Many great filmmakers never went to film school. In part because there was much less competition.
The reason there is so much more competition these days is because resources are so widely available. This is EXACTLY why you don't need to go to film school.
Some concentrations lend themselves better to formal schooling (like cinematography, sound, editing), but even those might be better off mentoring under a professional.
Here are five steps you can take to educate yourself and start a filmmaking career without spending tens of thousands of dollars:
1. Choose a Concentration
Do you want to be primarily a Producer? Director? Cinematographer? Editor?
Many newcomers have trouble deciding. Director is the most popular, but also the most crowded. Each come with a specific skill-set that will need developed in order to compete.
Try checking out descriptions of different positions on GetInMedia. That site has a wealth of knowledge that will help make the decision easier.
Still stuck? Reach out on Twitter or by Email letting me know what your strengths, experience, and interests are. I'll see if I can help point you in the right direction.
It's not enough to have your own blog anymore. Professional marketers will go back and forth over how important guest posting (and backlinking) is to your search engine optimization.
I'm here to tell you that it IS IMPORTANT, regardless of the effect on SEO.
In 2016, we released our first feature film and tried everything to get the word out. Local press was the best draw for the independent theater screenings. Our social media was working, but it was nearly impossible to stand out in the crowd of other films coming out.
Then we started submitting guest posts to other websites and going on podcasts to be interviewed. This strategy started to spark interest in the film community about our project.
One caveat that we learned from Blood on the Leaves is that the filmmaking crowd is great to earn respect among your peers and grow your network of potential collaborators. It is not great at driving sales of your film.
Look. Most filmmakers aren't rolling in cash and already love movies. Getting them to spend money on your film is tough. How many films (honestly) do you buy just because you read a behind the scenes article or follow the filmmakers on Twitter? If you do this a lot, then pat yourself on the back, you're awesome.
The average filmmaker doesn't do this. THE POINT here is: You should try to get in front of movie lovers more than movie makers. Reviews, Film Festivals, Local Screenings, Podcasts, etc. can be a great option for that.
Below are the main guest content we produced for Blood on the Leaves and the outcome of each:
So you know what genre you want to make your film for. You’ve studied the market and have balanced passion with realism. Good.
Time to start writing, right?
Slow down there. The horror stories are countless— and I’m not talking high ROI horror films— I’m talking about how many filmmakers run with an idea without testing it.
To be honest. We did it a few times before we learned our lesson. Learn from our mistakes. That’s what we’re here for.
What do I mean by testing?
Genres with a high potential return on investment are appealing to investors and therefore important to identify as a producer.
Aside from genre, this study also identified two other key factors in potentially high ROI. They weren't that surprising, but they're important to stress. These two factors are Source Material and Name Talent Attached.
As mentioned in the main article on The Genre Factor, the four genres that do best without name talent or well-known source material are: Horror, Comedy, Thriller, and Faith-Based.
All of these are still dependent on execution, but less likely to fail compared to genres like romance, science fiction, action, and drama.
Established audiences exist for name talent (stars), well-known source material, and some genres. Certain genres will stand out if we take the "starpower" element out of the equation.
One of the first key decisions a producer has to make is the genre of the film. This will guide most decisions through production. Each genre is different and there are some other factors to consider.
There are plenty of articles about the best genres for Return on Investment (the difference between the budget and the box office returns); however, I wanted to find out what other factors can push high Return on Investment (ROI).
Six factors with established audience appeal have been identified through my research of 2016’s theatrical releases. These categories cross over in many ways, but they distinctly have the ability to draw an audience.
1. Source Material Based
A script with well-known source material has a built in audience. These films generally do very well regardless of execution. That is because there are thousands (if not millions) of fans ready to line up and pay for a ticket the moment the movie is announced.
This source material ranges from comic books and novels to video games and board games. The latter of those two generally don’t make “good” movies, but they do make money.
2. Name Talent (Stars) Attached
Another clear draw for audiences are familiar stars. Either actors or directors that are well known will almost certainly lift ticket sales. This isn’t a guaranteed, so it had better be a good movie… or at least decent.
Attaching big stars comes with the obvious drawback of inflating the budget and is likely an unattainable goal for most relatively new producers.
Getting familiar faces on screen is something to think about though when trying to convince an audience your film is worth paying for.
3. Thoroughly Scare-Filled Horrors
These next four factors are genres that are derived from the study I referenced earlier in the post. They all seem to stand on their own without source material or attached stars.
Hi. I’m Craig and I have a film degree.
It feels a little dirty to say. With so many resources online and the ability to get your hands on a video recording device for the price of a videogame, the value of paying for film school has diminished drastically.
I do still think there is value in film school. Networking, focusing solely your craft for two to six years, and being forced to work on deadlines are just a few of the benefits you’d have trouble finding without it. (Here's a guide on how to do all that on your own)
Even though I think film SCHOOL has value, I’m not convinced that a film DEGREE does. I would argue that getting a degree in creative writing, psychology, financing, business management, or marketing would be a MUCH better use of your time and money. Those degrees would all help you achieve the same filmmaking goals-- maybe even moreso.
Here is a list of successful filmmakers who never got a film degree:
Digital filmmaking has opened up the floodgates to allow filmmakers from just about any background participate in the storytelling medium.
Digital cameras and editing technology did this at first, but now distribution technology is opening up too.
There are plenty of options for the entrepreneurial filmmaker to take when putting your film online; however, throwing your film onto a site like the VHX that allows you to sell your film and keep most of the profits does not necessarily mean that people are going to watch it.
Good news. Amazon, the marketplace giant, has opened up its doors to allow anyone to submit content to be added Amazon Prime and Amazon Digital Video.
In this guide, I'll walk you through the steps you'll need to take in order to put your movie on Amazon and take advantage of its vast marketplace.
There once was a 22 year old living in his first apartment with his fiancé. He was 1 of 8,000 people living in the town of DuBois, PA.
Each weekday, he clocked into his day job at 7am at the headquarters of Goodwill Industries of North Central PA. For eight hours he would design graphics, print banners, and then at 3:30pm, he'd clock out. For forty hours a week he did this and every two weeks he got a paycheck that would allow him to pay his bills, sleep under a roof, and take his fiancé out to the handful of restaurants in the small town.
Millions of people do this, no biggie, right? Except he made a feature length movie at the same time.
Perhaps you're a filmmaker far away from Hollywood or anywhere that would allow for steady production jobs that could earn you a livable wage, i.e. DuBois, PA. You have rent to pay, groceries, toothpaste, a bunch of shit that requires a steady income.
I was fortunate enough to snag a full time media services position where I live, but not before I loaded logs into bulldozers in the middle of the woods and haggled people to buy Old Navy cards. Gotta get that money somehow and unless you're shooting weddings, professions with cameras are hard to come by in a lot of smaller areas.
But this micro budget approach to films could also be applied to city grinders as well. Bottom line is, day jobs eat up a lot of time - like the time that could be spent on that feature film or web series that you want to make.
Here's how I overcame that stress bomb and completed the feature survival drama Blood On The Leaves:
As an independent filmmaker, I've often found myself on set in a zombified state, running on Mt. Dew fumes, freezing cold, and directing... myself... with a script that I wrote... at a location that I booked... and then rebooked... for free.
Now if you've ever been in this situation, you are certainly familiar with that curious twinge in the back of your exhausted, creative mind (and you also know that "free" means "paying for pizza and gas out of your own pocket to get people to agree to be there"). We ask ourselves,"Why the hell are we doing this?" Yes, we are talking to ourselves, but we are not crazy. It's a valid question. Tonight's freezing, caffeine-induced coma of a shoot probably shaved two years off of your life, and for what? Countless hours of staring at render bars? Fourteen likes on Facebook? There's no Oscar for Most Pieces of Hawaiian Pizza Consumed By A Guy You Whom Just Taught How To Adjust The Light Stand. The answer, we soon realize as we barely stay on our feet, is that we love to do it. And then we're on to the next take.
It is way easier to just tell your friends about a movie idea and then go on with your life than it is to give that idea a life of its own. Last year, my producing partner Craig Inzana, whom I am currently producing our first feature length film Blood On The Leaves with, and I embarked on a 4-month production of a 70 minute web series. It is titled Blue Card - a crime drama in 7 parts about a hitman. You can watch it here. In the end, our series premiered to a packed audience and went on to be picked up for online distribution; but as they say, it's all about the journey.
Here are the top ten things that I learned from the trenches of true independent filmmaking. This will be helpful if you plan to deal with volunteers with limited experience and working with little to no budget at all.