5 ways to jumpstart your career as a filmmaker

1. Find your unique style.

BE ORIGINAL. BE WEIRD. Indulge. All the most successful filmmakers are auteurs. They have defined their own style. You’ll get hired for your edge and you’ll stand out from the crowd. My style? Having a magical fantasy spin. What’s yours?

This is my directing sizzle reel from 2015. It quickly captures the essence of my body of work.

2. Make content!

The only way to be a filmmaker is to make films. Make a lot of them and get them out there. Maybe you are struggling with taking the first steps or finishing up a film that’s been sitting on your hard drive in various pieces for months. If you need a push, go and sign up for the 48 Hour Film Project.

The 48 Hour Film Project is a worldwide competition where you have 48 hours to make a short film. After its completion, your work is screened at a local theater. And then if you win you go on to the international event called “Filmapalooza” with the chance of being selected to have your work screened at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a win-win situation. No matter what happens, you’ll have a product by the end of the weekend.

This is a film that I co-directed for the Huntsville 48 Hour Film Project. We won Best in City and now we will be screening at Filmapalooza in 2017.

3. Build an audience.

Now that you have a product, you need an audience. Without viewers, what really is a film? Build a following. Create a Facebook page for your production company. When you release content, your fans will boost the initial views so that your work isn’t stuck with only five views on YouTube. Using my production company’s Facebook page, I’ve also been able to launch many successful crowdfunding campaigns. Your fans will work for you by providing free promotion and free labor. And you’re granting them entertainment! It’s a great tradeoff. Just yesterday, I received a message through my Facebook page from a lady who would like to volunteer to help for my film company. That’s the magic of the Internet.

This is a GoFundMe campaign that I created to raise money for my trip to the Cannes Film Festival. My goal was $3,000, but within a few days, I surpassed my goal and received a total of over $4,000. Having a following on Facebook was the key to this success.

4. Enter film festivals.

Film is a collaborative art form. You need people to find out about your films and about you. Enter your work into film festivals and travel to them! You’ll make amazing connections, meet interesting people, and find future job opportunities. I recently went to a film festival and landed a branded content job. I met President Obama at the White House where my film was screened. I’ll be staying with some film friends in Paris whom I met at the Cannes Film Festival. Simply put, film festivals are an explosion of all grand things: networking, work opportunities, future collaborative partnerships, and exposure of your work. Just do it. Enter your work.

Here is a VLOG that I shot on my iPhone of my trip to the Cannes Film Festival. Many amazing connections were formed there.

5. Work on other people’s projects.

I worked on a feature film as assistant art director. This led to being hired as the cinematographer for a music video, which in turn has led to even more connections and jobs. By working on other people’s projects, you’ll get linked into an even bigger network with more film opportunities. Don’t hide in dark, seclusive corners. Get yourself out there. Declare to the world that you are ready and eager to work in the film industry. People will take notice if you truly mean it.

This is a video for which I was hired to edit and do motion graphics. The director of this project is someone with whom I have worked on many, different projects in a variety of capacities. We play pingpong in terms of hiring each other for our own projects.

3. Highlights Videos for Weddings and Events

Once you master the art of music videos you can apply those same skills to making 3-5 minute highlight videos celebrating an occasion.

Maybe there's a local event and they ask you to come film it - because hey, you're now the "camera guy/gal" - or maybe someone you know is getting married, and they wonder if you could maybe shoot a video of it? Gulp What do you do?

There's certainly a time and a place for videography: simply documenting an event in full, maybe with 2-3 cameras edited together, and providing a low-resolution DVD of a ceremony, lecture, student performance, or similar. Before DSLR filmmaking was a thing, this is what you would probably do a lot of as a weekend video producer, or even as a professional videographer.

But now that you can make cinematic-looking film, you can skip the videography services and offer a highlights film, which is basically a music video without the band. You take a lot of great shots from various angles, cut together 5-second clips of all the goings-ons, add a Fleet Foxes track and you'll be the hero. Even the hands over tall grass shots will work here!

Most importantly, if you record and include some of the natural audio over the backing music track - the wedding vows, parts of the lecture or performance, or an introduction speech - congratulations, you can now legitimately charge for your professional filmmaking services. Available weekends only.

Eddie Huang: Filmmaker Was on His List of Things to Do Even Before Chef

He discusses his debut drama, “Boogie”, what moving to Taiwan showed him about America, and what it was like to work with Pop Smoke, a star of his movie.

There was a time before Eddie Huang became Eddie Huang, the outspoken restaurateur, travel show host and author who once seemed ready to burn down “Fresh Off the Boat,” the network sitcom inspired by his own childhood. In that earlier moment, the aftermath of the recession, he was simply hustling in New York, begrudgingly working at a law firm while selling weed and streetwear on the side. The day he was laid off, he had a moment of clarity and wrote out a list of six things he wanted to do with his life.

The final entry on the list — own a restaurant — was what eventually made his name. But two spots up — write screenplays — revealed his true desire to become a filmmaker. “This is all that I’ve ever wanted to do,” Huang recently said days before the premiere of “Boogie,” the new drama he wrote and directed.

As with much of Huang’s career, the debut, which follows a Chinese-American high school basketball star (Taylor Takahashi, a first-time actor and Huang’s former assistant), often reads as a sharp-toothed consideration of what it means to grow up Asian in America. In his telling, the experience can be dubious, although Huang may have lately softened on his views.

The 39-year-old recently returned from Taiwan, where he was living throughout most of the pandemic, a time when he re-evaluated his life back home. After the thrill of the first six months abroad, he eventually found himself depressed, facing the pressures of conformity in a culture that, heightened and distorted by his celebrity image, could feel suffocating. Coming back, he appreciates the complexity of America’s diversity anew: “It’s the best experiment running,” he said.

By video chat from his home in Los Angeles, Huang spoke about his new film, being accepted and rejected by his community, and his parents. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You’ve done many things in your career — how and why did you come to filmmaking?

I always wanted to be a director, but I had professors that told me, no one’s going to make a film with an Asian lead, an Asian story. I was told that by my former agency even after “Fresh Off the Boat” came out. The reason I sold sandwiches (at his restaurant Baohaus), the reason I went to books and hosted shows is because the door to film was not open to me. I had to basically create a cult of personality and create leverage within Hollywood so that people believed in me to make this film.

Your first major foray into the industry was through “Fresh Off the Boat.” Do you now look differently on how you handled that experience ?

I really do think about it a lot. But I was right about “Fresh Off the Boat.” I was right not to settle, and I was right to argue. Because they really were telling white narratives through yellow faces. That show didn’t challenge anybody. It was historic because it broke a wall and we got representation, but representation is nothing. It’s almost just like acknowledging that we’re in this country.

“Boogie” ostensibly centers on basketball, but what is the movie about to you?

This film is really about this conundrum: We immigrate from East Asia to America, and the way we run our families, the way we run our societies is almost completely opposite to America. So as a kid coming of age in America, you have to ask yourself some very difficult questions. I know my parents do things this way, my culture does things this way, but what choices would I make?

The protagonist, Boogie, lives in a violent household, but you’re careful about not demonizing his parents. Is that a reflection of your own life?

I grew up in a house with a lot of violence, and you see quite a bit of domestic violence in this film. It’s actually been toned down for American audiences. It was 10 times worse in my house. But I wanted to use that as the primary thing we were unpacking and examining — the presence of violence in an Asian home. I remember growing up feeling it was [messed] up, but the older I’ve gotten, I started to realize, in an Asian family, love is assumed. In the very end, you forgive all of these things and you put up with it because we love each other and we sacrifice so much.

Our culture and our families sacrificed so much for us, and they would rather we hate them and be great people than love us and not live up to our potential. That is the defining feature of our parents. But I would change the narrative one bit — if there’s one thing America taught me, it [should be]: I don’t care if I’m the bad guy, I just want you to be happy. They’ve equated success and social standing with happiness, and they’re completely disconnected things.

In your mind, were you writing the film for your own community?

When I write this, I do feel the power of 5,000 years of culture running through me. [Laughs] I really do feel, like, “by us, for us.” But I have that mentality because my entire life, older Chinese-Taiwanese people, they understood me. Younger ones were always like, he’s more into Black culture, he’s not Boba Asian. I really relate to old values and I’m not the most accepted by my own community. I think that my community [is interested in] me because of my success, not because of who I am. I definitely don’t think they like how I wade into other cultures.

Why do you think you’re not entirely accepted by your own community?

I think every community makes race for immigrants so binary. If you adopt some American traits, and you open yourself up to different cultures, you’re not Chinese, you’re not Persian, you’re not Black. It’s very prefixed. No substitutions. “Boogie” is a film about a kid who’s clearly raised in a very Chinese-Taiwanese home with insane values, but he’s decided to choose basketball as his craft. His girlfriend is Black, his best friend is Dominican, he plays in downtown New York — he made choices. He’s like, I’m going to order à la carte and fill my Lazy Susan with the things I want.

That questioning about identity comes up a lot in the film. The director Justin Chon recently took part in a round table I held and talked about seeing a lot of projects in development that overly emphasize the idea of being Asian. Do you worry your questioning in this film might read as exoticization in that way?

I know and understand Justin’s frustration. I hang with Justin, but I learned a few years ago, just do you. I love Justin because he’s genuinely curious, and we always have been when there wasn’t money in this.

I won’t name names, but there’s a person in your [round table], where the first time I met that guy was the year “Fresh Off the Boat” got picked up, and he said to me, “I had no idea you could make money telling Asian stories — that’s crazy, thanks man! I’m going to get into it, too.” It was just so flippant, and I was like, I don’t think he even realizes how insulting that is, not just to me, not to our culture, but to himself. That he never thought his stories were good enough.

This was the late rapper Pop Smoke’s acting debut, and you cast him at a time when he was on the rise. Did he have a sense of his impending superstardom ?

[His hit] “Dior” came out around the time we started shooting with him. It was really bananas to watch him just become the king of New York during production. I was telling him, you need to buy a house, move to New Jersey, do some rich people [stuff]. In between scenes, he was just in his trailer making up dances, like the “Woo” dance. He’s just a kid and it was all happening around him, and he was adjusting to it. And he had no fear of it — he had no fear of anything. He was never overwhelmed. It was, like, humorous to him.

You cast your own mom in a small role as a fortune teller. What did your parents think of the movie?

I played them the director’s cut in my house. They were sitting on the couch, and after the movie was over, it was very somber. It was quiet for a solid 20 to 30 seconds. And then I just saw my mom nod. My mom felt really good. My dad’s like, “I understand. You did really good. I’m just very proud of you because I also feel like you understand me.” It was so emotional for the three of us. We didn’t hug. When they see that final scene, they’re like, Eddie knew we loved him. And I think that mattered the most to them.

It sounds too obvious, but is it? You may know that you want to "make it" in the music industry, but what exactly does making it look like?

Focus on short-term goals first. If you're a musician who has never played a show before, maybe getting an opening slot at a local show within the next three months is your first objective.

If you would like to start a label, choosing a name and doing the paperwork required to start a business within the next six weeks is a good first step.

It doesn't matter if you're further along in your music career or just starting out - whatever you need to do next requires the first step. Identify it. Then identify the next few steps after that.

Once the paperwork is done, for instance, will you sign your first artist? Figure out exactly what you'd like to complete in the next twelve months, break it down into steps, assign yourself deadlines for each step, and then, most importantly, do it.

Having small goals and accomplishing them will feel a lot more productive than spreading your attention to a million little half ideas you sort of try to see what will happen. And it will feel more productive for a good reason - because it is.

Idea 2: "Brainwriting"

Typically, brainstorming is thought of as a group spoken activity. But what if we’ve got it wrong? Current research shows that group interactions, like brainstorming, can actually inhibit idea generation. That makes sense when you think about it. While waiting for a fellow team member to make a point, you might miss the chance to express your own flash of inspiration. Group brainstorming sessions are also inherently restrictive, given that only one person at a time “has the floor.”

In any group dynamic, there tend to be individuals who dominate the conversation, but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them the person with the best ideas. This imbalance in communication can prevent the best ideas from being considered or even heard.

In this context, a Hofstra University study suggested a possible solution: brainwriting. Rather than speaking, individual team members write down their ideas before sharing them with the group. The intention is to engender the simultaneous written generation of ideas.

Depending on the size of your team and what you are trying to achieve, there are many different methods of brainwriting. One of my favorites is the 6-3-5 method. This involves teams of six individuals writing down three ideas each to help solve a specific problem in a five-minute span. Spontaneity is still encouraged, but each team member is given equal opportunity to share his or her ideas.

After each “session” is complete, the 6-3-5 form is passed in turn to adjacent team members, who either elaborate on each of the three ideas or add new ideas of their own. This has proven to be an effective, structured method of generating useful ideas quickly. A video tutorial for 6-3-5 is available here.

Watch the video: Advice To Low Budget Filmmakers Dont Call Yourself That - Jason Satterlund

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