EDIT: I have decided to repost this as I have been getting many questions about “making it” and I think this post needs to be read by a lot of people who missed it the first time.
WARNING: There will be adult language in this post. A lot. Sorry!
A bold title for a bold post. Of course it’s absolute nonsense! I see this sort of thing everywhere! 10 steps to losing weight, 10 steps to increasing your mental capacity, 10 steps to pleasing your woman! There is no magical list to follow, BUT there are many things that you should think about that will help you stand out from the crowd. I am not going to ask you to sign up for one of those annoying exclusive mailing lists to access this. Like everything on my site, the info is free for all…and of course most of this is actually pretty obvious!
Now, of course if you all follow my steps and for some reason all of you live in say Muncie, Indiana, we will have a problem as there may be some competition… But generally most of this really is common sense and you should know it already. If you don’t then please go to your nearest fishmongers and get someone to slap you with a wet kipper. Very invigorating but smelly. Then take the kipper home, smoke it and have it for breakfast. Lovely.
I will go through these points from personal experience. I have been lucky enough to have been doing this for over 23 years and have learnt a shit lot in that time, and my innumerable screw ups whilst learning may help you!
1: So, number one is: There are no top ten steps, and if someone tells you otherwise they are talking bollocks. There are COUNTLESS things you need to do to succeed. I will go through some of them based on personal experience.
2: The work will not come to you. Getting the big break while sitting around waiting is about as likely as winning the lottery. No matter how well your student film from film school was received, Adidas is NOT going to call you up to make their next spot. You will need to put in a lot of hard graft. Getting your name out there may never happen. I know countless talented directors and writers who are not doing what they should be doing, as there simply is not enough work in that field to support their families. They make corporate films, anything to bring in the money.
3: Don’t be a snob. Very little is beneath you. Even though you shot some fancy short film on the Epic last week, if someone offers you a gig to film a corporate event then unless you are rolling in cash take it. Why? It’s money. Money pays the bills, rather important. Also this client may be giving you a crappy job today, but next week may offer you something super cool. Act like the job is beneath you, and that 1 week in the Seychelles they were going to offer will go to someone else with less attitude.
4: ALWAYS give every single job your everything. Look at those wedding filmmakers. A potentially soul-destroying way of making a living in this business due to repetition and the damn hard work needed. But by making every one better than the last, your reputation will grow as will your skills as a filmmaker. Anyone can go and shoot a beauty film of the Alps. Not everyone can make a small, dull wedding into a beautiful film. That is talent and much of that can be learned. This can be applied to anything! Make that corporate film of the manufacture of ball cocks for toilets the greatest thing ever. Make it Paul Thomas Anderson good! Well, as good as a corporate film of ball cocks for toilets can be! ?
You see, one of my favourite challenges in filming 17 years for news was not making long form docs, or travelling the world. It was making something of nothing. Given a story with NO pictures, come up with a treatment on the day, film it, edit it and get it out by 5pm that day. Now that was tough but enormously satisfying. Another example is there is a lobby in the Westminster offices of the broadcasters in London. It’s not especially sexy. Large frosted daylight windows, tungsten light, a fair bit of space. The problem is, it is used around 9 times a day on the program. You can see package after package go out with the SAME background. Why? Lack of imagination and creativity. My biggest challenge was to be told to do an interview in this incredibly overused location, and my challenge to myself was to make it unique. Is it possible? Yep. Lighting, camera position and much more. Compress the background using the 2/3″ lens by positioning the camera a long way off. Use the daylight to bring in a nice blue-ish background whilst lighting for tungsten. There were hundreds of ways of making things look different. You just have to make an effort and think! I always said that the day I am no longer challenged by my job is the day I leave. The moment I leave my lights in the car and stick a camera light on the top of the camera is the moment I need to change jobs. Always put 100% into every job you do. That is what being a professional is.
5: Don’t do it all yourself, find a good team to work with. Whether its other cameramen, a good soundo, good editors. You name it, find a team you trust. You most likely won’t be able to use them a lot of the time. Often it’s just you, but ask their opinions on stuff. Find them and use them. A team you can trust is worth its weight in gold.
6: You WILL fuck up. Guaranteed. Accept it. Fucking up whilst in a staff job is better since, unless it’s pretty serious, you will still have a job. Fucking up as a freelance is tougher, as your client will need to be forgiving. Ideally you already have a relationship with them and they will understand. Don’t blame someone else. Take responsibility. It’s your mistake and you won’t make it again. That’s the great things about fuck ups. I fucked up SO many times in my news career. Mute sound, wrong colour, crossing the line, forgetting to hit record, handing over a blank tape and recording over the rushes. You name it and I have done it. But you know what? I only do each mistake once. The only way you will learn is by making mistakes, admitting them, and learning from them. Don’t go though life thinking you are perfect and never make mistakes. That doesn’t happen in the real world. Don’t make excuses. You fucked up. Take the blame and move on. I still fuck up to this day.
7: Love your job. Absolutely essential! Do you hate filming? Then do something different. I am lucky enough to be doing what I love. I never believed this was possible growing up with a father who hated his job. I assumed that was what was expected. I never realised you could do something you loved and get paid. This is a wonderful creative career, and if you are making money in it they you are damn lucky! Embrace that!
8:If you are not getting creative satisfaction out of the work that pays, your bread and butter, what is stopping you making something that fires you up in your own free time? A huge amount of work on my site under films is just that. Personal films done to fulfill my creative urges. Doing these will make you happy and maybe you can bring some of that creativity into your mundane work? Trust me, without these personal outlets I would have felt stifled.
9: You don’t need a Red. You don’t need an Alexa, you don’t need a C300. Any camera will do, to a degree. Don’t listen to the chattering masses on the internet who say you MUST film on X camera as your Y camera is shit. X camera has .5 stops more dynamic range and Y camera has more noise than camera X, using camera Y would be INSANE! That is nonsense. Yes, some cameras will make your life easier and some will make your life harder. I don’t subscribe to the idea of using the shittiest camera you have because you are an artist and you can make anything shine. Nonsense. Use the best camera you have access to. The camera is NOT the most important thing. You and your ideas are. But don’t be a camera martyr and say “my work is what is important hence, not the camera, I shall film this on my iPad!” Don’t be silly now!!
10: An expensive camera won’t make you a better cameraman. It will make you more broke! Want to upgrade your T2i to a Scarlet? Why? Skills are learnt with lesser tools. Not expensive ones.
11: Learn how to do EVERYTHING. Learn how to produce, to direct, to edit, to shoot, to do graphics etc . Why? It gives you a greater appreciation of what everyone does. Don’t do it all, but knowing what is needed to do a certain job will make what you do better.
12: If you really have no talent at all yet still enjoy shooting for fun, keep at it. Eventually you will get better, and if it makes YOU happy who gives a crap what the critics say?
13: Gear…do you need it to make yourself better? Of course not. It may lift your production but it won’t make the content any better. Remember if you polish a turd it will still always be a turd. Concentrate on content, that is where the value is. Then if you have some extra cash go buy some nice toys and bits of kit that can make your life easier!
14: Promote the crap out of yourself, make specs spots. Do people favours. Do anything you can (almost) to get the work. Share your work on Vimeo, ask for critiques, accept them. Make changes. Improve. The list goes on and on.
15: Don’t listen to the trolls. I myself have issues with listening to that advice. But it’s not worth it. Anyone who takes the time to be nasty online to you is not worth your time of day. Leave them to their mother’s basements and you go out and make your next film, whilst they eat their next bag of Cheesy Puffs whilst sitting their y-fronts.
16: Don’t listen to anyone, including me! Let me rephrase that. Don’t listen to just ONE person. You are your own person. Never believe one opinion. Have faith in yourself and it will pay off! Advice from others with more experience is essential. Just don’t let one person get you down. I was told I would never make it 20 years ago by one person senior in my company and was laid off. A few months later his replacement said, “you have something, I believe in you, come back.” That was my mentor and friend Gerry Williams.
17: Do not give up if the work isn’t coming in when you start. I had 17 years of a highly paid, comfortable job that was still challenging me to a degree but not enough. I needed to spread my wings, so I had to give it all up to go into the scary world of freelance. I jumped straight into a network current affairs series, then had 3 months of almost nothing. Terrifying. Did I give up? Nope. I pushed harder, searched for more contacts and eventually the work came. Scary at the time but have faith in yourself. If you don’t nobody else will.
18: You NEVER stop learning. I learn something on every shoot, through a cock-up or by seeing how someone else does something. Never believe you know it all, because if you do believe that then you need to urgently get yourself to the nearest hospital to have your head removed from your anus. ?
See. I got to 18 and I can keep on going, but I think you get the idea. I hope some of this was useful.
Below is a personal documentary I made. For fun, for passion and it remains one of my favourites. Shot on the NEX 5n. Go figure!