On Tuesday we ran a workshop exploring the UK film industry with GCSE media studies students from Harris Boys’ Academy in Dulwich, where one of the most popular questions was “How do I become a filmmaker?”
This is actually something we get asked a lot, and because many of the young people we work with have made films before, or are making films right now, what it usually means is “how do I become a professional filmmaker?”.
It’s not an easy question to answer. There are many ways in to the film industry, and all of them can be demanding, challenging and hard work. It’s a competitive field and, although we don’t support this stance, a lot of people tend to work for free for a long time before they become “professional” and finally get paid for their work. But, it’s not impossible, and there are several routes into the industry that you might want to consider.
Based on advice from within our filmmaking team, we’ve assembled some tips as to how to make it as a professional filmmaker.
To quote Stephen Frears, the best way to become a filmmaker is to be proactive and very simply make films. If you don’t have a budget, get some friends together and shoot a film on your mobile phone. There is also a lot of free editing software out there (we recommend Apple’s iMovie or Lightworks) that means you can finish a film without much expense. There are two major benefits to this, firstly you’re honing your craft and developing your skills. The more you practise, the better a director you’ll be, and this applies to all disciplines, from acting, to editing, to costume design. Secondly, you’re also building up your portfolio, which means you can demonstrate your work. This is incredibly helpful in attracting agents or producers, and you can use platforms like YouTube and Vimeo to actively promote your work online.
Submit to Film Festivals
Once you have finished films, you can send them off to film festivals, of which there are thousands around the world. Film festivals will help you get recognised, because they offer awards categories that will endorse your film and your talent if you win or receive a nomination. Film programmers, distributors and producers all visit film festivals on a regular basis, so there is a good chance of your work being seen by the right people to help further your career. Take a look at the British Film Council’s list of UK Film Festivals.
Go to Film School
You might choose to go to film school. This typically involves a 2 or 3 year vocational degree programme (or non-accredited equivalent level) where you will learn from expert professors and submit films as coursework towards your degree. You get dedicated tuition and an opportunity to meet with valuable industry contacts. Tutors will also guide you towards finding your next opportunity, although course fees are usually very expensive (often in excess of £15,000 per year).
You might also consider short courses or workshops that will help you to develop your skills further without the commitment of a full time programme. We work with young people on short courses and workshops that may well provide a foundation for further study if you’re looking to become a professional filmmaker. You can find more information on our courses here.
If you’re looking for full time film study in the UK, then you might want to take a look at:
Met Film School / Central Film School / London Film School or talk to UCAS for advice on full time courses.
We’re loath to recommend this one, because we want to see the work of every filmmaker recognised for the professional job they do. That said, it’s tricky to find paid work without a track record and a reliable way to build up your credits or portfolio is to work for free on other people’s productions. Often this will be short-term and you can be selective, and many companies offer a profit share arrangement that means you might receive a small fee for your work if the film does well. You can find both paid and lo/no/deferred opportunities on call out site www.mandy.com.
Intern / Volunteer
One of the best ways into the industry is to intern for a production company and build your contacts this way. This might involve a six month placement, or you can volunteer on shorter term productions. Again, this is often unpaid, but can lead to a paid job or freelance offers fairly quickly if you impress the right people.
Most people in the film industry don’t just become a “filmmaker”, much like most industries, it’s actually built up out of many specialist areas and specific skills that then fit together.
If you can offer specialist production skills then you’ll be in high demand quite quickly, and can then choose to transfer disciplines later on, once you have the contacts and experience. Right now, there is a shortage of sound operatives, so if you can do a good job with sound then there is a lot more work available than in other fields. The post-production industry in London is also really strong compared to other sectors, so specialist skills in visual fx or in animation is a big advantage.
Do Commercial Work
There is also a lot of freelance work out there for directors to work on commercial projects, which could include events filming, adverts or music videos. Although you might want to focus on your own work, this is a great way to build your credits, experience and contacts, and keep up to date with industry standard technologies. Ridley Scott, Alan Parker and Guillermo del Toro started out making adverts before making their names in feature films.
You can sign up to Shooting People or Radar Music Videos for briefs on music videos, adverts and other commercial opportunities.
We hope that this advice is helpful to you, although we recommend that the answer is probably a blend of all the above! If you have any advice for other people eager to make it in the film industry, please feel free to share your tips here on the blog!