Filmmaker: Career Research Report

[Thanks to Kyle for sharing the career research report on how to become a filmmaker and related occupational information.]


I have always loved films, for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching all sorts, whether it was by myself or with my friends or my grandparents, and was a fan of many genres and series. But at about the age of 14 I started to think of them as an art form for the first time, and now here we are 5 years later and I’ve learned a lot and am as passionate as ever. I made the decision to make film directing my long-term goal about three years ago, right before I made my first short film. Needless to say my interest level in movies is very high. I have a passion for studying my interests and becoming a part of the group, so I know quite a lot about film theory as well as what audiences like and don’t like.

One thing that I’ve found about filmmaking, both from research and working on wedding videos/short films, is that I enjoy it a lot. Technically what constitutes a director’s job is a responsibility regarding the vision, supervision, etc. of a film, but I’m a proponent of the Auteur Theory and hence believe in another level of responsibility dealing with the work of art and/or entertainment as a whole.

Too much responsibility is something that I find a burden in general, but in the context of an artistic environment it can be demanding but invigorating. I’ve had the good fortune of so far only working with people who respect the project, and are consequently very cooperative; but I’ve haven’t had to do much research to learn about the amount of pressure and even insubordination that goes into a big production. But that doesn’t deter me, because as of right now I consider such battles to be a rite of passage. I doubt I’ll have such a romantic view in the future. Directors like Sidney Lumet also warn of much interference which go into a funded film, such as focus groups. He told a story about a producer who asked Lumet to take out all of the scenes voted ‘least liked’ and to keep all the ones ‘most liked’, without even considering what that means. It’s absurdities like these that constitute the real challenge of being a filmmaker – it would be nice to just work for yourself, but to make movies you need money, and to get money you need to work for people who probably don’t have the same vision.

Three personality traits that are invaluable are these: resilience, boldness and charity – that’s what separates the great analysts from the great filmmakers. Skill-wise you need a great deal: you need to have an appreciation of arts like photography, music and acting; you need technical skills with a camera and editing equipment when you’re starting out, and the ability to communicate your desires to your crew when you’re successful; and most of all you need lucidity of mind, and/or the capability of improvisation.

For training it’s difficult to say; there is nothing that is required – you could submit an independently produced film at a festival and score funding for your next film – but it certainly does help to have a degree in visual arts from a respectable college. The most important thing is on-the-job training, a statement reiterated time and time again by filmmakers like Kubrick and Godard, and that is not only something you can do independently but should do independently.

Given the subjectivity of a person’s career it’s hard to say what one’s salary would be (like Erich von Stroheim said “you’re as good as your last picture”). The average which I found was approximately $56,000 dollars (for producers and directors), which isn’t bad for a work that you love. Needless to say the profits can enter the million dollar range but that is extremely rare and usually only in the case of commercial filmmakers.

There are quite a number of associations when it comes to the film world, but the most famous is the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America); they have gained a lot of notoriety over the years for being the group that arbitrarily hands out PG-13s and Rs, but they are also the definitive resource when it comes to industry statistics.

Now we come to the challenge of figuring out how to go about attaining my goal as a filmmaker: fortunately my apathy has tried my patience long enough, and I want to get started.

Here’s how I see it: I get down to it and write my script while taking side jobs making videos (such as one I just made for my grandmother for Mother’s Day) as a way to get a little income and more technical experience (I should mention that my grandfather commissioned this video as a fairly large scale production so I don’t sound like a jerk); when I finish this next film, assuming it’s good, I send it into one of the minor film festivals I’ve been checking out. Between the festivals and the different contacts I make hopefully I’ll be able to get my foot into the industry; in addition to this I’ve considered parallel jobs like online film criticism, which I would need no experience for (meaning that I have seen more than enough to write about already), and I have different small job opportunities in my family that are also options. Other than that it’s just ‘try, try and try again’.

The research I’ve done hasn’t taught me a huge amount about the film industry, for the simple reason that I’ve always been interested, but it’s gotten me much more involved in the process of moving forward. I have a basic structure for my story, I’ve written the first scene, and I’m ready to start networking. I’m more interested than ever, more passionate than ever, and I’ve come across resources which I’m sure will help me in the future.

Speaking of the resources, I don’t have too many to list; the significant ones are the MPAA’s webpage and Sidney Lumet’s book on filmmaking (Making Movies), but I also drew on what I’ve known from experience and casual research.


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