Independent Filmmaker

How to Become an Independent Filmmaker

 

 

Independent filmmakers coordinate and produce the making of their own films, from concept, to final production and distribution.

 

This can be a great career choice if you have a keen interest in storytelling, interest in a career with no set guidelines or path, and you are willing to wear many hats that range from writer and actor, to director and promoter. 

 

Below, we’ve outlined everything you'll need to know to become an independent filmmaker. We’ll show you what type of education will be useful and why, what traits you’ll need to be effective and successful, what financing options you might have for your films, and what career advancement could look like. Let’s get started.

 

 

Steps to Take to Become an Independent Filmmaker

There is no set path for getting your start as an independent filmmaker, as there are several ways to go about it. In general however, an effective and common path is to follow these steps:

 

1. Define your version of success as an independent filmmaker

2. Decide what type of films you want to make

3. Pursue a film studies degree

4. Make contacts and get involved in as many opportunities to learn the craft while you’re a student

5. Decide on your first film project and make a concrete plan for how to achieve it

6. Get the project financed, produced, shot, cleaned up and promoted

7. Stay the course, things will get tough!

8. Continuously enhance your skills, knowledge and professional network 

9. Reassess to see if you’re going where you want to go, and doing the right things to get there

 

 

Types of Films You Could Make

As an independent filmmaker, you could create many different types of films, including:

 

• Travelogues

• Nature films

• Documentaries

• Training films or videos

• Educational films or videos

• Music and other videos

• Short and feature films in various genres (such as sci-fi, horror, comedy, drama, etc.)

 

 

Education Needed to Become an Independent Filmmaker

While there are no formal requirements for being your own boss, having a degree in film studies can help you develop many of the core technical and artistic skills that you’ll need in order to be effective as a filmmaker.

 

Being able to show that you have a film degree can also go a long way towards instilling confidence in those who will be investing their time and/or money in your films. It’ll show them that you have a proper educational foundation, and the commitment level needed to see a degree program through.

 

As an added benefit, in the pursuit of a film degree, you will likely meet your first set of relevant industry contacts, who might be part of your professional network for years. You’ll have a chance to meet students and instructors who can mentor you, and introduce you to other contacts. 

 

The people you meet in film school, and the people you meet through them, can end up being people who help you finance a film, people who act in it, direct it, cast it, find a location for it, or people who fulfill any number of other crucial roles. 

 

 

 

 

Additional Education that Can Be Useful

In addition to your regular film studies courses, pursuing additional coursework in marketing, accounting, financing and promotion can really help with the business side of filmmaking. Without skills in these areas, you might be doomed to produce a great film that no one ever sees, or that has to stop production halfway through because the budget has dried up.

 

 

Traits and Characteristics You’ll Need

The life of an independent filmmaker is unpredictable, and requires a long-term commitment, a lot of sacrifices and constant growth and soul searching. To stay the course and be effective in this profession, and ultimately find fulfillment in it, you’ll need various personal traits and attributes, including:

 

A mind for business: You have to have an understanding that no matter what your reasons for becoming a filmmaker, that it’s a business, and in order for the career to be sustained, the films have to make money, no matter who’s investing (private, corporate or government).

 

A willingness to learn as you go: Rather than learning from others while working at a production studio, you’re willing to independently learn what tasks you need to do to make the film happen on the fly, and how to do them quickly.

 

A willingness to wear many hats: As an independent filmmaker, you’ll not only have to oversee or directly perform the shooting, editing and budgeting, you’ll also have to take care of marketing and promotion, which involves talking to people, and writing pitches, treatments and proposals.

 

A willingness to fail: Ideally, each new project will be better than your last. If you’re someone who can take failure in stride, learn from your mistakes and hone your skills, then you’ll be able to slug through some tough years and have a much better chance of getting where you want to go.

 

A willingness to improve your skills: In addition to improving your hard skills in filmmaking, you’ll have to be willing to take some extra education on periphery topics such as financing, marketing, promotion, in order to ensure you’re becoming more effective and efficient as a filmmaker.

 

Patience and determination: Like any self-actualized venture, being an independent filmmaker will challenge your ability to stand pat and see projects through to completion. It can take years for an independent film to come out. Will you have the patience and determination to survive the ups and downs along the way?

 

A passion for story-telling: Above all else, you’ll need a deep-rooted passion for storytelling to outweigh all of the hard work you’ll be putting in. This will be your main guide on your rocky, unpredictable and exciting journey. Without it, getting out of bed to face the workday will be quite a challenge. 

 

 

 

 

How to Finance Your Independent Films

One of the most difficult part of making independent films for many, is finding financing for them. Films are a business like any other; they need startup capital. In the world of independent filmmaking, most of the financing comes from independent sources, which are those found outside of the traditional studio system.

 

When you’re looking to finance your first film, you’ll likely have to seek funding from the following sources:

 

Savings: If you have some money in the bank already, that can be a great way to self-self-finance an independent film. But if you're like most who are just starting out, you'll likely need to find more.

 

Working in the film industry: Working as an actor, production assistant, director, etc., on someone else’s production, or for a major studio, can be a great way to self-finance a film. 

 

Doing client/freelance work: Working on someone else’s vision is actually a great way to hone your skills, while paying the bills.

 

Friends/family: Be careful with borrowing from friends and family. They might be excited to help you out, but there’s always the risk that their money won’t come back.

 

Outside investment: Do you have an attorney, a professor that really believes in you, or other professional connections? Maybe they’d be interested in investing, or maybe they know someone else who would.

 

Crowdfunding: If you can build an active group of supporters (outside of friends and family, as you can just directly ask them to invest without paying crowdfunding site fees), you may have a chance to get your film financed this way. But beware, the film crowdfunding marketplace is just that, a crowded marketplace.

 

Artistic grants: Non-profit agencies and government agencies offer various grants and scholarships, some of which are listed right on our very own site. These can be great ways to bring in free money, if you and your project qualify, and can beat out the competition.

 

 

Steps for Creating Your First Independent Film

Now that you have a good idea of what it takes to become an independent filmmaker, here’s a general overview of what you’d be doing to get your first film going:

 

1. Initiating the idea for a film

2. Creating the script, or hiring a writer to prepare it

3. Finding financial support for the project

4. Hiring key staff; including directors, writers and crew (if necessary)

5. Budgeting, scheduling, setting locations, and planning the film shoot

6. Coordinating the day-to-day production of the film

7. Seeing that all editing and post production is completed on the film

8. Negotiating with potential distributors and broadcasters

9. Promoting the film

 

 

A Day in the Life of an Independent Filmmaker

Curious what it's like to work as an independent filmmaker, day in, day out? Meet John Montana, an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles. He'll show you the ropes!

 

 

Film Jobs - Current Opportunities

Although there won't be any job postings for independent filmmakers, as it's inherently impossible, we do scour the internet for 'film' jobs, and when we find them, they're listed here. Take a look and see if there's anything that strikes your interest:

 

 

 

Career Advancement and Growth as an Independent Filmmaker

As an independent filmmaker, your career growth and advancement would depend on your talent, work ethic, ability to gain recognition, and of course, your goals. Here are some traits of a healthy and growing career:

 

• Your skills in some or all of the facets of independent filmmaking are improving

• Your professional network is expanding 

• Your films are gaining entry into film festivals

• Your audience is growing

• Your films are receiving good reviews 

• Your amount of commercial success is stable or rising

 

Ultimately, career advancement will come in the form of continuing to be able to make and distribute your films. This will involve improving your skills along the way, and increasing the amount of contacts that can help you get your films in front of audiences. 

 

Other options for advancement

Alternatively, you could grow your career by switching careers. You might find that you’re better suited to other aspects of film production, and become a specialist in an area, instead of doing it all. You can always choose to advance your career in the film industry by moving into a role in production, marketing, law, directing, acting, or any other number of roles, and thriving therein.

 

You could also go the contract or freelance route, and make films for clients. Your career would grow in much the same way it would as an independent filmmaker - by enhancing your skills, growing your reputation, growing your contact base, and continuing to produce films, only it would also involve taking on more clients.

 

 

Similar Career Guides in Our Database

Listed below are occupational guides in our database for careers that are similar in nature to “independent filmmaker”, as they involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities. 

 

Actor

Casting Director

Entrepreneur 

Film Director

Film Distribution Coordinator

Location Manager

Producer

 

 

References for This Career Guide

The following sources were referenced in the preparation of this career guide. Please visit them to learn more about the various aspects of a career as an independent filmmaker.

 

Cinema:What it Takes to Be an Independent Filmmaker.” Magda Olchawska (April 13, 2018). Impakter.com. Retrieved July 25, 2019.

Film:How Do You Make a Living as an Independent Filmmaker? It’s Not Easy.” Paula Bernstein (December 16, 2014). IndieWire.com. Retrieved July 25, 2019.

Business:The Roadmap to a Successful Filmmaking Career.” Rob Hardy (n.d.). FilmmakerFreedom.com. Retrieved July 25, 2019.

Movies: Indie Filmmaker Spills the Beans: How I Raised $150K for My 1st Movie and Never Saw a Dime Back.” Joe McClean (June 6, 2017). TheWrap.com. Retrieved July 25, 2019.

 

 

Scholarships for Becoming an Independent Filmmaker

All of the scholarships found on our Film Studies Scholarships and Any Field of Study Scholarships pages are relevant for becoming an independent filmmaker.

 

Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships for which you are even remotely qualified - millions of dollars in scholarship money go to waste every year in Canada and the USA due to a lack of applicants…millions.

 

 

Relevant Field(s) of Study

Studying the university major(s) listed below can serve as an excellent educational foundation for this profession:

 

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