“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Filmmaking is very different to most subjects. Technology pushes it forward every day, and if you’re not on the cutting edge then you’re nowhere to be seen. Books become easily outdated and sometimes teachers too. Luckily for us, the internet provides an unparalleled way for people to share the most up-to-date information, inspire, and educate.
Over the past few years I’ve encountered several exceptionally useful online resources that have shaped the way I work. This week I wanted to share with you some of the blogs that I continually return to for advice. They are written and managed by the likes of Hollywood editors, pioneers of DSLR filmmaking, top cinematographers, and Oscar nominees. Aside from all being hugely successful in their own unique ways, they have all gone beyond just honing their own crafts and use the internet as a platform to teach as well.
To take this article one step further and provide as much value as possible, I asked each for a useful piece of advice that has been instrumental in getting them to where they are today. The response was overwhelmingly positive and I’m deeply grateful for each and every one.
I have compiled them all here, alongside the blogs themselves, for you to pick through.
If any of these quotes speak to you personally, why not check out the respective blog and see what other gems you can uncover.
Without further ado, here are 10 tips from filmmakers across the globe to motivate, educate, and inspire.
This first one comes from Vashi Nedomansky, a film editor based in LA who has worked on the likes of Deadpool, Gone Girl, and countless commercials for many of the world’s biggest brands like Nike, VW, Ford, and EA Sports. His response focused on what it means to be successful and the importance of adversity.
“Success for me is:
– Being proud of your work and knowing you exhausted all options in the search for the right story.
– Being proud of your filmmaking journey with like-minded collaborators and sharing the blood, sweat and tears in the trenches.
– Making our film community a better place for everyone and contributing to the telling of amazing stories for all.
The greatest challenge when I began my professional editing career in 2001 was getting credits, getting recognition and getting paid. I edited a lot of free projects and that is where I made my worst mistakes both technically and creatively. I always learned from those situations, but it was important to go through the steps and learn how to resolve those problems on the fly. There is always more leeway creatively when the director/producer is not paying you. Get the mistakes out early when you can afford to so you are comfortable on bigger, paid jobs.
They do not tell you in film school about the daily grind a filmmaker of any position must endure. The business side is just as important as the creative and technical side. Protect yourself and surround yourself with a core team of friends, advisors and mentors to help you navigate the pitfalls of being a filmmaker in Hollywood. You will get burned no matter how cynical or prepared you are. Stand up for yourself and get everything in writing…or have a great agent to protect you.”
This next tip comes from Robert Hardy, the founder of Filmmaker Freedom. It’s a unique blog that doesn’t cover the usual topics (no gear reviews for example), focusing instead on psychology and what it means to become a successful filmmaker. I’m a huge advocate of laying a good foundation and taking a step back every now and then to think about what success really means. I only wish that I had asked myself many of the questions his blog poses years earlier than I eventually did.
Here’s his advice:
“The craft and the tech and the business of film are all super important, but don’t forget to focus on your psychology. As you move deeper into the world of filmmaking, you’ll be confronted by self-doubt, fear of failure, procrastination, perfectionism, and plenty of other psychological roadblocks. And if you’re not careful, you might wake up one day and realize it’s been 25 years since you actually made something—all because you listened to those voices in your head. If you’re serious about avoiding this problem, grab a copy of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, read it, then read it again. It’s one of those rare books that’ll change your life. Pinky promise.”
For anyone who’s at all daunted by starting out in the film/video industry, don’t be. Jonny Elwyn is a freelance editor and writer based not far from me in London and has a great blog for all things editing. His advice comes from an assistant editor who at the time was only 23 years old with credits including Star Wars and Mission Impossible.
“I think my ‘tip’ would be for anyone looking to get into the industry and not knowing where to start to follow some great advice from Rob Sealey – who when I first interviewed him was a 2nd Assistant editor – he’s now moved up to first assistant editor on Tomb Raider. See the article here.
His wisdom – “Don’t be intimidated by the film industry”.
I think this is really key to remember as it can be so intimidating and there by so much ‘mysticism’ around how you ‘get your break’, Rob had a strategy and a plan and he made it work. I would encourage anyone wanting to chase their dream into working in film to do the same.”
We’ve covered a lot of important ideas so far, but what about practical, actionable advice? Matt from Filmmaking Lifestyle has a blog dedicated to helping folks start their own video production business. His advice is to “Form (or join) a mastermind group”. I started this post saying how important it is to learn from other people. This is one of the best ways to do it.
“This might sound a little more advanced, but it’s another great thing you can do for your success. Find people who are on the same path as you and get in touch with them.
A Mastermind Group can fast-track your filmmaking (or video production business) success. You will get together with like-minded people and have the opportunity to be heard about your filmmaking. There will be opportunity to ask questions, to seek advice and even share resources with other people in your Mastermind.
My recommendation is to form one yourself. You don’t necessarily have to be considered the ‘leader,’ but forming your own brand-new Mastermind Group gives you the opportunity to invite who you want into the group.
Try searching Google using a search-string like: ‘video business mastermind group.’ You can also use film/video or business related forums and search for groups on there. You could also write a new topic on your message board of choice asking to join a mastermind group.”
This next bit of advice comes from Sean Baran at FilmToolKit. His blog is great for answering those niggling questions and unraveling some of the mysteries around set life. Remember the old adage, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’? Well it certainly holds some truth in the film industry (perhaps more than most people care to admit).
“My bit of advice for people starting a career in film would be to improve their social skills.
The film industry is dominated by word of mouth and charisma. Reading books and attending seminars on social dynamics and people skills will improve your career trajectory far more than any course on film possibly could.
It’s common for me to see incredibly talented and hard working individuals get passed over because they don’t know how to build meaningful connections. I’ve also seen many lazy individuals with poor work ethic surge to the top because of their ability to make the right people like them. Favoritism and nepotism are rampant in the film industry, and rather than being upset by it, you should use it to your advantage.”
Fenchel and Janisch and two German based filmmakers who also produce some really high quality DSLR gear reviews and filmmaking tutorials. They create an awesome amount of content and their YouTube channel is worth checking out.
“When we started making films as teenagers back in 2006 we always focused on telling a good story. We had a simple, fully-automatic DV tape camcorder, no microphone, no lights – not even a decent tripod. But that never stopped us from going out there and spending days and weeks working on a 40 or even 70 minute feature film on the weekend and holidays.
Now film gear has evolved and with the right tools it’s more affordable and easier than ever to create a film that can catch your audience attention.”
Before we get too overwhelmed, let’s take a step back with some advice from Noam Kroll. Noam is a director, cinematographer, and colourist who shares everything film-related in his superb blog. While the content may be more advanced for some, it all looks so damn good and I keep uncovering new useful bits of advice. This one’s no different:
“Take time away from film. If you’re immersed in filmmaking 100% of the time, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to live life, have experiences, and actually develop a point of view. My best ideas have often come while traveling, playing music, reading books, or studying other subjects. Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to step away from filmmaking for short periods, so when I come back to it, I’m re-invigorated and really have something to say.”
Ariel Martinez is the host of iFilmmaker Podcast and blog and as we come towards the end of this post, his advice is more important than ever. As you’d expect from a filmmaker, the quality of the podcast is top notch and he covers all aspects of film and video with guest speakers.
“Finish what you start. Do not get in the habit of starting projects and not seeing them through. That is a really bad trait to have and no one would want to work with you on your personal projects. This is especially true if you’re using other peoples time.”
Next, some advice worthy of a motivational poster. Chris Jones has one of the most diverse bio’s I’ve seen – from creating feature films, to writing books, and running workshops. He’s even been nominated for an Oscar, so listen closely!
“Find a compelling story, cast courageous and compelling professional actors, surround yourself with a crew more experienced than yourself, cut the script down to the bone, move fast on set, take care of backgrounds and locations looking great, get GREAT sound, cut the film as tight as you dare, get the killer title and artwork and learn from all the mistakes you make doing the above. Above all, enjoy it. If you want to do it again, congratulations you are infected with the virus of film. I hope for your health and sanity you are immune. See you at the Oscars!”
I hope you’ve found these tips useful, and perhaps can even start putting some of them into practise right away. Before we finish here I’d like to take the opportunity to share my own piece of advice that has perhaps helped me more than anything else in my own career:
Attract criticism and use it constructively. I deliberately put myself close to those who would willingly dish out criticism where others might have recoiled. We grow up in a society where we’re taught criticism is bad, however on the contrary, you can learn how to turn it to your advantage and grow much quicker (Sean Baran had a similar strategy with favouritism and nepotism). It’s not to say that you should be around negative people, constructive criticism is very different. Those who do offer you this useful tool will come to respect you when they see you’re improving by listening to their advice. If you are not hearing criticism, then you aren’t putting yourself out there and taking the necessary risks to learn and grow.
The breadth of these quotes just goes to show how diverse and involved the world of film can be. I’d like to personally thank all of the filmmakers in this post who took the time to share their advice and wisdom. Over the coming weeks we’ll be digging deeper into different aspects of the filmmaking process, including more tips from guest teachers. Make sure you’re subscribed by putting your email in the box below to hear about new content and exclusive tips for members.
Thanks for reading,
– Jackson Kingsley
I remember when I first started making films how I worked so hard to try and create beautiful cinematic shots. The reality is that there are a lot of moving parts and they all have to be fine tuned to work in harmony. It's no easy task ensuring every setting and...
A good shot list is one of the first and most important steps to creating great videos. Whatever the size of your production, working with other people requires consistent and clear communication, whether it’s cast or crew. That’s why I’ve developed a shot list that...