Is becoming an independent filmmaker right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do independent filmmakers do?

Still unsure if becoming an independent filmmaker is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become an independent filmmaker or another similar career!

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How to become an Independent Filmmaker

There is no strict or formal path that one must follow to become an independent filmmaker. For many who succeed in the field, however, the key is a combination of education, practical experience, and a passion for storytelling and filmmaking. Here are some common pathways to the career:

High School Diploma or Equivalent
Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. High school provides a foundation in basic communication and organizational skills, and it prepares students for further learning. Basic education in subjects like English, creative writing, and visual arts can lay the groundwork for a future in filmmaking. Participation in drama clubs, film clubs, and media production classes can provide early hands-on experience.

Develop a Passion for Film
Watch films. Immerse yourself in the genres that interest you. Study classics and contemporary films to understand various conventions, styles, and storytelling techniques. Read books on filmmaking, screenwriting, and film theory that can provide valuable insights. Titles like ‘Story’ by Robert McKee, ‘Save the Cat!’ by Blake Snyder, and ‘On Directing Film’ by David Mamet are popular choices.

Bachelor's Degree Film Production or a Related Field
Many aspiring filmmakers earn an undergraduate degree in film production or screenwriting. These programs provide a comprehensive education in filmmaking techniques, theory, history, and practical skills. Students may learn about storytelling, screenwriting, directing, cinematography, editing, sound design, production management, and other aspects of film production.

Alternative degree options include cinema studies, visual and performing arts, theatre arts, multimedia arts, literature, or another relevant field.

Master’s Degree
While generally not required, some filmmakers choose to pursue a graduate degree to further their knowledge and skills in filmmaking. A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in film production or screenwriting can provide advanced training and opportunities for specialization. Many MFA programs require the completion of a thesis project, which is often a short film or a feature-length screenplay, giving students a significant portfolio piece.

Film School
Attending a dedicated film school or film program can provide intensive hands-on training and mentorship from industry professionals. Film schools often offer specialized courses, workshops, and access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities for students to develop their skills and create portfolio-worthy projects. Some well-known film schools include the American Film Institute (AFI), New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts, and the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts.

Online Courses and Workshops
For those unable to pursue a degree or attend a traditional film school, there are numerous short-term online courses, workshops, and tutorials available that cover various aspects of filmmaking. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, and MasterClass offer courses taught by industry professionals on topics such as screenwriting, directing, lighting, cinematography, editing, sound recording, and more.

Write Scripts and Make Short Films
Practise writing screenplays. Study scriptwriting formats and storytelling techniques. Start creating short films or web series to hone your skills. This allows you to experiment with different genres and styles without the need for large budgets.

Mentorship and Work Experience
Seek out mentors who are experienced filmmakers. Look for opportunities to work as a volunteer, intern, production assistant, or crew member on film sets to gain industry experience and make connections.

Find Your Voice and Style
Work on finding the unique voice and style that defines your personal brand. This can help set you apart from other filmmakers. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques and ideas to innovate and push boundaries.

Build a Portfolio and a Strong Online Presence
Create a reel or portfolio showcasing your best work. This can include short films, music videos, commercials, or any other relevant projects. Maintain an active online presence to promote your work, share your journey, and connect with fans, industry professionals, and potential collaborators and funding sources. Join online forums, communities, and social media groups dedicated to independent filmmaking.

Learn the Business Side
Learn how to create budgets and secure funding. Funding may be sourced through personal savings, grants, crowdfunding, and investor pitching. Understand the avenues for distributing your films, such as film festivals, streaming platforms, and self-distribution. Develop marketing strategies to promote your films.

Create and Produce a Feature Film
Once you have sufficient experience and a solid portfolio, aim to create a feature-length film. This is a significant step that can open doors in the industry.

Continuous Learning and Evolving
Keep up with industry trends, new technologies, and emerging voices within the independent filmmaking realm. Attend film festivals, workshops, and industry conferences. Seek feedback from peers and audiences to improve and evolve your filmmaking skills.

The path to becoming an independent filmmaker can be challenging. Persevere, stay committed to your vision, be flexible and resourceful, learn from setbacks, and keep creating.

While certifications may not be as prevalent in filmmaking as in other fields, the recognition and validation of one's work, as well as opportunities for continued learning and development, are key factors in establishing oneself within the community. Here are some credentials that may be pursued by filmmakers:

  • Artist Residencies and Fellowships – Participating in artist residencies or fellowships focused on various genres of filmmaking can provide valuable training, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Some residencies offer certificates or acknowledgments upon completion, which can serve as a credential in the field.
  • Software Training and Certifications – Many filmmakers use industry-standard software for editing, visual effects, and other post-production tasks. Software companies like Adobe (Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects), Apple (Final Cut Pro), Avid (Avid Media Composer), and Blackmagic Design (DaVinci Resolve) offer training programs and certifications to validate proficiency in their software tools.
  • Animation and Visual Effects – Animation techniques and visual effects are often used in films. Software certifications like Blender, Cinema 4D, or even basic stop-motion can be useful.
  • Film Festival Awards – Winning awards or receiving recognition at prestigious film festivals can be a form of certification. Festival laurels and accolades can add credibility to your work and help establish your reputation as a filmmaker.

Professional Organizations
There are several professional organizations and associations that cater to independent filmmakers, providing resources, networking opportunities, advocacy, and support. These organizations serve as valuable hubs for filmmakers to connect with peers, access industry information, and further their careers. Here are some prominent examples:

  • Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) – IFP is a non-profit organization that supports independent filmmakers, offering resources for filmmakers at all stages of their careers. It hosts the annual IFP Week in New York City, a major gathering for the independent film community.
  • Film Independent – Film Independent is a non-profit organization that champions independent filmmakers through education, mentorship, and funding opportunities. It hosts the annual Independent Spirit Awards and the LA Film Festival, as well as year-round programs and events.
  • Sundance Institute – While perhaps best known for its Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance Institute also provides year-round support for independent filmmakers through labs, grants, fellowships, and mentorship programs.
  • Raindance Film Festival – Raindance is a UK-based organization that supports independent filmmakers at all levels of experience through training courses, networking events, and the annual Raindance Film Festival in London. Raindance also operates in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Budapest, Berlin, and Brussels.
  • Filmmakers Collaborative – This is a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts that provides support and fiscal sponsorship and grants for independent filmmakers around the world.
  • International Documentary Association (IDA) – IDA is a non-profit that promotes nonfiction filmmakers, and is dedicated to increasing public awareness for the documentary genre. It hosts the annual IDA Documentary Awards as well as the biennial Getting Real Conference focused on documentary filmmaking.
  • Women in Film (WIF) – Women in Film is a non-profit organization that advocates for gender equality in the film industry. Its programs and grants are open to women filmmakers, including those working independently.