s a first step to building your credibility so you can make another film for more money.
Having said that, raising budgets via private investors and studios is still the most prevalent fundraising tactic (however unpredictable, outmoded, and/or scary it might be), so there is no shame in this option. Or perhaps better yet, depending on your goals, combine both tactics: crowdfunding + investors that pledge to put up the dough once a crowdfunding campaign has succeeded? Hm.
For a great (and still entirely relevant) resource for how to incorporate the more traditional fundraising route I can reccommend checking out Jason Brubaker’s FilmmakingStuff.com. Jason comes from a good-hearted place based on a whole lot of trial by fire. Definitely check out the thorough backlog of blog posts, even if his products don’t interest you.
a. Sheri Candler, along with her buddies at The Film Collaborative, is one of the most active voices discussing what film marketing looks like in the 21st century that I have come across. Check out their must-read FREE book http://www.sellingyourfilm.com/.
b. Film Festival Secrets
Film Festivals are still the heart and soul of the film community. There’s nothing better than filmmakers and passionate fans gathering in great venues to celebrate all that is motion pictures, and watch them the way they’re meant to be experienced. Counting on getting distribution from a festival screening isn’t a sound business strategy, but they are great opportunities to showcase your work and connect with (and build) your audience.
Chris Holland at filmfestivalsecrets.com provides a resource I’ve always yearned for: how to navigate the film festival world. He offers a free 30 minute meet-and-greet Skype or phone call. Take advantage before the rest of the world catches on to how invaluable the services and information he offers is.
6. Distribution without a Distributor
Sell or rent your film directly to your fans. It’s fun getting the VHX newsletter, too: they’re constantly finding new ways to better the experience for filmmakers and the audience.
You don’t need a theatrical distributor to play in theaters anymore, thanks to Tugg. Tugg is a screening-on-demand platform that’s already partnered with most theater chains worldwide. Your audience can RSVP for a screening that only happens if enough people say they’re going, so it’s a win-win strategy where it’s no skin off the back of the theaters, or filmmakers.
c. Seed&Spark is also in the distribution game. Any film crowdfunded through them gets a rent or buy option on their site by default. Reach certain requirements and your crowdfunded film can get distribution through iTunes and other major VOD services.
7. Running a Business
Want to live and work on your own terms? Taking those first steps to do what you love as a profession can be scary. Paid to Exist is a wonderful resource/website/cause/blog by Jonathan Mead for all things concerning setting out to reach your success independently. It therefore can be helpful for struggling artists who want to transform their passion into their business.
I’ve found Michael Hyatt’s advice to be all-encompassing no matter what your particular field might be, but it is entirely applicable to filmmakers trying to wrap their head around more general running-a-business things. His tone is refreshingly positive and forward-thinking, to boot.
Entrepreneur, businessman, call it whatever you like—you are essentially one of these if you are a filmmaker. Even if you are purely a hired-hand as a director and you never have to lift a finger handling anything related to the business side of filmmaking, you are still occasionally leading a group of people, and are responsible for your personal “brand” as a filmmaker. I like to just think of the term “filmmaker” as a more all-encompassing word for all the duties a typical director has to be a part of as far as the business side of things.
There you have it. There’s a lot more out there, but I hope at the very least this is a good starting place. As time goes on, this list is meant to change and adapt. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, we’re all ears.