May 19, 2009

Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers

While I'm certainly not passed the point of receiving advice myself (although I guess no one really is) I feel that I have had my share of trials and errors in filmmaking or video-making. From a kid who wanted to make movies, to a film student who wanted to get out of class, to an adult just looking for film work, it continues to be an uphill battle.

There's certainly no correct formula to success, but if you're looking for a few tips on what you can do to improve your own creative ambitions, and maybe take filmmaking beyond a hobby, here are a few things that have helped me out (especially as a student).

1. Don't Assume You Know Everything About Film
Whether you're a film student or not, I've met my share of people who thought they already had it all figured out. There's never a shortage of techniques, concepts, styles, etc. to pick up on. The more willing you are to learn, the more experience you naturally open yourself up to. You don't have to like everything, but try and experience it at least once. The more varied and dynamic your approach, the more credibility you gain when speaking with other artists, and the more likely you are to refine your own tastes.

2. It's Okay To Like The Mainstream
Eventually you're going to encounter someone who will rant about how all Hollywood flicks are awful - formulaic, boring, repetitive, etc. Don't shy away from the debate, but don't feel guilty about stocking your own DVD collection with comedies. The world needs entertainment, and not everything has to be high art.

3. It's Okay To Like The Avant-Garde
Eventually you're going to encounter someone who will rant about how experimental films are cliche, without purpose and overly pompous, and how the only films worth seeing are the ones with A list stars and directors. Again, don't shy away from the debate, but remember to continually test yourself with a wealth of movies outside of the weekends top box office. You'd be surprised how often the avant-garde inspires what later becomes the mainstream. Remember, the world needs art and experimentation, and merging creative substance with accessibility speaks to every quality film made.

4. Create As Much As Possible
If you wanted to be a writer, you'd be told to write. If you wanted to be photographer, you'd be told to take pictures. Same goes for filmmaking: if you want to make movies (whatever facet of the industry you're interested in) practice doing it. Your greatest lessons will come from your own mistakes and successes, and trust me there will be a lot of them . . . mistakes that is. It always looks easier than it actually is, but your own push to see what you can do will pay off as you continue to improve. You most likely won't start off with the best equipment, but use that as part of the challenge. Sometimes limitations help to establish borders which makes it easier to work. The more you create, the more you learn.

5. Watch Critically
Filmmaking at its core is about experiences used to tell a story. Keep this in mind when watching other films, television and the random events in your own daily life. The more you pay attention to, the more material you'll have for your own concepts.

6. You Can't Please Everyone
So don't expect to! One of your biggest challenges is going to be finding a style and approach that you're comfortable with.  A style that makes you confident enough to shake the 'you should haves' and 'I don't get its' that all filmmakers inevitably hear. You have to take pride, first and foremost, in what you're producing. If you've already acknowledged your projects flaws and decided to work on them, you may not have a project that everyone likes, but you will have one that meets your own standards.  People who do like your work will respect that. And remember, opening yourself up to raw feedback will naturally lead to your ability to receive it and give it - not to mention, it'll thicken your skin.

7. Use The Internet
For an independent filmmaker the Internet is the best tool out there. It's a no-brainer. Use it to upload your work to various sites, create a blog to share it, network with people from around the world, research film terms, theory and history, look up festivals and competitions, get feedback from strangers, etc. etc.

8. Find The Answers You Want
Undoubtedly, you're going to question a lot of things from what type of equipment to use, to film school, to possible jobs, and so on. The beauty of a film career is that there are thousands of different ways to get to the same destination. Search out the info that helps to back up your approach. This may sound pointless, but don't underestimate the benefit of someone else's experience and the motivation you can get from a little positive reinforcement.

9. Promote Yourself, Network
There's nothing like a group of peers to share with, debate with, and draw from. By looking out for the interests of others, you'll have more people looking out for yours. It's a social business, and knowing the right people counts. Also, don't be afraid to promote yourself. It's obviously what I'm doing with this blog. All my online sources link back here, so if anyone wants to search me out it's as easy as typing my name - Luke Fandrich - into Google. The success won't be apparent overnight, but I've been asked to screen my work at different festivals just for the fact that people saw my work and could easily get in touch with me - the online portfolio also speaks to professionalism.

10. Get A Job
With any bit of persistence you're bound to find a job related to the field you'd like to work in. Even if you're just a production assistant it still gets you behind the scenes, and you'll still meet a lot of people. For me, I got my first post-university job because of the work I had submitted to the Medicine Hat Film Festival, where it was the company running the festival that remembered my work and hired me. I'm still currently working as a corporate videographer and editor, which is a great practical start to whatever I move onto next. This all ties back into gaining experience. Whether you like it or not, you can't do everything by yourself. Find a related or semi-related job to broaden your prospects and to get into the field that you really want.

11. Keep At It
The most general and vague advice I could probably give is also the most important. There are going to be times when you feel like no one is paying attention, that what you're doing doesn't matter, and that's it just easier to give up. Remind yourself on a regular basis of what it is you're working towards, and what it is you've accomplished. It's like pulling a heavy wagon up a hill. You may not be able to see the top, but just by keeping at it you naturally work your way higher. If you stop, you'll just slide backwards and have to make up the ground again later.

Hard work talks, persistence talks, passion talks, sitting back and hoping only wastes your time. Working through the tough times not only says that you're serious, it helps prove to yourself how much you want to succeed. Enjoy your experiences, embrace challenges, find ways to motivate yourself, and learn with an open mind. Those who are persistent end up reaping the rewards. The most sound advice I have for aspiring filmmakers is the one thing that I can actually guarantee; Keep at it and you'll find your niche.

Luke Fandrich's Portfolio Preview


Anonymous said...

As a guy with similar vantage as Luke I'll vouch for him and ad some thoughts.

1. In any position in any professions things change keeping up with these changes is what will make you prevail. You never will and never can know everything. Assuming so is just stupid. On the other hand nothing you do is revolutionary, its all been done however its the slight changes that get peoples attention. Lastly like Luke says experience. Do everything you can, learn all you can and you'll eventually create something that is yours and unlike anything else that someone can do. Experience then create. That goes past just making video, live your creation.

2. Mainstream rules. Lets face it a large majority of the people there made it there for a reason. They do what they do and do it better than anyone else. Being a hater is really just being jealous and hypocritical.

3. Everything has its place. I do not like Avant-Garde however I can thing of a thousand possibilities with it. And honestly its those little stylistic choices from any genre that when you ad it to your own thing you can create something unique or god bless better. When refining and thinking about what it is you want to do escaping your normal means is essential, whether that means you watch avant or mainstream.

4.The more you do the more you refine and the better you'll get. Simple really. The only thing to ad is that I find it best to extend your abilities by trying different things. Make a documentary, an experimental and animation if they are not your usual thing. Creativity is lost when you stop using it.

5. I partially agree, I say watch for enjoyment, then pick what you like and imitate it or something you hate and discard it or refine it to something you like. Only pick little bits. If you watch closely you'll see the same thing you like come up in several films you like.

6.Also sometimes the hardest person to please is yourself. I have only done a few things that I have liked. The one thing a lot liked(the peace thing luke was also in) I hated. I'm over it now but at the time I was really pissed off about it. Once I accepted it I've hung on to a few skills gained from it. The best response to anyone one who gives you bad critical opinions is "What can I do to make it please you?" if the answer is nothing or i don't know you can ask "Then why are you here?". These criticisms can be tools to improve but if someone is just being a dick that's the sad reality of the business.

7.I agree with the use of the internet but don't rely on it. I think for the purposes of making your own thing and doing all the stuff Luke does it is great. However I would also suggest working even a crap job on a real film set. The local people you meet can show you the way and will be the ones to help you in the long run. These people create a knowledge pool that can help create the jump to the next level for your own thing. Learn from their experience and even if you have to let their experience move your own thing along. It may be a tough ego slap to swallow but who cares if they can get you where you want to be.

8. Once again I'll point to work. The film sets want work. Even if its low end you'll get to see what is going on. As Luke says there is a thousand ways to get where you want to be but you have to know where that is. Working, the interweb or skool can all give you some insight.

9.From the people I know, no one has put more time and effort into promoting themselves than Luke. creating stuff pays off only if people see it. In the art world you are a commodity and don't forget it. Coke sells billions because it advertises.

10.It is a long hard road, I'm sure if they did a stat on it %90 of the art minded do not succeed, and I'm not talking financially. Be ready to take your lumps for many years. If you haven't realized it yet the average age for the superstars in the media world is like 50.

Good post Luke.

Editing Luke said...

Thanks for the indepth response M! Your additions encouraged me to add one more point - #10 Get A Job. You can't underestimate the benefit of grunt work to get started - and it really is a big part of the transition and film experience.

Alex Chandler said...

Wow, that is all great, thank you both for your insight!

Thought it was funny when you mentioned, "You most likely won't start off with the best equipment..." That describes me, starting with Windows Movie Maker, paper green screen, and an old video tape
Now using so much better equipment, and still looking at better.

Watching critically....well I understand what you mean, but I think it is more of something done automatically. Like after you get into it, you just look at things differently. When I see a movie, it is not like it use to be, I'll be watching the shots, and what makes it so good.

They are funny, when I get a hatter I will always ask what could make it better, they don't reply. And once you look into them you discover all they do is go around leaving negative comments....

Can you direct me to a source of information about film festivals? They do sound ever so interesting, and I would enjoy going to one, if not presenting something....

What type of advertising would you say works best? I tend to find the best free methods out there... What do you think about the leave a business card here and there technique? Sounds good....

Thank you again for the post, and Great Work!


Editing Luke said...

Thanks for your comment Alex!

For film festivals, especially student festivals, you need only search on google. There are thousands of festivals and competitions every year and I'm sure there are some close to your area - that's a great place to start. Many festivals have a theme or focus, especially video contests from companies or advertisers - Pepsi, Coke, etc. who hold contests where you use there product in a video, create a commercial, whatever.

This business card idea is fine if you're targeting the right people. For me, my blog and new site are my business cards - I direct interested people here to see my work, shorts, ideas, etc. It's also targeted towards people who are already interested in what I am.

Part of the experience is trial and error. You'll find a lot of things that don't work for you and a few things that do. Take calculated risks by putting your work and yourself out there and you'll see it pay off with connections, projects, and jobs in the future.