Hard work.

Nothing else will do.

I’ll admit, I’m an ill-tempered, insecure, wannabe filmmaker with no real success, but I get so tired of all the people who pop up overnight with a DSLR calling themselves producers and directors. They’re usually the ones bitching about the lack of state tax incentives and an un-supportive community. Many of them can’t tell a c-stand from a pancake.

I’ve styled the title of this post after the recent influx of “one simple trick” and “you’ll never believe what happens next” links I’ve seen on Facebook. I get it. We’re all tired, burned out, and desperate for a break. If you’re looking for shortcuts to the top, I have three words for you:

There. Are. None.

This is just marketing BS to get you to read a post.
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It’s all marketing BS to get you to read a post. Heck, that’s how I got you here, right? The only person responsible for your career in film is yourself. And, it’s going to take time. At least 10 years of hard work I’d wager. And, you have to start at the bottom.

If you’re still reading, there’s hope for you yet. Here’s a few more of my ‘top tips’ for filmmaking success:


Volunteer. Start at the bottom.

It’s that simple.

That’s how I got my start. I jumped on any opportunity I could to grip, and I did that for several years.

I learned more volunteering as a grip than I did in four years of film school. Want to know why? Because as a grip, not only are you learning the filmmaking process from the bottom up, but once all the lights are set up and the camera is rolling, you’re generally free to peek over the Director’s shoulder and observe*.

It’s a lot easier now-a-days, too. Almost every city has a plethora of local filmmaking groups and pages on Facebook. Sign up, respond to crew notices, offer your services for free, lather, rinse, repeat.

Expect to work hard, twelve-hour days are the norm. Don’t complain. Show up early. Stay late. Print out maps of your locations so you don’t have to pester the AD the morning of the shoot. Bring a pair of work gloves, a flashlight, and a leatherman.

Do that long enough and you’ll earn a glowing reputation and a well-earned respect for the process.


Nobody other than your mother will care about your writing for the first 10 years.
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The best writing advice I’ve ever received came from my writing professor at NMSU:

“Nobody other than your mother will care about your writing for the first 10 years.”

He said that was true for him, and so far it’s been true for me (I’ve been writing for 9 years now, still waiting for people to care). I don’t say that to discourage you, but it’s a realistic expectation to have. The trick is to stay on the grind. Plant yourself in front of Final Draft and keep churning out pages.

Don’t think you can shortcut this with books like Save the Cat, or Syd Field’s Screenplay. Structure is a helpful place to start, but tone, character, conflict and resolution take years to understand, and years more to implement competently.

Do yourself a favor, settle in for the long haul.

Oh, and PS… writing never gets any easier.


Write a business plan that makes sense to rational human beings.

Nobody owes you your dream. You are not entitled to state tax incentives. If you’re moaning about either of those, move on, find something else to do. Filmmaking is equal parts business and art.

Nobody owes you your dream.
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It can be done, trust me. It’s done every single day. I recommend reading Filmmakers and Financing by Louise Levison, it’s a good place to start. Also, sign up for an Evernote account and start collecting EVERY film business article and how-to you can find. They will become and invaluable resource.

On top of your research, begin to assemble the following:

  • A Board of Advisors
  • A minimum of 5000 social media followers
  • A few calling-card projects
  • A self-distribution network
  • A good reputation in your hometown community
  • Contacts with press and exhibitors regionally and nationally
  • A commercially viable script (stop being afraid of that term, it just means a script that someone other than your mother will like; you can be commercially viable without ‘selling out’)

Invest at least $1500 of YOUR OWN personal money for upfront legal and business costs. That will go a long way in showing investors you are serious.

You can crowd-source funds on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but Kickstarter should be just that … a kick-start. Don’t lean on crowd-sourcing like a crutch, it won’t bear your weight. If you can’t become financially self-sustaining after a couple of rounds, it’s time to re-think your strategy.



So there you have it. Be known for your work ethic and for the quality of your work, not for your mouth.

If any of that is disagreeable to you, then by all means, go piss and moan about it on Facebook. Here, I’ll even spare you the trouble of hitting the back button: just click here. Want to tell me how wrong I am? Fine, hit me up on twitter.

Now get off my lawn, ya damn kids!

*Peeking over the director’s shoulder’s is not something you’re entitled to, and I certainly wouldn’t assume it’s ok on all shoots, especially studio and broadcast projects. Always check with a higher-up first, keep a respectable distance from the action, DO NOT be a distraction, DO NOT crowd the camera, and DO NOT pester the principals with questions. That said, in my experience most people are cool if you want to observe and learn.

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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