As a filmmaker, I love it when people ask me about what filmmaking is like as a career, especially other young people who are considering the pursuit. As the questions have been coming more frequently, I’ve started to question myself in how I answer.
The big thing I’ve been tossing around in my head is basically this: film is an incredibly difficult industry. It’s entirely feasible as a career, can be extremely profitable and can be incredibly rewarding, but it comes at the cost of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It’s still early in my career and I question my entire life and direction every day. It takes lots of passion and guts to stick it out.
I love it so much that I get excited and want to try and persuade everyone to become filmmakers, but the truth is that most people aren’t cut out for it or don’t have the passion to stick with it as a career. And I don’t want to try and persuade people into something that ultimately they decide isn’t right for them. I know a lot of people who have put a lot of time and effort into filmmaking, and end up pursuing something else.
Why are you considering film for your career? It draws different people for a variety of obvious reasons. It might be fame or money or respect. Maybe the ability to tell good stories that will impact people. Maybe it’s the adrenaline and coffee and teamwork that pumps through the veins of a film set. Maybe you just love the art and act of creating. Likely, it’s a combination of multiple things. But you need more than to want to make money or tell a story that will change someone’s life.
To survive and succeed in the indie film world, or even the film industry as a whole, you need to have a fire burning inside of you that won’t let you do anything else.
So my advice is first to find out if you have the passion. And you could probably move to L.A. and be a production assistant or a sound recordist for a studio for forever, make a decent living and make it your career without as much hard work or that filmmaking fire in you, but based on the people I talk to, that’s not what most are interested in. To be a bigger player in the industry, to make your movie, you’ve got to work way harder and you need to be super passionate about the filmmaking process.
So find that passion. The only way to do that is to make stuff. Ideally, you’ll be getting on film sets in any way possible. Start at the bottom and help with anything. Do the absolute best job you can no matter what you’re asked to do. Shoot videos as much as you can. Get some friends together and shoot stuff. Anything. Writing is free, so write a lot. Study. Read books, watch movies, read books about movies, listen to podcasts and people that talk about movies. Obviously, you can’t spend every minute consuming media.
For a Christian, there are more important things to focus on, like those around us and our own personal study and time with God. It’s a balance I’m struggling to find exactly, but I do know that to exceed as a filmmaker, you have to know film.
These are all things that I’ve been doing for years, and I’m at the point now where I know that there’s nothing else I can imagine doing as a career. God is first in my life, and while I may have some unique ideas about what a “calling” is, I think film is where I need to be. I’m a better Christian for it, and I’ve had opportunities, been challenged in my faith and drawn closer to God through it. It’s most important to find out where that is for you. If filmmaking isn’t it, don’t be a filmmaker.
I remind myself of that constantly, and the film-lover in me sometimes winces a little bit. But I’m a Christian first. If filmmaking does not draw you closer to God, do not be a filmmaker. Find something that will challenge you to become a better Christian and will give you the opportunity to serve. Before jumping all in, take some serious time to find out where you should be and what you need to be doing.
If you do find that passion and think there is nothing else you can do with your life, then start narrowing it down to what your goals are. All of that takes time. It’s been years for me, and I’m still not all the way there. Do you want to be a director? A producer? A writer? A cinematographer? Pursue it all, but begin to narrow down your field and focus on a career path. At that point, there are multiple ways to go.
Do you go to college or make it on your own? Industry pros are split on the issue. College can have benefits, but ultimately, if you work hard, make connections and make content, you can accomplish as much (and often more) without college.
For certain areas of the film industry, college may be a better option to take, but you’ll rarely hear me recommend it. There is so much learning that can be done online: courses and classes (even from a Christian perspective), and time on sets will quickly gain you the experience and connections to get your foot in the door.
Find a community. Find people who will challenge you to do your absolute best, but encourage you to keep going. If you’re going to be the next Steven Spielberg, then find the next George Lucas.
My biggest regret in my career is that I didn’t do more when I was younger. I’m still young, but those late teenage years can be a tremendous stepping block towards your future, and honestly, I didn’t do a whole lot (of value) with mine. At least not nearly as much as I could have or as much as many of my colleagues have done. Start now and make every day count.
If you’re thinking about a career in film, as much as I want to help you become a filmmaker, I want to help you choose to not pursue film if it isn’t the right path for you. Life is exciting and there are so many things to do and jobs to pursue. The love that I feel for filmmaking can be felt in building houses, cooking food or going into space. I’ve seen it. Find that fire, fuel it, and use it to glorify the One who gave it to you.