I was recently contacted by a young person searching for advice as a writer looking for ways to grow as a writer into directing and producing in the film industry. Since this is a somewhat common trend, I figured it’s time to post my reply to be of help for others on the filmmaker journey!
Here it is…
Dear Aspiring Filmmaker,
Regarding your career strategy, I believe it is important to choose which one of the three goals you mentioned (writer, director, producer) and to focus on one. The others may or may not grow to fruition over time.
Using the health industry an example, most medical professionals don’t go to school to be a pharmacist, nurse, AND a heart doctor. They may eventually move in a new direction as they move up the chain, but they tend to focus on one role and grow through it toward others as experience, need, and education expand (I may have been too broad on this example, but I think you get the picture.).
Additionally, biblical wisdom puts it this way, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Essentially, choosing three goals, even though they are under the heading of “filmmaker” will, at their very foundation, create a conflict of interests in your pursuit.
[I am a bit pointed here, so take it as advice from someone who cares…]
If someone asks you what you do and you tell them you want to write, direct, and produce, you have just identified yourself as inexperienced and wishful. To you, it feels like an opportunity to express all of your God-given talents. Not so on the receiving end. Certainly, we can all note a writer who produces his or her own feature, and in the long run, experienced writers can become show runners on episodic television, but this is something that takes time to grow into. It’s most important to focus on refinement of the craft, then to see what opportunities it opens for you.
Stepping back, it is important that you learn your personal gifting to see where your passion rests—what it is that is going to get you up every morning to take one step toward your goal—what it is that will give you the energy to work through long days as a set PA or taking on part-time employment to make ends meet while you work your way up the chain and gain valuable experience to reach your objective.
Are you good at processes, structuring, and getting teams toward a goal with an entrepreneurial spirit? Then you might be a producer. Do you have a creative bent that can orchestrate actors, lighting, cameras, and editors to assemble a meaningful story with great imagery and sound? Then you might be a director. Do you enjoy reading a good book, discussing plot and character growth and conflict to build a story across three acts? Then you might be a writer.
If you don’t know yet, that is perfectly fine! As a young person, experiment with the filmmaking processes. Write a project. Get some friends and shoot. Edit (or have someone edit for you). Then review what you learned, where you fell short, and where you succeeded (either from education or from your personality type). Is this something you would even look forward to doing again?
I was forced into video editing. A story for another day, and almost comical when I think back to it, but it was a divine opportunity, since I had never done anything with video to that point! I was actually working in a different department crunching numbers (and secretly hoping for a way out). From there I grew into live production, then on-set production, some writing, and ultimately producing, but it has been a long path of learning. To this day I still enjoy editing between projects as a producer, and even some on my own projects, but I have learned that I have the gifting for creative processes, team building, and business development that go into producing. The journey for me started with basic editing.
Action steps to take:
- Talk with some of your friends and family, and ask them where they see your strengths as an individual.
- Take a strengths finder test to discover how your personality and talents intersect. I really like Sally Hogshead’s “How I Fascinate” if you are looking for one. [My results are Alert + Passionate.]
- Realize that the film industry is NOT easy. I have gone from a salaried income and relative comfort to literally dropping two notches tighter on my belt. You will have to fight inner doubt, wondering if you will ever make it.
- Have a support system. Stemming from above, be sure you have the support of family, if possible. Culturally, I have a Korean friend (producer) who has struggled with this aspect greatly. Always embrace family, but regardless, as an adult, you pursue this path, you will need to find strength in an extended community. Even the strongest of trailblazers need help along the way.
- On the storyteller side (writing), assess whether you are good at telling a story. Do you naturally captivate friends or family from start to finish? On the writing process, are you able to develop a plot that moves a story from start to finish? Are you writing now?
- Since you are living in the heart of the film industry, I would recommend seeking opportunities as a background actor, giving you exposure to the big film and TV sets around town. Likewise, look for Production Assistant (PA) work via Craigslist and other lists available online and via Facebook. These will help you to observe production and directing.
- Begin building relationships and connecting. LinkedIn is a great start! Keep searching opportunities, and ultimately sit down with those who are working in the part of the industry where you find an interest. Learn how they got their start. Build a relationship, and ultimately,
- Take a risk and ask. As you already know, LA’s film industry is flooded with talent. We live in what I would call the Olympics of the video world, where only the best of the best survive, kinda. Yes, we are loaded with talent, but it really comes down to networking and asking at the right time. Just about everyone in town gets a job because a friend or colleague sees an opportunity and helps to bring a person up. So begin now to build relationships and to simply put your name in the hat as you see opportunities arise.
Glad to help be a sounding board as you get moving. Challenges ahead, so keep on climbing!