Five Steps to Make a Living in Filmmaking

If you want to make a living in filmmaking, you’re in the right place. The one thing I absolutely love about being a filmmaker is that I am my own boss. I don’t have to punch a clock, I don’t have to do every single gig that comes along, and I can do things my way. The greatest part? Making movies is my full time job.

Most filmmakers want this too. The trouble is they want everything on their terms. Everything I mentioned above sounds like I write my own ticket but one thing that I have compromised on, is the content of the films I produce. I make commercials and wedding films. Clients pay me to tell their story.

Now, maybe that’s not what you are looking for but let me ask you this, do you want to work a 9-5 for someone else and do your movie making on the weekends or do you want to work in film full time? The benefits are HUGE! In doing what I do, you are always working on your craft even when you are working for a client. There is no reason you can’t work on client projects and still make your own films too. Here are some steps to get you into the game.

1. Have a game plan.
You can’t make a living in filmmaking from day one but there are lots of opportunities to make money making films for other people. Some filmmakers look at commercials or weddings as the plague. In truth, it’s not at all. As a filmmaker, you are telling a story. That is the very basics of it.

You can tell a story about a small business in a quick 60 sec internet commercial. You can tell amazing stories about two people coming together and starting a life as one in a wedding film. Why not do it? You’ll be doing what you love, gaining more and more experience, make money and as a bonus you’ll get amazing ideas for your next film.

The best part is that you’ll have money to invest in your personally films. So figure out what’s out there in your market, how you can deliver it and how you can find the work. Create a business plan that works for you.

2. Create a persona.
You need to not only be a friendly person when working with clients but you also need to have an edge. Figure yourself out. What makes you tick? What can you do to give yourself character? You want people to remember something about you. For me, I always wear a hat. The kind that the old time paper boy would wear. It gives me an “artists” look without trying too hard. I always wear it, therefore, everyone remembers me.

3. Find the work.
This is the hard part but if you are open to working for low rates starting out, you will gain some great clients and more and more knowledge as you go. Look on production crew pages, Craig’s List, Facebook, look for other companies like web site creators who need someone to make videos for their clients sites.

Make a package deal with them. They will sell you and you do the work. For weddings, find a photographer who matches your style and make a package deal with them. Same thing, they will sell you and you can handle the production work. This is a great way to start out.

4. Deliver the best work possible.
Take your clients work just as serious as your own work. Keep your creative eyes open to new ideas. You might even find new ways to produce your personal films through a client gig.

You made your game plan, you are booking work but other pieces of the puzzle don’t line up. Don’t worry! Adapt. Learn. Grow. I have been running my business for several years and I am always changing something with the goal of being more efficient. Never think that you know it all or that you are better than the next guy.

5. Always be learning.
One other thing. Be cautious with your earnings. Down the road, you will need to invest in areas such as advertising, equipment, studio space, freelancers, et al. If you want your business to grow, always be careful with your money. The biggest mistake is spending before you are making. Save up, invest, work hard and have a nest egg for the rainy days.

These are just a few simple things I have learned while growing my video business from a solo filmmaker posting “Need A Music Video?” flyers around campus to an actual small business with a studio, several freelancers, really nice equipment and money in the bank. I am not extremely well educated. I started out with little to nothing. But as the old saying goes, if I can do it, so can you!

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Shane M Pergrem is a producer who loves doc films and just finished a great feature length film called “The Almond Tree“. It’s being released soon by Snag Films. Check out our trailer below:

How To Brand Yourself As A Filmmaker

How To Brand Yourself As A Filmmaker (Part 1)
By filmmaker and graphic designer, Ela Gancarz

Everyone’s talking about personal branding these days, but not everyone understands what it does and why it’s important. As a filmmaker, you might be thinking to yourself, “do I really have to care about my brand?” In today’s Internet focused world, personal branding is no longer reserved solely for celebrities.

If you’ve been using social media or your website, you have probably already developed a brand!

A personal brand is the entire perception of a person. It’s all about who you are and what you want to be known for. It refers to the way other people see you. A ‘personal brand’ is in many cases synonymous with your reputation. It’s so much more than a simple logo!

As a filmmaker, you can use personal branding to build trust with your target audience. When people readily know you and they associate your brand with your face, it will be much easier to raise money for a new production or to sell your movie.

If you’d like make your personal brand stronger or to create a new one, you need to set goals for your public image. Your first task is to find your brand identity and develop a style guide. Here are three essential steps to do this:

Step One: Your Identity.

First of all you should ask yourself a few questions to find your personal brand identity. For example: what words would you use to describe yourself? What do people usually say about you? What makes you different from everyone else? What kind of films do you like? What do you want others to think of you? Then write down your answers.

Step Two: Your Audience.

Your personal brand is not only built from your thoughts but also from reactions of other people. That’s why you should determine the audience you want to target. Once you have established a niche, it’s important to reflect what those people want or expect from you. Write down your thoughts.

Step Three: Your Style.

Now, compare two lists and identify some qualities that you want others to associate with your brand. Remember that personal branding is how we market ourselves to others. After figuring out your brand attributes, try to match a corresponding style. It can be expressed visually with a logo, colors, forms, images (I’ll give more details about that in another post) or in the way you act or talk. Think about your personal brand each time you interact with someone.

Your style should be:

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  • Simple and memorable. Your personal brand has to communicate clearly who you are. People will remember only a few things about you so focus only on elements that really contribute something to your brand.
  • Unique. Your style should be distinctive and unique. But you don’t need to sit down and study how to be different! You ARE special! Try to take your life as the basis of your expertise.
  • Modern. Keep your brand modern, fresh and actual. It should always feel inspiring to you and to your audience.
  • Personal. Try to be yourself – it is your PERSONAL brand. Stand strongly behind it. Don’t apologize for it. And don’t be afraid to speak your mind!


Finally having your personal brand identity, you need to apply it consistently across many activities. Create a website or blog, participate in social media. Whether you like it or not, the world is turning digital at very fast pace and you need to manage your reputation, both online and in real life.

Remember that your personal brand may add value to each new product, film or campaign you create. People will follow your brand from project to project but only if they feel connected and attracted to it. It’s time to take control of all those impressions!

Working With Partners

Before you jump into BIG filmmaking projects, I recommend working with creative collaborators on weekend films and other, smaller projects. This helps you uncover everybody’s idiosyncrasies early on.

From this experience, you can better determine if anybody’s social imperfections (coupled with your own imperfections) will derail the possibility of collaborating on bigger projects.

A long time ago, I worked on a short movie with a guy. Long story short, I found out the guy was being untruthful about money. He had hired one of my friends to build our movie website. But he failed to pay as agreed. When confronted, he shared an outlandish story about Western Union sending the money to the incorrect address. This was completely stupid and untruthful.

Because he was a “friend,” I gave him the benefit of belief and dropped the subject.

Three years later, I found myself working with this guy again. And guess what? He figured out a way to steal a few thousand dollars from the movie budget. When confronted, he left Los Angeles for Kentucky or some other place. He emailed a few times, appologizing.


The point is – sometimes you uncover facts early on that could save headaches later. You need to have a forward thinking perspective. In small deals, when you have moments of friction, in the context of heated conversations, your colloborators will often say “This is not a big deal.”

But the truth is, small frustrations on small projects will be amplified on BIG projects to become BIG problems.

Be mindful.

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Screenwriting: what experience do you want the audience to have?

According to Stefan Mumaw’s book, “Chasing the Monster Idea,” one of the key questions to ask if you want to find out whether your idea is a “monster” rather than just good (or bad) is, “Does it create an experience?”

Which movies you’ve seen would you call an experience?

I’d say “Alien,” which made me jump out of my seat when that thing exploded out of poor John Hurt’s chest…the ending of “Sixth Sense” which I didn’t see coming and was a topic of conversation for a while…and to be more general, any movies that make me wish they would just keep going for a few more hours (like “Sideways”) or movies that keep me thinking about them for days afterward (“Gone, Baby, Gone”), or ones (the “Bourne” films) that are a good thrill ride while they last even though they may be forgotten pretty quickly afterward.

There are a lot of ways to make your movie an experience but I think it helps to have one in mind as you’re writing. On the one I’m writing at the moment, my goal is to make people think about what they want to leave behind when they die, and maybe to feel a little nervous about the prospect.

If you haven’t thought about it already, consider what experience you want people to have. One way to focus on this is to write the review quotes you’d like to see when your film has been released–“A thrill ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat,” or “A hilarious look at parenthood that also makes you think,” for instance. Then, as you write or rewrite, make sure you deserve those quotes.

(For more screenwriting tips, come back for a new post from Jurgen Wolff every Tuesday and also see his blog, Also check out his book, “Your Writing Coach”).