16 of the Biggest Lessons These World-Class Filmmakers Learned from Working in Film

Life is full of lessons, and if you've chosen to spend yours making films, there are plenty of them to learn.

Luckily, in this Academy Originals video a group of filmmakers -- directors, actors, costume designers, and more -- share what the greatest lesson they've learned in their careers has been. Get ready to take down some notes:

In case you can't/don't want to watch the video, the lessons are written below:

  1. There is no formula to filmmaking
  2. Be humble (it helps you work with others)
  3. Enjoy and appreciate the fact that you get to work with creative people for a living
  4. Surrounding yourself with the best will bring out the best in you
  5. Learn to reduce the suffering from your failure
  6. Don't start shooting unless you have the script you want
  7. Have the courage to immerse yourself in things you're not familiar with
  8. Try to use as many different filmmaking techniques as you can
  9. Stay interested
  10. Allow challenges to help you grow as an artist
  11. Stay focused on your craft regardless of what's going on in the industry
  12. Life's too short to commit to a project you don't believe in
  13. Stick with your vision
  14. Go with you gut instinct, but listen to the creative minds around you
  15. Believe in yourself and trust that you're the right person for the job
  16. Take the next best job you can and keep working

This only scratches the surface -- or the surface of the surface -- or the surface of the surface's surface. Spending any amount of time working in film you're guaranteed to not only be pushed to your absolute limit physically, emotionally, and mentally, but to learn a myriad of lessons about pretty much everything.

I remember working on my first short film and learning that:

  1. Everything takes 10x longer to do on a film set than it does in the real world.
  2. Comfy shoes are essential.
  3. If you lay your head down to sleep at 6 a.m. after wrapping on a 14-hour shoot and still can't sleep because you're excited for the next 14-hour shoot ahead of you, then you're in the right line of work.

What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned during your filmmaking career? Let us know in the comments below.     

Your Comment


This can apply to life in general but I've always lived by the adage: work smarter, not harder.

I'm often gobsmacked by people who seem to revel in taking the long way 'round, or bulling along the hardest path, rather than taking 5 minutes to actually think about what they're doing and if there's an easier way to accomplish the exact same thing. Just because it's easier, doesn't mean it's any less effective or worthy.

September 20, 2015 at 11:45PM

AD / Producer

Such an obscene amount of incredibly sound advice in there.

September 21, 2015 at 2:33AM, Edited September 21, 2:33AM

Samu Amunét

I have not worked on a lot of films or productions but I must say the points are sound. I agree totally at being humble. NO ONE wants to work with an arrogant brat! Plus the industry is too small so word will go round to stay clear of you. Besides this I have only to add that "Be positive minded even when things go wrong". Good read.

September 21, 2015 at 3:24AM

Olufemi Bamigbetan
Director of Photography, Web Enthusiast and Animation buff

"Be positive minded even when things go wrong"

I have the hardest time doing this but I know it's exactly what I need to do.

Good words.

September 22, 2015 at 1:07PM, Edited September 22, 1:19PM

Jesse Tobler

These are great. Coincidentally I published this post this morning: http://tarproductions.com/2015/09/21/kickstarting-a-career-in-film-and-v...

September 21, 2015 at 7:59AM

Tim Ryan

I clicked on the link you provide but couldn't read the text because an annoying appeared asking for my email to "sign me up". I could not figure out a way to close the box or bypass the box so I left your page and went back to nofilmschool. not a good way to motivate people to read your page.

September 22, 2015 at 6:03AM

Tom Brown

Probably the single most important thing I learned through working with film is the skill of visualisation.

There was no WYSIWYG in film production.

This meant that every decision had a long feedback loop - sometimes half a year or more. 'Seeing' the options for rendering a script, treatment or rushes and being able to discuss them with paper and pencil were key throughout. Exposure, guided by a meter, could not be vindicated until the rushes arrived - even then a one light print would give only a general indication. And framing on cameras with rack over viewfinders had to be estimated if the camera moved.

Hard won experience was king. I doubt many people could properly 'read' a cutting copy now. All those decisions throughout the entire process that had to wait on the answer print for validation. Whatever the job you did in film, visualisation was a vital skill; without it you could not really participate usefully in the process.

I suspect, but cannot prove, that we tend to go with our first ideas far more than we used to. Something I noticed with the advent of broadcast video graphics in the 1980s. Quantel's Paintbox encouraged the new breed of graphic designers to 'design' on the system at a high hourly rate rather than on paper.

September 23, 2015 at 12:36AM, Edited September 23, 12:41AM

Simon Morice

such a great article. thanks!

October 14, 2015 at 10:38PM