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:


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