The Biggest Misconceptions About Being A Filmmaker

There are two mindsets filmmakers have right now, and both have left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s also causing their careers to stall and their films to flop (when they should be spending 18 months on the festival circuit picking up awards).

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Mindset #1: expecting to work 16 hour days and be permanently broke

It’s true that film is a tough industry, full of long hours and bad pay. But the point used to be that you outgrow that as you progress up the ladder. Sadly, that career model doesn’t exist anymore.

It’s all about doing the legwork yourself, applying for jobs you’ve never done before and climbing the ladder before anyone opens the door for you. 

Why? Because film isn’t as word-of-mouth as it once was. It’s moved on. Which means that the producer who hired you as a runner two years ago will phone you up tomorrow and offer you another runner’s job, because they won’t realise that two years have gone by and you sure as hell ain’t a runner anymore.

No one is going to offer you the opportunity to take the next step up. It’s all on you to do your own grafting. 

Want the checklist designed to help freelancers create their careers and avoid common traps? Grab it here >> The Freelancer’s Checklist

So if you’re expecting to work way too many hours for way too little pay it’s time to snap. out. of. it. 

Expecting that kind of working environment will make sure you stay there, and you’ll be tearing your hair out and deciding to move home and open a bakery before the year is out. You’ll also end up with a ton of stress-related illnesses, and find yourself battling burnout as you continuously apply for jobs. 

Getting ill because of your job, or the industry you’re in, is NOT normal. And you shouldn’t expect it. Filmmakers shouldn’t have to say ‘I’m totally burnt out, my doctor’s telling me to take time off’, while another filmmaker just nods knowingly. 

So let’s recap: you shouldn’t be working crazy long hours, you shouldn’t be getting minimum wage for every damn job and you shouldn’t be expecting to get ill from work. 

Wondering how the heck you can shift your mindset? (Because let’s be real, you’ve been thinking like this for months).

Here’s what I want you to do:

1 – Keep track of your working hours for one week. It doesn’t have to be right down to the minute. Just take a mental note and write it down when you can. 

Pro option: download IFTTT on your phone and select the ‘track working hours’ automation. This’ll add a button to your lock screen menu. Press it to track the start of your work time, press again to end it. It’ll save the results to a spreadsheet.

Remember to include all of the time you spend on work and work-related things. If you spend your 40 minute commute studying a book about filmmaking, include that too.

Seeing the time you spend weekly on work can be enough to shock your system, depending on how deep you’re into the bad mindset. 

2 – Decide what job you *really* want to do and what rate you should be paid. Then it’s as simple as tracking your route to the top (or wherever you want to get to). 

So if your latest credit is as a runner, but you want to be a 1st AD, then start applying for 3rd and 2nd AD jobs. Read books about the job and if you have the time and cash, attend a course in that field. 

Start gearing all of your job applications toward your dream job. If you want to be a 1st AD, then talk about your ability to lead a team, your excellent attention to detail and your skills in communication, problem-solving and inter-team management.

It’s time to start making your own way to the top.

Want the complete checklist for freelancers? It’s yours, grab it here >> The Freelancer’s Checklist

Mindset #2: thinking production should be 80% of your time (not 20%)

I get it. Production is the sexy bit. We all want to say we’re shooting or we’re on set. We all want stills of us looking focused, a bit tired but electrified with excitement for what we’re doing. 

But I’ve got to tell you, production is only 20% of what the most successful filmmakers are doing. 

They’re spending the rest of the time working on their next project, and marketing the hell out of their current film. 

If enough time isn’t dedicated to marketing, your film is going to flop before it’s even made it out of the edit. After all, how are you supposed to have a successful film – one that’s getting attention from producers, investors and distributors – if no one is looking at it? And how are you going to get people looking at it if no one knows it exists? 

Think about the marketing for mainstream feature films. The posters plastered all over train stations and on buses. The ads on YouTube videos and TV. The reviews and ratings from newspapers and online platforms. It’s drip feeding the film to you, sowing the seed of the idea that you should go and see it. 

Now think about the duration of the marketing for these films. The first trailer for Mamma Mia 2 was released almost a year before the film premiered. News broke about Greta Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation several months before the first stills were shown (and we’re only just now getting trailers, three months before we can see the film in cinemas.

So when you’re working on your next project, here’s what you need to do:

1 – Identify the audience for your film. Male or female? What age bracket? Where do they hang out online? Once you’ve got a clear picture for your audience, you’ll know how to target them online.

Want to know more about running effective marketing campaigns that won’t blow your short film budget? Here’s the guide you need >> How to Use Social Media to Market Your Short Film

2 – Start adding marketing work into your daily and weekly routines. The same way a writer schedules in time to work on their scripts. Make it a habit, and start dedicating a lot more time to it. 

3 – Focus more on your future projects. I hate to tell you, but the Francis Ford Coppola method of plugging one script for a decade is long gone. You need a complete slate of ideas, a smorgasboard of concepts for the decision-makers to choose from. So factor time into your week to brainstorm, dream and plan.

Want to know the next steps? You can get your hands on my complete producer’s checklist to take your film from concept to distribution right here >> The Producer’s Checklist

It’ll have you thinking like a producer and you’ll get a major mindset shift in the process >> The Producer’s Checklist

Are you the go-the-extra-mile type? You’re my sort of person. You can book your free one-to-one strategy session here >> Book your strategy session These are exclusively for creative filmmakers, who make their own projects, or want to make their own projects. 

During this free 30 minute session we will:

  • Get crystal clear on your filmmaker calling (and figure out your route to the top)
  • Identify the root cause of what might be holding you back
  • Decipher your big dream for the next 12 months
  • PLUS the exact plan to get you there, without relying on ‘luck’ or ‘industry connections’

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