How do I get into the film business?

The film business is just that….a business. Well that should be pretty obvious and just like Banking or Law you don’t walk straight in.

What sets film making apart though is - it is a creative industry which recognises talent when it sees it. This means that if you are working alone doing something you love – animations, short films, independent features on a low budget - there is always the possibility that your work may be seen by the right people. If this happens then you may find yourself propelled into an opportunity that may have taken much longer to arrive in the normal scheme of things. If this happens to you - fantastic, make the best of it.

Is it that easy?

But wait a minute here. This is a long shot. If you have been interested in movie making for a while or been to a few festivals or chatted to other film-makers, then you will know that there are an awful lot of people who are convinced that they are the next big thing. How many times have you heard the following?

  • My movie is really different
  • It’s never been done before.
  • I’ve got a great script!
  • We got a great actor for the main part so it will be a success.

I’m all for success. It’s good when people succeed. But the creative medium of film and video has more than its share of overly confident people. Some might say delusional. When you consider the amount of individuals graduating from various film schools and film courses around the world and the amount of independents working to achieve their dreams then that is quite a number in terms of competition for attention.

The cream of the crop.

The cream will rise to the top though. So if you do have a project that is good, don’t be afraid to get it out there. This is particularly true if you have a good script. A lot of first time screenwriters have fears about losing their copyright or having their idea stolen but you really can’t let this stand in the way of letting people read it.

Paths to being a film-maker.

If you are starting out and are interested in the process of film making then how do you go about learning what you need to know? Well there are several paths open to you to begin with:

  1. Read as much as you can on the subjects that interest you – acting, drama, animation, producing, directing – whatever it is there really is no excuse to not get started with this one. You can read biographies, technical manuals, American Cinematographer Magazine and countless others.
  2. Join on-line groups and forums based on film making – there are many of these – CML is a good one for everything cinematography.
  3. Make a short film and submit it to competitions and festivals – use any image device or camera you can find, such as the “Flip” or a camcorder and shoot something – use your friends and family. Once you’ve done it, get it out to a few festivals. If it doesn’t do much the first time, try again. Enter into a film school or media course – From short four week courses to weekends to longer two year courses, there are a lot of options to choose from. The best courses have a highly practical element and this is what you need – hands on time. No-one in the business is interested in a certificate – they want to see what you’ve done.
  4. Apply for work in a junior position within a production company or related business – This is the runner and personal assistant route. You will work like a dog for a while until you’ve proved yourself to your employers. If you have worked hard and are still there after a year and haven’t been given an opportunity – get out, they’re taking the piss, and you can do better.

Get started and keep moving.

You’ll find out which one of these is for you given time. If you choose the wrong path don’t worry. The most important thing is to keep going. It’s all about momentum and building your experience. Don’t stop moving forward because before you know it you’ve been doing it for a couple of years and you’ve made two, three or four films and have more experience than you realise.

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Jack Nicholson – On Film Directing

Jack Nicholson:

I tried to utilize whatever professionalism I found myself surrounded by and tried to get people who weren’t going to be frightened. On ‘Drive, He Said’, I had an organised crew and the organized crews that I’ve worked with are really trying to imitate the other crews that I used to work with – the so called disorganized crews. That really means that they had less people working. Every crew is disorganized to a certain degree.

Every movie has a totally different set of circumstances and problems, you know: how do you get the doughnuts from the Grand Canyon Motel down into the gorge and keep the generator running at the same time? It was very much a learning experience. My theory on it was that I didn’t know anything about it to start. I related to somebody who was a professional in their job. I would say, “I don’t really know anything about this, so If I go overboard or if I start bullshitting you in some way, just let me know. I won’t be nervous about it. Just tell me, you know, and I would like to learn because it’s not the only movie I’m going to do.” They were always helpful.

In other words, if you did nothing, the movie would get shot. If you want to sleep all day, the technicians would go on. They have their own style. It’s really how much you affect their style as opposed to vice versa.

From “Directing The Film – Film Directors on Their Art“,
Eric Sherman, 1976, Acrobat books, Los Angeles.

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Takeshi Kitano – On Film Directing.

(’Beat’) Takeshi Kitano:

“On my first film, the crew simply didn’t trust me…I remember arriving on the set the first day and asking the cameraman to set up the first shot. He looked at me warily and asked, “Why do you want to shoot it like that? Why don’t you start with an establishing shot?”

I told him that it was a matter of intuition, that I didn’t feel I needed an establishing shot in that scene. But that didn’t suit him. He insisted that I should give my reasons. I could tell that the whole crew was just as wary as he was. He had another idea in mind, and I had to fight him for an hour before winning the point. It was a very important shot – in fact, it ended up on the cutting-room floor – but it was a matter of principle. I had to impose my credibility as a filmmaker. And that lasted throughout the shoot.”

From “Moviemakers Masterclass – Private Lessons from the World’s Foremost Directors“, Laurent Tirard, 2007, Faber &Faber, New York.

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