A Quick Guide to Starting Your Filmmaking Career
Being a filmmaker can be one of the most rewarding careers but it can also be one of the most exhausting and energy depleting soul crushing creative pursuits. Not only do you need cutting edge creativity to stay relevant, and a mindset that will keep self doubt from annihilating what little light of artistic confidence you do have, but you also need to make money. Not a lot. We’re not greedy, but enough to pay the bills.
So how do you generate a profit, maintain artistic integrity, and keep a well balanced lifestyle to make a career out of this thing we call filmmaking. That’s what we’re getting into today.
First, you need to Identify Your Goals
Are you leaning towards commercial filmmaking, capturing weddings, exploring documentaries, or diving into the realm of actually making feature films? To begin, Ask yourself, what excites you the most? And what do you care about? If you don’t love what you’re doing and you don’t feel like it’s making an impact, your creative inspiration will end up fizzling out very quickly. It's crucial to define your ultimate objective. The key here is to know the end goal, you don’t have a glass ball, you can’t predict what the journey looks like but instead of aimlessly creating cool cinematic videos, you have a clear objective and that will help you sort of navigate your true north and keep you moving forward.
A Quick Guide to Starting Your Filmmaking Career: Make it Official
Now, once you've set your direction, it's time to make it official. Establish a legal entity and business like an LLC. This will help cover you in case you were ever sued. They can only come after your business and not make a ruin of your entire life. To do this simply go to your state government website, file and pay the fee, usually $50-200 depending on your state, and boom you’re ready to go. Then you’re going to want to create your digital presence by creating a web domain and website. In this process you want to keep it as simple as possible. I would suggest using platforms like wix or squarespace, and use one of their templates to showcase your work. Keep it minimal but informative – include a section about yourself to make it personal and authentic, and show your work by embedding a demo reel or a series of your best videos.
Which brings us to the most paramount component of getting clients and that is your portfolio and demo reel.
Can’t stress this enough. You want to showcase work that encapsulate the essence of your skills and appeals to your ideal clients. You don’t want to include a wedding video clip if you’re trying to attract a corporate client. In that same vein you don’t want to show a high key lighting environment when you’re trying to convey that you’re a moody gritty cinematic storyteller.
Your portfolio is your calling card as a filmmaker.
Just remember your portfolio is your calling card as a filmmaker. Make one and make it awesome. After you have your website built out, Then you’re going to want to do the really fun business stuff of setting up invoicing, contracts, proposals, and agreements. I use a tool like QuickBooks for all my accounting, bookkeeping and invoicing and then you can use something like Canva or Keynote for creating stunning visual proposals.
Land Some Clients!
Now it’s time to land some clients! And essentially you’re transitioning from an enthused hobbyist to building an actual career. This is the good stuff! Everyone’s starting point is different but let’s assume you have zero leads. Here’s what I’d recommend.
Make an announcement on social media, post your website, post your work.
Reach out to people you know close friends and family that own or have connections with local businesses.
And go ahead introduce yourself ask if they need any video services, but if you’re getting the same answer like no, now’s not the right time, we don’t have the money, then you’re going to have to buckle up and do some work at no charge to them but in exchange ask for referrals.
Solid relationships are the real currency in the film industry.
Be careful when you’re doing work at no monetary cost for the client that you find projects that align with goals of your career. Doing work essentially for free may sound counterintuitive but you’re investing into the most valuable asset in your career and that is relationships. Because solid relationships are the real currency in the industry.
So we’ve established a legal entity, you’ve set up your website, you have a solid portfolio, and now you’re getting business inquiries.
So the big question is:
How do you price your work?
Each project is going to be different, so you’ll have to take this with a grain of salt, but I would recommend establishing a day rate. If you’re a beginner maybe that looks like $300-$500.
If you’re a little more advanced as an intermediate filmmaker then you’re probably going to be about $750-$1,000.
And then if you’re an advanced filmmaker it’s going to be in the range of $1,200 on up.
And this goes for editing as well. Usually I factor in for every day of shooting is at least two days of editing, and that obviously depends on the project. But let’s say I’m hired for a 2 min corporate promo video that requires one day of shooting and my day rate is $1,200, that’s $3,600 total for the project. One day of shooting and two days of editing. But of course that rate doesn’t include any pre production work which you may want to add on as another day bringing the total to $4,800. Now of course you don’t have to disclose your day rate to you client but it may help produce some quick math for you while putting together a proposal.
The cool thing about owning your own business is YOU get to call the shots. If it’s a project you really want to work on but the client doesn’t quite have the budget, go ahead and knock off a few hundred dollars, or you can create an alternative video that fits within their budget. This is one of the best things I like about negotiating a cost for a client. Let’s say a client comes to me with a project and I quote them $8,000. They get back with me and they say, “hey we really love your work, but we’re thinking more like $5,500. And at that point you have a few options. I could say no I’ll pass on the project, or I could match their budget with the original proposal cutting my costs, or my favorite I could create a unique video that matches my rate and fits in their budget. It’s a win for everyone.
So with that said choosing your rate can seem kinda tricky or daunting but the only thing I can suggest is using some of these metrics, comparing them with your skill, and then over time finding a sweet spot that works for you and your clients.
Lastly, to start your filmmaking career you need to build a brand on social media.
I can’t stress this enough:
Consistency is key 🔑 when launching your video business.
Keep the momentum going. Don’t think of one post or a series of post equals x amount of clients. It doesn’t work that way. Building a brand through social media is all about connecting authentically and engaging an audience around the overall story of your brand. Even if people aren't into filmmaking the humanness in us still gravitates to the conflicts that arise in your journey as a filmmaker.
And while spending money on social ads might be tempting, I would focus on cultivating relationships first. Engage with your audience, respond to comments, and showcase your personality.
So to wrap this up, remember success as a filmmaker takes time and commitment.
This may or may not have been A Quick Guide to Starting Your Filmmaking Career. Don't be afraid to pave your unique path, learn from your experiences, and keep the passion alive.
Go get it!