January 2, 2015
The only barriers to becoming a marginally better filmmaker a year from now are time and practice—not better equipment, better connections, or better funding. However, time and practice alone won’t make you the absolute best filmmaker you’re capable of becoming.
To make that type of improvement, you need a solid strategy. Follow these blueprints to make your New Year’s resolutions all about working smarter this year, not just harder.
“If you don’t know who you are in 2015, your clients won’t know either.”
The first step in becoming a better filmmaker is getting rid of the word “better.” Or, more accurately, replacing it with something far more specific. The more fog in front of your goals, the more difficult they’ll be to reach, so take some time to reflect on them thoroughly.
What were your best works in 2014? If that answer doesn’t come to you right away, take some time to figure it out. Then figure out why they were your best works—and why the others were not. Do you need more practice in ________? Do you have a natural gift for ________?
These will lead you to a larger, more important question: what type of filmmaker are you? If you decide to be great at everything, you’re really deciding to be good at everything—and great at nothing.
To become a true expert, you have to specialize. This doesn’t mean you have to pigeonhole yourself and only work in one genre. Nor does it mean you should turn down work (yet). But it does mean you should identify the styles and strengths that define you.
The more specific your reflections, the better. Should you be focusing in commercial advertising next year? That’s still a bit foggy. Think about your ideal clients in 2015. Are they the adventurous brands that sell horsepower, black leather gloves, and energy drinks? Or are you better suited to capture the quiet artisanship of a winemaker?
Should a client seek you out for a yoga video or a skydiving video? Or should they both skip you and make room for the client promoting beer and chicken wings?
If you don’t know who you are in 2015, your clients won’t know either.
“The day you stop learning is the day you stop being a filmmaker.”
Once you know who you are—or who you want to become—the next step is to figure out how you’re going to get there. To do this, you need to know where others have gone before you.
The best way to follow in the footsteps of your favorite filmmakers is to, wait for it, follow in their actual footsteps. At the same time, the only way to innovate and create something new is to take steps that others haven’t—which means first understanding where others have been—and why they’ve been there.
In order to be your best a year from now, you’ll want to learn from those who made the same decision a year ago—or one hundred years ago. Look closely at their work and figure out what you like and what you don’t like. How does it differ from your work? How does your work differ from theirs? How did they do that, how might you have done it, and how might they have done your work differently?
It’s not important you take a class or go back to school. What’s important is you spend some time reflecting—then acting on those reflections. Does so-and-so have better lighting than you? Go remedy that. Do directors X and Y capture more intimate emotions? What are they doing that you aren’t? And why aren’t you doing it?
Listen to the audio commentary on your favorite (and least favorite) films, follow the experts who teach about film on Twitter, read screenplays to find out what’s in the parentheticals, and direct all of this toward your goals and weaknesses.
“Everyone you meet in 2015 should know what type of filmmaker you are.”
If halfway through the year (i.e., June—go ahead and mark your calendars now), no one knows about the progress you’ve made, you’re missing out—and so are your potential clients. Much of the reasoning behind specializing and studying the work of others has to do with personal growth. However, it also has to do with the growth of your personal brand.
If someone wants to hire a fast-paced, adventurous filmmaker, are they going to hire the filmmaker who specializes in this? Or the filmmaker who takes only one project like that a year?
The hard (and strategic) work you put into becoming a better filmmaker should be visible in your portfolio. If you decide to be a better filmmaker by focusing on ________, make sure people can see the fruits of these labors both online and offline.
Everyone you meet in 2015 should know what type of filmmaker you are. If you’re not on Twitter or Facebook, remedy that. If you are on Twitter and Facebook, make sure you’re coming across as the focused filmmaker you are.
The same goes for your website or online portfolio. If you don’t have the skills to build a website—or a web designer brother-in-law to trade favors with—Squarespace is a great option for building an online portfolio without any knowledge of html or coding. Plus, in addition to handling the coding and hosting aspects of your site, they also handle the backend SEO—which will help new clients actually find the better work you’ll be posting.