“Ok so I have a friend….he just graduated with a BA and is doing some video production work full time with a local production company and really has a passion for cinematography. Film school right? O wait….he’s already 40K+ in the hole. Any and all advice for my friend, who I know very well, would be very much appreciated. Cheers!”
1. research what’s out there, find something you love, and make a plead to help.
there are many different styles of filmmaking and many different studios out there. take a look at whats around and see if you can find somebody in your area that is doing things you really connect with. from there you can try calling, emailing, showing up in person – doing what you need to do to get a chance. there is an incredible amount that can be learned if you are in the right environment but the key is being ready for it and taking everything in. now this is incredibly important, the majority of learning is on your shoulders. look at everything around you, ask questions of yourself and others, be relentlessly curious. we’ve had people come in and intern and learn only in a way that directly related to what they did and how they helped while we’ve had others that have come in and soaked up everything around, putting their learning years ahead. remember that everybody will experience the same event in their own way, try and find as many ways as possible to make your experience as powerful as possible. you may stay for months, you may stay for years, and you may never leave – the key is to start with a studio that you connect with and always push yourself to move forward. we’ve seen it time and time again, it doesn’t have to take long.
Joyce left her career as an engineer to pursue a life in filmmaking. from the beginning she got out there and made it happen. she has taken every opportunity that comes her way, made some of them happen on her own, and along with the right environment went from presenting projects in a board room to the sidelines of the Superbowl just months after joining the sm team. she is pictured above filming for A Game of Honor as one of the lead shooters on our first feature length doc.
2. start making films.
you’ll be able to make a hundred and one excuses on why you should wait to put something together. you only need one solid counterargument - the surest way to getting better is getting out there. film your family, friends, coworkers, pets, nature… there is so much out there to take in and start with. don’t pressure yourself to make super complicated, long, and deep stories. allow yourself the flexibility to get started by putting anything together. focus on trying to give yourself some constraints and actually getting it done. give yourself a certain amount of time, think about how long it can be, and try even giving yourself a concept to work with. set a goal that within a week you’ll produce something. set concrete goals and go out there and make it happen. as you get more comfortable start making it tougher on yourself; make your pieces longer (or maybe shorter), introduce more audio, make the turnaround times quicker, try for a more complicated story. all of this comes together to serve a couple purposes. it gives you tangible experience in the basics for when the right opportunity comes your way. choosing the right lens, exposure, composition, camera movement – they can all take a while to get comfortable with and you don’t want to be figuring them out on a paid shoot. the best example i can think of is the film we recently helped with I’m Fine, Thanks! based on Grant Peelle who after 15 years of putting his dream to the side decided to get out there and make a movie. it is a touching story that shows what can be done when you have passion and you won’t wait for that always expanding idea of ‘someday’. for those who haven’t seen it, Grant’s film is available on their site soonish for the rather ridiculous price of $4.99. i can’t recommend it enough for anybody who is afraid to make that move and do what they love.
Grant didn’t have the experience, the resources nor the tools to make this movie, but he had the passion and a willingness to go out and just do it. and from that he got this film to where it is at now – a full hour long documentary that’s premiered in theaters in Portland, New York and Los Angeles, not to mention it being the most backed doc in Kickstarter history. all of that came from the initiative to go out and pushing yourself to make films, no excuses.
3. share everything. get feedback. rinse and repeat.
as you start helping out and shooting your own personal piece, find ways to get them out there. never feel like what your doing is too small or insignificant to ask for feedback. email friends, put it on Facebook, share it on Vimeo – find ways to get it out there and try to start a conversation about what you are putting together. you may wonder what kind of feedback you can get when you’re not really sure what it is you’re doing. listen to what people like, ask what they enjoyed, and find out anything that confused them or that they thought could be better. they might enjoy something simple like a shot or a sound bite, but these little things will give you the confidence and drive to get back out there and make it better. i can remember a time not to long ago that we put up a wedding, JC + Esther on Vimeo, and a month later we had a call from the NFL. crazy right?!?! i still can’t really believe it, but it happened and i know it wouldn’t have it we didn’t share what we were doing. invest time in engaging people in conversations about what your doing and have an earnest desire to make your pieces better through their feedback. people want to help, just give them the chance and be prepared to get out there again.
4. learn what you don’t know.
there is so much to know when it comes to this complex world of filmmaking. you could take just one facet, something like lighting, and you could explore that for years and still have more to learn. while you certainly can feel overwhelmed with just how much there is to know, there is definitely a power in knowing what it is you don’t know. take the time to evaluate where you are at and figure out your strengths and weaknesses. some of this will come from sharing and feedback but some of it will also come from your own self-reflection. push yourself to really get a sense of what your top 3 strengths are and what areas you really need to focus on. if you think that working with light is something you might be missing, give yourself a project with the focus of making your use of light better. if audio is something you struggle with, push yourself to make a piece with a fair amount of dialogue. i’m somebody who has little to no formal education in film, my background is psychology, but all along the way i’ve taken the time to research and learn in the directions i wanted to grow. as an example, i can remember wanting to be able to have moving Steadicam shots in our pieces and feeling like i had no idea how that was possible. i started with some handheld units and i spent hours watching videos and reading about the basics. as i got comfortable with one rig, i moved to the next one, and i kept a brisk pace of never getting too comfortable with what i was doing. in university i would often take ten minutes at night just to put on the rig and run around the house or follow Amina and Zok on a walk. the point being, don’t wait for the opportunity to come to you, lay out where you want to go and take every stop possible to make it happen. five years later i found myself speaking for Tiffen/Steadicam at a massive convention like NAB and it just reinforces the what you can do when you push yourself. as an interesting side note, i can recall about three years ago when i was walking around the NAB floor and i went up to the guys at Steadicam trying to get the time to show them what we were about and develop a relationship. it is amazing what can happen when you put yourself out there.
you learn as much as you push yourself to and my experience with Steadicam was one that involved a lot of reading, a lot of patience and a lot of practice. this is a complex tool and most Hollywood films have a dedicated operator that just specializes in moving shots so there’s certainly a ton to learn before you can be proficient at it. even after years of using the Steadicam i’m still learning new things as i push to try new things or do something better.
5. be willing to invest in yourself
we firmly believe that you need to be willing to do what you need to get the opportunities, develop the skills, and get the tools to tell the stories you want to be telling. it’s okay to reduce your rates to take on a project if you really connect with it and you think it will make you better in the process. our first wedding was $800 for both photo and cinema, a tad bit off from our commissions today, but we took it more for the experience than what it would pay. by doing that, by not letting the rates stand in our way, we have consistently been exposed to different genres of filmmaking and our path was largely shaped by this exposure. when it comes to gear, there is a delicate balance that you need to reach for. we’ve known far too many people that go out and buy everything that glistens only to find themselves in significant debt and with a large pile of often unused rubbish. on the other hand, you can hurt yourself if you take years to invest in something that could make a big difference right away. how do you tell the difference? ask yourself if the tool will make you or your stories better. that answer can come in many shapes and forms. often gear makes us better because we are a little quicker or perhaps a little more confident and while that isn’t as tangible as the amount of bokeh in a lens, it can mean just as much. some tools are more about hype and fascinating – these often get the nickname toys, and some truly help you tell your stories better. the truth is, there is a large grey area where you will find most of the things you are looking at but as you take the time to consider what you need you will also stumble upon where you are at and where you are headed – all of which are incredibly important questions. don’t expect other people to hire you for shoots that are above your experience or pay to get you gear you don;t know how to use. if a skill or a tool matters to you, invest in yourself to become familiar with it and you’ll find others will quickly invest in you. we’ve believed in concepts so strongly that we’ve called up a bride, told them the idea, and offered it at absolutely no cost. why? because we believed so strongly in what we want to do and by offering it to the right person at no cost we gave ourself a maximum amount of creative freedom to make it happen. some of these very same project are some of our largest viewed on Vimeo and while i can’t offer hard scientific fact about any work that came from them, i do know with absolute certainty that investing in ourself has always offered amazing returns.
and then one of the most important things to consider is a self exploration exercise – finding your voice. this isn’t usually part of film school either but we believe it is as important as learning the basics and tools to make movie magic. knowing your voice and knowing how to get there is a journey that we feel will help you take your storytelling that much further. and with that we invite you to join us at one of our 36 KNOW seminars to explore that together.