Did you grow up on a steady diet of adventure movies, romantic comedies, spooky horror flicks, tear-jerking dramas and classic animated features? You’re not alone. Everyone loves movies, which is probably why so many people want to be a part of the film industry. But unfortunately, will and wishes alone won’t land you a spot behind or in front of the camera, much less in the director’s chair.
If you’re looking for tips for getting your foot in the door of the movie business, you’ve come to the right place. Actors, unfortunately, will need to search elsewhere. But aspiring screenplay scribes, directors, cinematographers, producers, set designers, lighting and tech folk can take their cues from these pointers.
Start early – very early
Look at all of the greats of yesterday and today, from Billy Wilder to Steven Spielberg to Sophia Coppola to J.J. Abrams to Joss Whedon. What these kings and queens of cinema all have in common is a love of movies. Some of them grew up in the industry, others made their earliest work with home camcorders and action figures. But all of them felt the drive from an early age to be a part of the magic of the silver screen.
Whatever you do, start early in your education. Don’t just absorb movies, study them. Make an effort to understanding editing, note how music recurs in different scenes, study the movement of theme just as much as camera, and don’t forget to read up on popular trends of today and yesterday.
Get disillusioned sooner rather than later
As much as you love film, it’s also a good idea for you to recognize out of the gate how occasionally disappointing the industry is.
Beloved film business site Indiewire compiled a list of six things you should know before making a run for a spot in film, and all of them are bitter pills. Highlights of disillusionment include: Everything is reputation, and relationships have nothing to do with actual friendship. The essential nature of film today is that everything is a gamble – like stocks, a movie pays off or it doesn’t, and your reputation depends as much, if not more, on earning money as anything else.
And perhaps Indiewire’s most important point: “You’re at the bottom of the food chain until you aren’t.” And the same can be said for the top of the food chain. The film industry is volatile, and that can work to your benefit or not, but either way, expect the transitions to come fast and furious.
Don’t think film school’s the only answer
Film school is expensive, and while you’ll probably learn a lot, most of what you’re paying for is a certificate, a note on your diploma and some contacts that will probably win you a few greator production assistant gigs. That being said, film school can be worth every penny.
As always, weigh your options. Prestigious film programs could be worth the commitment, so check out The Hollywood Reporter’s recently updated list of the top 25 film schools in the U.S. It’s worth a look to check out the notable alumni alone.
Intern wherever, whenever – up to a point
Interning is a great way to work on your resume while an aspiring filmmaker. You’ll often get great hands-on experience, and you may get to meet famous directors, producers or screenwriters. There’ll be plenty of time spent with talented folks behind the scenes who can offer tips for your burgeoning career, too.
But, as a landmark case recently illustrated, interns often get used for little more than unpaid manual labor in the film industry. Essentially, if you’re not receiving training or education, you should be paid for your services.
Weigh the benefits of PA work
For most aspiring filmmakers, the first job they get in the industry is as a production assistant, or PA. PAs are at the bottom of the food chain on film crews for the most part, but if you’re good at your job and show initiative, you might find yourself climbing up the industry ladder without even necessarily switching positions.
Make your own movies
There’s a lot of conflicting advice about how to break into the film industry. Should you enroll in a film program or not? How important is it to move to Hollywood or Los Angeles? Is it worth potentially bankrupting yourself to take on a promising internship? These questions have no easy answers because so many film industry leaders found their way into movies via very different routes.
What almost anyone in the industry will tell you, however, is that you should be making movies in your free time. You don’t have to be sinking thousands of dollars into production. Even making a movie with your own camera – or your high school or college’s cameras and AV equipment – can be immensely rewarding.
Whatever you do, continue to produce new work, since you’ll learn more and more with each experience, whether it’s how to light a set after dark or new and exciting editing techniques. As you continue to grow as a filmmaker, you’ll also find yourself with an ever-expanding portfolio of work. Submit to film festivals, which you’ll find all over the U.S., from small, independent ones to the big events, like Sundance.
And don’t forget to use the internet, either. There’s never been a more exciting platform for sharing short films. One day it may just be your friends and family watching your latest production, but who knows what the next day will bring?