After two decades of working in the fashion industry, at the age of 41 I decided to switch careers and go into filmmaking. Yes, people did warn me that the movie business is a tough industry to break into and especially difficult if you are starting out late and don’t have the time to work your way up the ranks. But I went ahead and did it anyway. And it’s been such a great, rewarding, and exciting experience. Not only have I released my first documentary and am working on two more but my first film got into ten film festivals and is nominated for several awards.
In the process I have learned countless lessons, not only about filmmaking, but life lessons that will stay with me forever.
Community Is Everything
On my first day at New York Film Academy one of the professors said that the relationships we will make in school will be more valuable than anything that we learn. And my first thought was, well, that can’t be true. And boy, is it ever. The people I met in the documentary program ended up being all the key players on my crew. And long after we were done shooting, we are still in contact from all corners of the world to give advice, celebrate wins, and collaborate on future projects.
Building or joining a community of like-minded individuals is what allowed me to fast-track distribution of my film. I learned more in three months from the film groups I joined than I would’ve learned in the same amount of time in college. Seasoned filmmakers were more than happy to share information, contacts, insider tips, and so much more that was critical for my career change. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and find mentors who are doing what you strive to achieve.
All Feedback Is Good Feedback
Let people see your film. It can be nerve wracking to put your art out into the world, even more so to let people critique it, and the most painful to hear people say they don’t like it, but it’s all necessary. This invaluable feedback, good and bad, will make your next project better. And will help you to understand what worked and what didn’t with the audience – because in the end, that’s what matters.
Always Have Your Next Project Idea Ready
You never know who you will meet or when and where you will meet them. It is always good to be prepared to talk about not only your current project but what you have coming down the pipeline. And if you have any distribution meetings set up, you definitely want to have pitches for future projects ready to go. Sometimes the project you are currently working on won’t be a good fit at the time, for a variety of reasons – maybe the distributor or network are already working on something very similar or maybe they are focused on a certain genre or topic. But they may still like your work, or your energy, and may want to work with you down the line. That’s where having pitches ready to share for future projects comes into play. If you don’t get a contract today, you can always get one in the future, or simply start the process.
Patience Is A Virtue
The filmmaking process is long…very long. The ability to wait without getting frustrated will go a long way, especially when you’re making documentaries. Characters in your film will reschedule, change their mind, decide they don’t want to be on camera all of a sudden, you’ll get great interviews and footage one day and terrible interviews with the same person the next day, I could go on and on. This is all a part of the process, and it’s important to keep that in mind and not let it frustrate you. Instead, plan for it and when this happens, make use of those days the best you can, by capturing great b-roll or shooting any conflict that arises, for example.
Clear Communication Is Key (As In All Things)
Creative projects require even clearer communication than non-creative work. Relaying a creative idea, that may only exist in your mind, to a group of people is not an easy task. It requires communicating very clearly and in a way that will result in the outcome only you have foreseen. This is especially difficult in the documentary world where you don’t have a script. This is where shot lists, mood boards, color palettes, and treatment all come in handy. The idea is to outline the look and feel of a new film project without having to produce new work.
The Work Doesn’t End When The Film Is Picture-Locked
You may have a sense of relief that your project is complete once its picture-locked, but that couldn’t be further from the truth – it is actually the beginning of a whole lot of other work. Marketing your film, press outreach, interviews, audience building, social media management are just a few of the many aspects of the business that can make or break the success of a film. These are all things that need to be planned out in advance, sometimes even before you start filming but are especially critical once your film is complete, as you need to drive traffic to the film, get audience feedback and reviews, and media attention.
Managing your expectations up front will go a long way in completing your films or projects and staying positive and motivated throughout the process, even once the film is complete. And who can’t use a little positivity, motivation and and stress relief right now.