Over the years I’ve had many conversations with people, from all walks of life, who shared their stories of how they became a filmmaker and their struggles with not knowing what they want to do in the industry. And through all these conversations the one word that stood out to me was passion.
“Making movies” is such a broad term and encompasses so many aspects. While you don’t need to know what you want to do at first, it is helpful to have a general direction. Becoming a filmmaker doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a camera or sign up at some prestigious school for filmmaking classes. A lot of people start in one position and branch out to others because they fall more in love with another aspect of filmmaking, while others like to wear many hats and dig deeper into the creative process. I have no desire to work as a set designer, or gaffer, but man oh man, do I appreciate the work that these humans do. I’m more passionate about working in above the line positions.
For me, my filmmaking journey started when I started writing scripts. I had always loved writing just as I loved acting, but now I was writing with a purpose. To create my own projects. And then from there I started producing. I had management and administrative experience and was comfortable hiring, organizing, documenting, and seeing things through. And then I started learning about directing. Ten years ago, if you’d have asked me what a director does, I probably wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. But now, I realize so much goes into directing from the film’s overall tone and style to communicating to each department and making sure the creative vision is being met in all different ways. That’s not an easy job.
Some people are mesmerized by set design while others with costumes. Some watch, with an eye for detail, the lighting of a film or the editing. Some people just love it all and don’t home in on any specific part of filmmaking. And that’s cool, too. Whether you want to work above or below the line, it often takes time to figure out.
I’ve often heard throughout the years “it would be a dream” to be a filmmaker or “it’s just a hobby since I’m not making money.” Newsflash, it doesn’t have to be a hobby or just a dream. Just because you’re not making money creating now, doesn’t mean you never will and it doesn’t make the time and energy you're putting in any less valuable. People take unpaid internships all the time, and internships are looked at as a job. So, if you’re not making money yet from film, why is it any different than an independent internship? You’re learning the ropes, getting your work known, and getting your feet wet in an industry you want to work in. Maybe your current project will lead you to a job, maybe it won’t. But you’re doing it anyway because you’re passionate about it and want to make filmmaking a career. It’s the same with any creative job. Music, acting, dance, etc. You have to put in work to see a return. It’s called ROI (return of investment). The thing that sets people apart from being a filmmaker, actor, musician or whatever else, is one thing: the actual doing of said position.
You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write. You can’t call yourself a filmmaker if you, in some capacity, don’t make films. You couldn’t call yourself the sixth member of the Spice Girls (#goals) if you weren’t a Spice Girl.
Skill and talent can be learned. Patience can be learned. Passion isn’t something you learn. And honestly, passion is the key to success. Because when you’re frustrated and burned out, which you will experience at some point, your passion is what’s going to keep you going and pushing forward.
Wanting to be a filmmaker, doesn’t necessarily make you a filmmaker. Just like going to school and studying something doesn’t make you what you study. I’ve studied grant writing for a semester, I wouldn’t consider myself a grant writer.
No one just wakes up and thinks to themselves they want to be rich, so they should become a filmmaker. It’s hard work, long hours, and honestly, most people don’t see a monetary return for years when they first start out. Even with distribution deals, sometimes you’re making pennies that can’t even cover ramen. But that’s why passion is key. When you’re passionate and willing to keep pushing forward, you’re willing to have a day job to support your budding creative career, you’re willing to sacrifice your weekends getting drunk with friends to do what it takes to get further, and you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty when it comes to filmmaking. That’s the number one thing you need to become a filmmaker, or actor or anything creative, really. And it’s the one thing that sets people apart. The one thing that differs from you and all the people who quit pursuing their “dream” after college because it was too hard. It’s not the camera they use, or how talented they are, or who knows them (this is really important), or anything else. Passion is the #1 most important thing when deciding if filmmaking is right for you. So, ask yourself, are you passionate enough about film to sacrifice money and time to make this “dream” a reality? Because if you’re not, then it’s probably not the right field for you.