How to leave your full time job and start a filmmaking career

In this post I’m going to show you exactly how to start a career in filmmaking, even if you are currently working a full time job.

I worked in the film industry for several years myself and I am now making a transition from working a full time job to being a full time freelancer once again.

These next tips are based off my own experience of changing careers and my first hand knowledge of how the film industry works.

Lets get straight to it -

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Filmmakers are freelancers

If you want to work as a filmmaker chances are you will be a freelancer.

Freelancing is self employment. Meaning you will be expected to find your own work, fill out your own taxes and you will not be entitled to any benefits that a full time job may have.

On set crew jobs in the film industry are mainly freelance.

However there are full time contracted jobs in film that come with all the benefits of a normal job. 

The majority of these jobs are office based work for production companies. There are also full time jobs in TV and some commercial company's.

Transitioning from one full time job to another will be easier than pursuing freelance work.

How to find full time film jobs? You can find these jobs on ordinary job sites like Indeed.com and the careers sections on company's websites. Type into Google major companies such as Netflix, MGM and BBC and see what jobs appear on their careers pages. 

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There might be a job you can transition directly to from your old job. For example if you have an administrative job outside of film there are admin entertainment industry jobs.

You might like my post – Six work routes into the film industry

But I want to work on film sets!

Well then keep reading - 

How to become a freelancer

Film crew jobs are almost always freelance. Being a freelancer is hard and seeing as film industry jobs are ultra competitive it will be tough to get noticed and stand out.

How to start a career in filmmaking is complicated, to do this you will need - work experience,  film industry contacts, the ability to do one job in film to a fairly good standard.

For example I started getting paid work in film when I had 5 credits on my CV within my chosen job title (Script Supervisor).

This can be applied to any film job. If you want to be a Camera Assistant then you will need at least 5 work experience credits in this job role before paid work comes your way.

Likely it will take several years before you are being hired enough to make freelancing your full time job

Gaining Work Experience whilst working Full Time

Practical work experience lets you know first hand what film work is like and if it is for you.

You can gain this experience whilst still at your full time job. To find work experience search and find productions that are happening near you online. You can find these on film jobs sites, social media or Facebook groups.

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You might like my post - A list of film industry job sites

You could work on a short film in the weekends, evenings or during your holidays. 

Yes this is hard but you need the experience and initial contacts to start a career in film. It is hard to find the time but unless you know someone who can give you a paid job you will need to ease yourself into film.

If you have zero experience or are unsure what job to pursue in film start out as a runner on film sets. If you have never shot a film before, you can help out on small  local productions (e.g. Productions for Church's, Charities, Student Films).

Whilst you are working full time be sure to educate your self fully on the film industry, how it operates, the filmmaking process and the various job roles on set.

You will need a focused job role

Unfortunately just being a Filmmaker isn't a job role. 

You need to have a job role or area of expertise in film. Consider what type of productions you wish to work within (Features, TV, News, Commercial etc.) What department does your job fall under (Script Development , Camera, Editing, Marketing etc.)

If you want to be a cinematographer you may start out as a camera or lighting assistant. If you want to be a film director there is no specific job role that leads to this job - you can either make your own films in hope to get noticed or start out in any of the film departments. 

More Detailed information on how to focus your job role can be read here – Why you need to focus your job role in film

The Reality of film sets

If you like working long hours and don’t want to spend a lot of time at home then film work is for you.

The movie business is relentless, film crew daily shifts are often above 12 hours a day (6 days a week). This is why filmmakers often mix their time working on creative films with more stable work such as corporate work or commercials.

The reality of being a freelance filmmaker is uncertain pay, uncertain work and long work hours. 

The reality is that a career in film and TV (especially features) is not for everyone. It wasn’t for me and it isn't a happy existence for a lot of filmmakers out there. 

The truth is it is unlikely you will want to only work on feature films. Your work will be a mix of creative and commercial work (this is reality for most filmmakers).

It will take time

When I started out in film I was young and only taking care of myself so taking the leap into film work was easier. This will be different if you have a family or need a higher income.

Try to cut back all expenses and if you can begin to save money - as one day you will need to take the plunge and leave your job.

To pursue filmmaking full time I recommend having 5 work experience credits within your chosen job role (yes it could take a year or more to get these). You can ease into freelance work by reducing hours at your job or taking on a temporary part time job. 

I am currently working 2 days a week as I pursue my new freelance career (blogging). Last year I was working full-time, I have reduced my work hours so I can spend more time on this.

This is the reality of work, unless you are lucky and have a lot of savings you need to ease yourself into a new career. 

The reality of film work is not easy. The film industry is competitive, unreliable and it will take many years to pursue a new career within it, however it is possible.

I hope this post helps guide you towards your new career. If you have any questions leave a Comment Below I will happily answer all questions in full -

How film distribution works in this century

 
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In this post we will be looking at how film distribution works in the 21st century. You will learn about the traditional process of Hollywood movies and how independent filmmakers can get their films distributed and exhibited.

In the past ten years how film distribution works has changed due to the availability of high quality cameras, the internet and Video On Demand services like Netflix. Distribution is the final process in filmmaking, getting the film viewed and hopefully taking in a profit.

This article is a short breakdown of Distribution. All information can be checked via the links attached.

Hollywood Distribution

A major film studio (for example Disney) owns the legal rights to a film. The Studio makes a license agreement with a distributor. The distributor then persuades exhibitors (Cinemas) to showcase the film.

The Studio and distribution company take a large percent of the cinema ticket profits 60-90% (The cinemas make the majority of their money from food and advertisements before the film).

Some studios have their own distribution companies so as to take a greater share of the profits. There are also independent distributors who will handle films made outside of major studios.

For more detailed information on Hollywood Distribution I have found this great series of articles via Launching films website Read here

Sales agents Vs distributors

The difference between a distributor and sales agent is that a sales agent is hired by a producer to find a distributor. The sales agent is the middle man who may be hired to help find a good distribution deal for the film. Not all producers hire sales agents they might find a distributor themselves. A major studio might have made a deal with distributor before the films is made (e.g. to take on a certain number of films made by them every year).

For more information on foreign sales agents I found this article from Filmmaker magazine Read here

Film Festivals & Markets

There are hundreds of film festivals all over the world, the main annual events are the big five - Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, Venice. At these festivals thousands of film buyers, sales agents and distributors will attend looking to acquire films.

At these festivals there maybe a film market where films are screened. It is at these markets that the distribution deals take place between Producers and distributors.

The Independent filmmaker project has a more detailed article on the difference between Markets and film festivals Read here

Independent Distribution

The Traditional way for independent filmmakers to find a film distributor is through film festivals. A screening at one of the big five festivals will likely get watched by many global distributors who will consider buying your films rights. A film will also be taken more seriously at these festivals if it is represented by a well known sales agent.

A filmmaker can approach sales agents directly and try to get them to take on their film. Importantly the sales agent must have a good history, recommendations and ideally have taken on films similar to yours before. 

You can also approach distributors directly and see if they would be interest in your film. You need to identify distributors who have showcased films similar to yours before in terms of genre or sell ability.

Launching films website lists what distributors are working with what film. Find a list of film distribution companies here

Self Distribution

A filmmaker can pitch to a cinema directly. Before doing this you must get an age classification for your film, you will also need to do the marketing yourself including providing a trailer and posters for your film. Independently showing your film at a cinema can be very expensive and a full business plan would ideally be completed before considering this option.

You don’t need to get your film shown at a cinema to have a good exhibition. Distributors for services like Netflix and Amazon will also be present at major film festivals. If you don't get into a major film festival you can hire an aggregator for example a popular online VOD aggregator is Distribber.

Companies such as Netflix prefer it if you go through a trusted middleman to reach them. This great video from Creative North talks about indepedent filmamkers can get their film to Netflix Watch here

If your film does not attract the attention of distributors or get into a notable film festival you can consider further self distribution. You might find an audience online through the use of Patreon and YouTube. Be clever with how you find an audience with your film. You might like my post How to make money as a creative filmmaker Read here

I hope this post helped you learn more about distribution for filmmakers. The links attached provide more detailed advice. 

Resources - Creative North's Video on Self distribution | Independent Film Offices Distribution advice | A List of Film Distribution companies | Launching Films Step by Step Guide