January 4, 2017 at 11:35PM

13

Film student graduating in May

I want to be an independent filmmaker. No, you can't talk me out of it. No, there's nothing else I want to do. And yes, I'm a bit crazy. Obsessive crazy. But it's a focused obsession.
Anyways, I'm going to save money to make my first feature next summer, and then try the festival route. are there any filmmakers on here who have any advice for a 21 year old soon to be film grad? My goal for the next four years is to work in a restaurant where I can work a few hours of day and make tips, spend the rest of my day studying film and working on my craft, and saving money for my first low budget features. Advice?
like i said, no, you can' talk me out of it. This ship has sailed!

17 Comments

If you're crazy, you're half way there. In addition to your current plan, take any video/film job you can but never work for free unless it's for a reputable charity (or a hobby project, but beware).

January 5, 2017 at 7:09AM

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Stephen Baldassarre
DP, Producer, Director
2858

Get on set, get a job as a PA paying or non paying, if your 21 don't listen to that you need to get paid or your ruining the industry, you are inexperienced, it doesn't matter if your not getting paid while you are learning. Its fine to be in the restaurant but you still need to be on set. If you are 21 do not take the internet route of being completely separate from the industry and hope to break into it with a feature, thats not how it works. Being in the industry is always better, watch other directors work and learn. Its awesome your committed at 21, just do it the right way.

January 7, 2017 at 10:23AM

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Indie Guy
556

She is working, she needs to be paid SOMETHING. I often didn't get paid much when I was starting (wedding videos and educational stuff, some doc work) but it was at least something. I never did pay for my gear before I had to replace it though. There was a very reputable and influential DP here that worked very hard at getting people to agree to a minimum wage for paid productions; sort of an informal union. That was about 15 years ago and that community dissolved. Now actors don't get paid, even for paid spots from bigger production companies. PAs and grips almost never get paid, it's getting to the point where camera/audio crew don't get paid. Many producers and directors work for "exposure". In some markets, people pay the production company for the privilege to work!

Equipment costs money, travel costs money, food, media, web hosting, you name it. You are essentially paying out of your own pocket to let somebody else profit from your desperation. When you get older, you'll get tired of working for free, which means you simply stop working and the next crop of gullible slaves take your place.
All other arts have already died the same way. What's next? Are electricians going to work for experience? Will people insist houses be built for free? Since it's apparently OK to break labor laws, I think managers of businesses should work for "exposure" too.
So here's the rule; if it's your own project, something for fun with friends or for charity, free is fine. Otherwise, you're letting somebody profit from screwing you and that is NOT acceptable! Last I checked, this is a capitalist society; people need to be compensated for products/services, end of story. When society shifts to a paradigm where money isn't a necessity...

Stephen Baldassarre

January 10, 2017 at 11:54AM

Now big production company doesn't pay. If they are a big production company they care about reputation and how they treat their crews. Who you are talking about are still small time. You should never get tired of free work. Free work is an investment. Just don't make a dumb one. And don't get jaded. Once you do your career progression is over. If you are working for free smartly, you both should be getting equal out of it.

If this is a capitalist society, then if you have no experience you are of no value. You need to gain knowledge at your craft before your value deserves compensation.

The money is not important at the beginning of your career, your 21 you can live on a couch. Focus on producing work and contacts, drawing lines in the sand to get minimum wage will not help either of those two things.

You can do it because of principle thats fine, just don't do it thinking your helping yourself or the industry.

Indie Guy

January 10, 2017 at 3:01PM

How do you plan to work on your craft?
That is the big question here. Will you make shorts? Do 48s? Help on sets? Do some corporate gigs?
Do you have a portfolio? What do you want to add to it?

January 7, 2017 at 9:07PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8411

I'd like to offer a middle of the road approach to working for free. Only work for free, if it is a project where you are certain you'll either meet the right people, learn a specific craft, or get some experience that will be worth money down the road. Be selective about when you work for free and just make sure that if you are not getting paid, the experience is worth your time and helps you move forward. Experience is necessary to get ahead, and your time is valuable.

January 8, 2017 at 3:09PM

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John Haas
Cinematographer
439

Buy a camera. Shoot something. Play with and observe light a lot. Talk to people. Talk to anyone, CEO's, bums, doctors, strippers, druggies, etc. You will find stories from everyone and everyone is more interesting than they seem. Take advantage of any opportunity to have a conversation.

January 9, 2017 at 9:26AM, Edited January 9, 9:27AM

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Don Way
Writer/Director of Photography
969

Don't Quit.

January 9, 2017 at 9:54AM

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bjones
Filmmaker and Photographer
92

Chances are that you learned how to make a film in film school, but not how to get one made. Movies are expensive, and it will be difficult to save money for a feature working as a waitress, unless you don't plan to pay anyone with anything but food. There are so many hidden costs. Assuming you get into a major festival (which is kind of like winning the lottery), there will be DCPs, lawyers, and sales agents to deal with. You might get a distribution offer, but the offer might be designed so that you never see a penny. Or the "distributor" might actually be an aggregator, taking your rights without even putting marketing behind your film. You could put the film on iTunes or Amazon for a fee, but who will know about it unless you have a marketing budget?
What is your end goal in making a feature? Landing an agent? Becoming an overnight success? Art for art's sake? If you just want to make a good film, it's possible as long as you write something that can be done for cheap and is technically competent (and hopefully artistic). But.... at the end of the day your only viable option for recouping the film's costs might be to put it on vimeo on demand, where at least you get to keep 90% of profits. All this probably sounds like a downer, and it is, but I think the best advice is to know exactly what you're up against. One of the first things I realized when I graduated film school is that there was a ton of stuff I still didn't know anything about. There a lot of websites that have helpful info about the practical side of indie filmmaking, IFP and The Film Collaborative being two that stand out.

January 9, 2017 at 3:22PM

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Warren Bros.
Filmmaker | Cinephile
171

Indie Guy, every other business pays their employees and contractors as part of "on the job training". No you can't jump into the profession at the top, but it takes virtually no training to do PA work and $10 per hour is nothing compared to other costs. It's still work that benefits the company and I repeat, internships and other work without compensation (except as required for school credit) is illegal. Anybody who says different is a butthole and is taking advantage of people for his own profit.

The average wage for PAs has dropped 50% over the last five years because of people thinking that slave labor is an opportunity. Soon nobody will be able to get paid for work, so STOP IT!

January 11, 2017 at 9:31AM

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Stephen Baldassarre
DP, Producer, Director
2858

Soon nobody will be able to get paid

Take it easy with the apocalyptic talk. You can't possibly believe that

First off being a PA is not easy and if you are untrained trying to pa you can hurt a shoot. Key PA is one of the hardest working people on set.

How you describe pa's and "big production companies" seems off. at the bottom what you said is true, but for established production companies it isn't. Price cutting doesn't work, they want to pay full rate because they want the best talent. Price cutting is a sure fire way to stop being considered for a bid as a director or dp, it's desperate and devaluing your brand, those people can't ruin the industry because the industry doesn't want them, bottom feeder producers do though. Since those producers are focused on reducing expenses rather than economically producing quality productions their work will always be sloppy. If you a caught in that spiral the only way out is producing some free spec work that shows promise and shop it to the production companies that want talent rather than a deal.

If you want to debate that logic address what I'm actually saying.

January 11, 2017 at 1:09PM

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Indie Guy
556

"Take it easy with the apocalyptic talk. You can't possibly believe that"

Why not? When supply far outweighs demand, you devalue the product. Cheap/free music is EVERYWHERE, therefore musicians have no value and no longer get paid (many pay to play). Likewise, more and more people are trying to get into video production. More content is being produced which means fewer viewers per production, so each production is worth less. Crews are worth less because there's always plenty more willing to work for "experience" or "exposure" while productions are getting produced with smaller crews. Like the clothing industry; there's so many companies competing in the market, laborers are getting paid less and less while working longer hours, often in dangerous conditions. It's pure economics.

"First off being a PA is not easy and if you are untrained trying to pa you can hurt a shoot. Key PA is one of the hardest working people on set."

She's a film school graduate, I'm sure she can handle it. Yes, a bad PA can hurt a production, but most of their work can be taught in blocks of a few minutes at a time. The fact that it's important work, hard work etc. is all the more reason to not do it for free. I've also noticed in the music industry that businesses who don't pay fairly don't get good contractors. Don't pay your crew and you tend to get bad crew.

"Price cutting doesn't work, they want to pay full rate because they want the best talent."

You're proving my point; businesses who don't pay are shooting themselves in the foot. The average pay rate has dropped because more and more companies are not paying at all, like you're encouraging people to do. Yes, by telling people to work for free, you're telling production companies to make people work for free.

"If you a caught in that spiral the only way out is producing some free spec work that shows promise and shop it to the production companies that want talent rather than a deal."

Produce a good demo with your friends to show off your skills but do not pay for work that profits others! What happens when people offer free spec work for a position that might not exist? You reduce the need for that position to actually exist.

"If you want to debate that logic address what I'm actually saying."

I think I've already done that.

Stephen Baldassarre

January 12, 2017 at 8:45AM

Look the thing you keep dancing around, real crew real productions pay good sustainable rates for knowledgable and talented crew members. I'm saying get that knowledge and find you talent even if that means working for free, because that will get you to those production companies faster. Don't let ego and "protecting the industry" stop you. The knowledge of how to make a film properly is all that counts. If you don't work for companies that treat you with respect and pay you decently, its because you don't have the knowledge and talent to work on a higher level. Once you start seeing that glass ceiling on talent you get jaded and rationalize everything (music analogy) and make someone the scape goat of your problem. People working for free should effect you if your good and smart about your career.

Indie Guy

January 12, 2017 at 10:46AM

If you want to work in the industry, the PA is the ground floor. WORK WORK WORK. SCRAMBLE SCRAMBLE SCRAPE. You learn what real world vs film school means and most importantly, you'll make contacts. Hopefully you're on good terms with film school buddies, so you can get work/opportunity through them....which in this day is the most valuable part of film school. I had no Youtube to teach me everything growing up. No Iphone or cheap cameras and Macbooks to edit on. Theory is easy. Understanding lighting, lenses and every other concept that can be written down, is easy....at least it should be. The rest is your personality and work ethic. And without both of those, you would have to be either very wealthy so you can pay other people to work for you, or so supremely talented no one can ignore you. But even then, most people don't want to be around talented dicks, even though there happens to be a lot of them...which is why I moved to the corporate/agency route=)

Good luck.

January 11, 2017 at 1:41PM, Edited January 11, 1:41PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
890

Indie Guy, I don't have a problem getting paid, I'm not looking for a scape goat, nor am I dancing around the issue. Sure, maybe the best companies still pay well, but more and more companies don't and you're encouraging that. I've been doing A/V production as an independent contractor since 1998 and full-time since 2008. Before that, I was an electrician. If my first boss told me I had to work for free till I got trained, then I MIGHT POSSIBLY move on to a reputable company, I would have told him to take a hike. If the only way to get into the industry now is by unethical and illegal means, nobody should want anything to do with it. I really can't make my argument any clearer.

January 12, 2017 at 2:58PM

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Stephen Baldassarre
DP, Producer, Director
2858

Coming from A/V I understand your perspective.

Indie Guy

January 13, 2017 at 12:12PM

I think it's important to define what sort of filmmaker you would like to be. Director, DP, editor, writer, etc. That decision generally will change the best route for you to take.

January 12, 2017 at 3:13PM

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Gareth Ng
Cinematographer
432

- Find a mentor. Someone who is 5 years or more from where you want to be.

- Pick a career position: Camera assistant. DoP. Director. Screenplay Writer. Producer. Etc. it's easier to find jobs if you simplify your experience. You can switch through your career but it helps to do the same job for a while. Become a PA if you are not sure what you want to.

- your pay will increase with your professionalism, and experience. Once you get so busy that you are being booked left and right, you will be able to charge your clients more.

- don't be afraid of corporate work. It pays well. Two for the bills. One for the ego.

- when "investing" in equipment, make sure you have the clients to pay for said equipment. Otherwise rent.

- You will learn more about set culture on day one of a set than any classroom. But the classroom did teach you how to learn and think critically. Don't forget that.

- make your first movie for cheap. Polish the script. Find talented people to work with. Make sure the project gets done. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

January 13, 2017 at 11:36PM

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Johan
Director of Photography
1

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