Watch: 5 Stages of Becoming a Serious Filmmaker

What can you expect to experience as you go forth on your journey to become a filmmaker?

There are a lot of things that can happen when you begin your filmmaking career—which is actually a pretty scary thought. If you're right there at the beginning and hoping for some kind of guidance and advice on what to expect, as well as how to deal with whatever may arise, you might want to watch this. In his most personal (and inspirational) video yet, video essayist Darren Foley shares the many lessons he's learned while on his own filmmaking journey, as well as the many "stages of growth" you might experience while on your own.

This video is full of great insight, including important resources for filmmakers (books, movies, exercises) and general creative advice. But the one thing that I found particularly intriguing is Foley's break down of the stages of growth in creative direction, because I think that almost everyone can relate to it—almost everyone is somewhere on the continuum right at this very moment.

He breaks it down like this:

  1. Make stuff: This is how most of us get started. We pick up whichever camera's around and start making stuff. 99% of the time it's going to be awful, but that's okay.
  2. Inner doubt: Most of us struggle with inner doubt when we start on our filmmaking journey. We wonder, "Is this a waste of time? Will anyone ever take me seriously? Am I even good enough to produce the content I want?" This is normal and the perfect remedy for self-doubt is education.
  3. STUDY!: This initial immersion into film study is important for your growth as a filmmaker because you're probably studying the subjects that really ignite your passion. If you love Kubrick, you'll watch all of his films and read all the books written about him. If you love cinematography, you'll probably study the basics of composition, color theory, and how your favorite DPs use the camera to tell stories.
  4. Put yourself out there: This is the point at which you apply the things you've learned in the real world. Maybe you enter a film competition. Maybe you start doing a little bit of low-risk commercial work. Maybe you finally sit down to write your screenplay. I, like Foley, entered a short film competition (mine was 72 hours) and experienced the thrill of watching it in a crowded theater, hearing the audiences reaction, and even winning an award.
  5. Get serious and study: You've already dipped your toe into the filmmaking waters—now you're hooked. At this point, it's a good idea to start taking your filmmaking career seriously. Perhaps you enroll in film school (that's what I did), study more advanced techniques, or create a portfolio website—whatever it is is unique to you, but the key here is to consider this stage the transition from making films as a hobby to making films as a professional.

Surely plenty of you could identify other stages, especially ones that come after #5, but I think it's fair to say that as you go on in your career, you're going to wash/rinse/repeat every single one of these regardless of where you're at in your career. (People at the top still study, make stuff, and experience self-doubt!) But if you're at the very beginning of your journey, I will say this—and it's kind of cliché, but—I wish I had seen this video when I was starting out. It would've saved me years of frustration and backsliding. (So, you're a lucky duck!)

Where are you on your filmmaking journey? What advice would you give someone who is just starting out? Let us know in the comments below!     

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Your Comment


I feel like we just mutually masturbated for 17 minutes.

August 1, 2016 at 9:12PM, Edited August 1, 9:12PM


Very useful, thanks a lot!!

August 2, 2016 at 1:17AM



August 2, 2016 at 9:43AM

Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP

My first step was joking about making really bad stuff worthy of a Razzie.
One of the must silly ideas must have been a movie about alien chocolate conquering the world through supermarket distribution. :-p
Another idea was about doing stupid stunts, but neither me or my friends had the guts to do it. Some years later Jackass appeared on TV. I'm not sorry for not hurting me or my friends like that...
Once I started making things I discovered how much I loved it.

Third step was trying to make complex original feature length stuff: it was to big to even bite, let alone chew it.
I became a student again and went to artschool. And although I graduated 9 years ago, I feel like I'm still learning :-)

August 2, 2016 at 4:34PM, Edited August 2, 4:36PM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

I reckon there's three stages of your progression as an artist...
1) Recognising there's something wrong with your stuff. The hardest bit - if you don't realise your stuff sucks, you'll never improve.
2) Identifying what part sucks.
3) Having the skill to fix/prevent that part that sucks.

August 8, 2016 at 5:38PM, Edited August 8, 5:38PM


I find that there are three steps (and they apply universally to anything you do)
1. Make something quick and easy
2. Realize that quick and easy gets lousy results
3. Decide to actually take the work seriously and put the appropriate effort into your projects

August 10, 2016 at 8:21PM, Edited August 10, 8:21PM

Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker