There is no step-by-step process to the fame and fortune of a “successful” filmmaker.
Does that surprise you? Have you surfed by expecting a surefire equation for becoming a successful filmmaker? I tried that, right after my college graduation. I sought advice, scoured the web, and tried to cobble together something that resembled a plan so that my family would stop giving me that “useless degree” look.
You know the one.
Nothing I found seemed consistent.
Every break-in story was as unique as the filmmaker telling it. All the paths were different. With all the wisdom of an early twenties college grad, I chose one of those paths and started a struggle that would take me through the early years of my career. I’d start with a series of shorts films that I hoped would, at some point, get the attention of those with more influence and money.
That didn’t work. So I relented and started going after industry jobs that came through Memphis. See that picture? That’s me on a multi-million dollar film set. One of the few jobs I had. By few, I mean four. Memphis is far from the hub of Hollywood filmmaking. I did not rocket to notoriety.
You have to change your definition of success.
Over the years, through experience and constant attention to filmmakers I admire, I’ve found a common denominator. It’s not what you’d expect. There’s no secret filmmaking technique, there’s no guaranteed PR stunt, and there’s certainly no magic spell that will win over Hollywood.
The focus of your career has to shift from fame, fortune, and favor to telling a compelling story.
Most directors and writers I admire say the exact same thing when someone asks how to become a writer or director. In the words of J.J. Abrams:
“Today the advice is -> go make your movie. You don’t need permission anymore. What you need is a group of people who want to do it. And that’s the most important foundation you can have: a community of like-minded people who are trying to be creative and want to make movies or write scripts.” -Quora.com
The key to becoming a successful filmmaker: Just do it. Make movies. Write scripts.
Talk is cheap.
It’s a sad fact that most people only talk about being filmmakers. They talk about the great stories they’re going to tell. Tell them!! And while you’re at it, make sure your work is always improving. Those improvements, no matter how small, are the measure of your success.
To improve, you have to work. Be diligent. Work when you don’t feel like it. I’m writing this blog entry after spending eight hours with my writing partner working on a mini-series treatment. I didn’t really want to. But I’m a writer. So I write. When I was directing shorts, I kept at it, if only to continue improving myself and learning. Never live under the delusion that you’ve “arrived” or you’ve reached the pinnacle of “success”. Take opportunities when they come along.
And as Mr. Abrams points out, find a community of like-minded people. It’s hard to direct a film on your own. I’ve tried. Even writing is easier with a partner, a writing group, or voices of like-minded people in your ear (try out this writers podcast).
Laboring towards these things will make you a “successful” filmmaker. Will you get noticed? Maybe not. Will you get rich? Probably not. It will take sacrifice and pure will-power to get through dry spells that plague all storytellers. Commit. If you constantly improve your craft, work consistently, and surround yourself with like-minded people, the industry notices and opportunities arise for you to do what you love to do. Never give up.
Questions: What tips and tricks have you tried? Did they work? What is your definition of success?