Surviving as an Independent Filmmaker Part 1: Centurion the Dancing Horse
A film making blog post by Darius Stevens Wilhere
PICASSO SAID IT BEST
Could just be an urban legend, but I love the story of Picasso eating in a nice restaurant and was told if he did a drawing on a napkin, his meal was free. He obliged. But then was asked to sign it to which he replied "I wanted to buy a meal, not a restaurant."
I'm paraphrasing but time and again we've heard of artists at the pinnacle of their careers saying similar things: "How can you charge $50,000 for something that took you a day!!!" "Because it took me 20 years of experience to be able to do that in a day!" And so on.
But how do you survive until you get to that point where your skills will be rewarded at a high level?
BE AN OPTIMIST
People who want to make films usually have two polarized views on having a career:
1. I'm going to be rich and famous once I bring my masterpiece to the world. Move over Spielberg! Here I come! Over-optimistic.
2. How the hell do I survive in this business and make things I really care about? I'm going to starve to death and be miserable! Over-pessimistic.
For the vast majority of us with no connections forging our career for us, option 2 is usually at the front of our minds. And there is a lot of pessimism surrounding this. Don't worry. The "starving artist" has been a career choice for thousands of years.
But you should be filled with optimism and should be tremendously thrilled that in this day and age you can pursue your passion for telling visual stories with the phone in your hand. For a long time, musicians, painters, sculptors and so on had the advantage that they could easily have access to the materials of their art form inexpensively. Filmmaking has been notoriously expensive for a long time.
Not anymore. You can have access to the fundamental materials of our art form inexpensively (camera, lens, recording media, editing system, microphone, paper for script). This is a major breakthrough. It means you can show the world what you are made of without having to wait for a million dollars that you might not have.
HOW TO SURVIVE WHILE YOU MAKE INDIE FILMS?
Until you can prove to investors that you can deliver sellable content that they will make their money back on, you are going to have a hard time finding financing for your film projects. The more money required, the longer it will take relative to how much confidence people with money have in your skills.
So while you are doing your personal projects and hustling for finance, how do you stay afloat?
Maybe you've spent tens of thousands of dollars on college and film school. Maybe you've taken out a huge loan to invest in equipment. Maybe you've finished your indie darling but you have to scrounge money for post. What do you do to survive in the meantime?
What's your day job?
The answer is so simple it can be easy to overlook so I'm going to put it in ALLCAPS just to be clear: IF YOU ARE A FILMMAKER, YOU HAVE ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE SKILLSETS OF THE 21ST CENTURY.
We are in an age where the visual medium is king. There isn't a single business or commercial activity that wouldn't benefit from visual art to sell their product. The dentists. The restaurants. The lawyers. The doctors. The musicians. The local custom bike shop.
They all need visual content advertising their products and their services on their social media pages. And in times past, productions for commercials would cost tens of thousands of dollars simply in equipment rentals alone. This can now be done for a fraction of the cost.
There used to be a sort of stigma connected with having to do corporate videos. That it was beneath a real filmmaker. Corporate videos, commercials and music videos have given rise to giants of filmmaking; Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Ridley Scott and many others.
So please, if you think it's beneath your artistic vision, come down off your high horse. It's fun and a great way to sharpen skills and try experimental techniques. Most importantly it will also give you a source of income that you can use to fund your own projects.
I had a lot of fun shooting this video up in Napa. Great people. Beautiful property. And it was a paying job! But most importantly, I learned some extremely valuable lessons about filming with animals that might've been very costly on a large film set. So beyond just being a financial benefit, it was educational as well.
GETTING PAID TO PRACTICE
Very few artists are ever born masters of their craft. The general rule of thumb is that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice to start getting really good at something to the point where people will notice you out there in the crowd.
Doing corporate videos or commercials or other short film visual content can pave the way for an excellently paid career if you have the right mindset: YOU AREN'T JUST THERE TO IMPRESS PEOPLE WITH YOUR VISUAL SKILLS, YOU ARE THERE TO GIVE A CLIENT WHAT THEY WANT AND HELP THEM MAKE MONEY/ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS.
If you can deliver great looking content and help a client succeed. They will hire you time and time again. You will be a part of their team because they will know you want them to succeed.
As a filmmaker, you are a vital part of a sustainable symbiotic economic supersystem in the 21st century. The better your work gets, the more people see it, the higher end clients will be attracted to your work.
Yes it's true, the prices will vary based on the client. Sometimes you'll make $1,000 for a grueling week of work and other times you might get paid $5,000 for a long day. It can be nervewracking, but it's an adventure. Remember to enjoy it.
In the next posts, I'll talk about how to get up and going, what to charge and how to keep focused on your long-term career goals while you get through the daily grind.
A film making blog post by Darius Stevens Wilhere