What if You Walked Out of Your Boss's Office with Funding for Your Film?
Don't quit your day job—use it to make your films. Here's how Benjamin Dewhurst did it with 'Sarge.'
We recently did a podcast episode about how to turn your on-set day job into your own film. But what if you don't even work in the industry at all? As an aspiring filmmaker, one of the toughest decisions you make about your career is how to have one: go all-in on your passion projects, or make films on the side while you toil away at your day job? Most of us have to take the jobs, whether film-related or not, to pay the bills.
Benjamin Dewhurst faced the same dilemma, with a day job in healthcare marketing. However, he managed to make that job work for him, and ended up with a completed short film—Sarge, about a WWII veteran plagued by PTSD, inspired in part by his relationship with his grandfather.
"I would strongly encourage you to talk to your company about supporting your own film."
"I had a very difficult time getting this film made for several years," said Dewhurst. "I reached out to relatives, friends, investors, and businesses for funding. I saved up my own money, took on as much work as I could. I submitted for grants. I tested the waters on crowdfunding a portion of the budget. Then the stars aligned."
Dewhurst's day job is as an agency writer-director-producer in healthcare marketing at DWA Healthcare Communications Group, and one day it announced a company-wide innovation festival. Fast forward a few months and Dewhurst had his film—shot on the C300mkII, comped in Nuke, and featuring a Maya 3D Higgins boat at Normandy—in the can.
Watch the film here, and get Dewhurst's best tips for turning your day job into your next film, below:
Dewhurst gave No Film School a breakdown of his most useful tips about pitching to your boss, maintaining your creative vision, and not getting yourself down just because you have a day job in addition to being a filmmaker.
1. Get your coworkers on your side pre-pitch
"Don't even try it until you've worked somewhere long enough to build up good will and prove your worth, and your loyalty to the company," said Dewhurst. "Come to them with the story and elucidate your drive for making it. You'll work the hours. This is your dream. Make a fancy, well-designed pitch document. Rally the support of your peers. Practice the elevator pitch...repeatedly." He also suggested that you let everyone know that you intend to share the credit for success and empower others by accepting and working with feedback. "Filmmaking is a team sport," he reminded, "and leveraging the creative powers of others (and balancing opinions) is part of directing."
2. Make your material a good fit
Dewhurst had been working on his script for a few years before he pitched it at work. The film is based on his friend Brian Lauziere's short story "Lollygagger" but he drew a lot of personal experience into the script from having been raised by his grandad, a WWII veteran. “By Kubrick's beard, pitch something they themselves can get behind, a story within their niche," said Dewhurst. "Pitch something they can proudly show off publicly as a portfolio piece with loads of fun laurels and awards to boot! If you need ideas, then I recommend screenwriting competitions to help you discipline yourself to a deadline. I'm a big fan of Screencraft and NYC Midnight, for example. Because writing should be a fun part!”
3. Pitch your ass off
It's hard to get anyone to invest in a short film, and getting your workplace on board requires you to put together a brilliant presentation. Work on it as long as you need to before you share. "I was driven to win this competition," recalls Dewhurst. "Considering the content of 'Sarge,' I felt it was a perfect fit; I'd get to work my filmmaking muscles, while simultaneously highlighting our company's outstanding medical storytelling abilities. We would draw from our own talent pool for graphic design, production, medical accuracy, and yours truly for direction—we would even end up casting a few roles from our company."
Dewhurst's pitch team included a graphic designer, a marketer, and a copywriter, who also happens to be his wife. They competed hard. "More specifically," said Dewhurst, "we pitched our asses off."
4. Maintain transparency about the creative vision
"I think full transparency is the only option," advised Dewhurst. "During pre-production, I outlined tollgate meetings where we would review the creative direction, and at each tollgate, I had sign off to move forward. So naturally, this happened to lock off the script, storyboard, rough cut, and final cut. There was of course feedback at each stage, and we negotiated what should be done at every phase. It went very smoothly, and I'm grateful for that."
Dewhurst recommend that you avoid surprises by having a company insider on board for oversight. In his case, one of the film's producers, Molly Wade, worked for the company in its Digital Project Management Office, and was focused on representing our company's interests (in addition to myself, of course). I highly recommend this kind of oversight and relationship, so that there are no surprises."
5. Keep your day job while you keep sight of your dreams
"Every job is going to have highs and lows, and the same is true for me. I think if filmmakers have a steady day job, and feel they're growing creatively while still being able to support themselves, then they're in a great spot." Dewhurst advised. "I do not recommend being a starving artist just for the sake of it. That's dramatic. If you happen work for a boutique agency or corporation, I would strongly encourage you to talk to your company about supporting your own film."
Dewhurst thinks you can use his experience as an inspiration, saying "even if your company doesn't actively seek out new and innovative ideas, you can still find ways to (appropriately) express your career goals and, by extension, ask for help reaching them."
"If you feel you're in a day-job-y situation, don't get down on yourself...Just focus on your own work and pursue your dreams."
"No matter what," he added, "if you feel you're in a day-job-y situation, don't get down on yourself. Don't judge yourself by others' success. Just focus on your own work and pursue your dreams. Like for me...though it's a niche industry, I'm still able to build my reel, my skills, my connections, and most important, my storytelling ability."
Have you had any luck working your day into your filmmaking career? Let us know in the comments.