If you're a filmmaker or aspiring filmmaker, then you're likely very aware of the rapid and massive changes that have been happening to the industry. Some find these changes unsettling, but most see it as a the doors being blown open. In a way it can be both.
About 10 years ago was when I officially decided to pursue a path in filmmaking. I had always been very interested in cinema and how it was made, but that was the moment I realized it was something I might actually be able to do. I set out and started making short films with my friends and neighbors using the handheld camera I saved up a summers' worth of work to purchase; then I edited them on Windows Movie Maker and uploaded them online or decided it was better nobody ever see them.
I was lucky enough to grow up with the internet at my fingertips. Through high school and college I've been closely watching the trends in my field to try and envision what my place here might be. One thing I can say for certain, it's an amazing time to be a filmmaker. Here are some of my predictions as to what being a filmmaker will be like moving forward in the 21st century:
1. Getting started has never been easier.
We've seen leaps and bounds in filmmaking technology over the last few decades. In addition, there has never been more information available to aspiring filmmakers' before.
Purchasing or renting your first camera kit, lights, and audio kits are now able to be done with a few months savings (or a grant through your college). Blogs and informational sites publish thousands of articles on every aspect of the filmmaking progress as college programs become more widely available in the field. Here are a few of my longtime favorites: IndieWire, FilmRiot, NoFilmSchool, LineProducing, John August's Blog.
The barriers still exist, in that it will cost time and money to produce your first film; however, these are marginal in size compared to the barriers from decades ago.
Get a camera, get some like-minded friends together, and go shoot a movie. It's that easy.
2. Being a filmmaker means doing a little bit of everything.
When starting out, it's usually impossible to get a fully loaded crew together. That's why this next generation of filmmakers have resorted to learning nearly every role in the process. This isn't just limited to production jobs either; it's just as valuable for filmmakers today to become knowledgable marketers and producers.
There's certainly a trend that goes hand in hand with this where we see young filmmakers struggling to find their place on bigger sets. If you're used to doing it all, that's great, but you also have to learn to focus on one task if that's your job. If you can balance both, you're in a good spot.
The great thing about this is that films of quality can be made with smaller crews and people are more aware of what the people around them are doing on set. (Like the feature film we made.) This will be particularly important when these filmmakers find their ways into director and producer positions, allowing them to recognize the best talent and communicate efficiently with their teams.
3. Making a living is easier, making a fortune in harder.
This is something that I'm not sure has completely caught on yet. Many aspiring filmmakers are still dreaming of that ten million dollar director gig that comes with household name recognition. Even though the chances of that are pretty slim (unless you're JJ Abrams), you can still expect to make a living as a filmmaker. Go tell your parents that over thanksgiving and see how they respond.
The industry of filmmaking has blown up in ways that are great for the average filmmaker. You can now go out and make films that you want to make, find an audience that wants to watch them, and make a sustainable living doing so. It will take a lot of time, effort, and perseverance to get there but is absolutely attainable... which brings me to my next point:
4. No need to reach a massive audience, you can just reach your audience.
The dream of screening at thousands of theaters across the world is still alive, and possible. The majority of filmmakers in this new generation will start realizing, though, that you can skip the distributor (or go with a smaller one) and target your audience directly.
This could mean getting it onto their computer screens through the many streaming and VOD services-- just don't forget the marketing. It could also mean screening at theaters you know your audience will be able to come out to.
This is why filmmakers in the coming years will have to get better at marketing (and many already are). To reach a specific audience, you have to find them and begin a conversation with them that will lead to them watching your film. The best part about this though is that as artists we get to have much more engaged and meaningful relationships with our audience.
5. Story is now more important than ever.
An overwhelming wave of pessimistic speculation goes around these days on the state of storytelling in media. Yes, it's true that when just about anyone can make a film that you'll have a lot of really bad ones. Honestly all of us will probably make our fair share of bad movies when starting out (Or later on. Keep trying M. Night Shyamalan, you'll get another good one.)
This is why storytelling is more important than ever. To stand out from the crowd you have to make compelling stories. Come at them with fresh perspectives, or show us an entirely new perspective on the world altogether. At the end of the day, cinema is like escaping one's life and entering another. If you can make that world believable, engaging, and meaningful then you'll have a hooked audience.
Any filmmaker mastering these techniques, which I can admit that I'm still a work-in-progress, will find a way to thrive in this new industry.
Nearly anyone can take a crack at it, but you'll have to work hard and learn everything you can to succeed.
6. There is a massive community of fellow storytellers, more accessible than ever.
It's amazing how many other filmmakers are out there now. They each have interesting perspectives and styles.
In my next article, I'll be talking about how I've been connecting with a network of filmmakers from all over the world and how their work has reinvigorated my drive for this industry.