The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do to Build a Successful Career in the Film Industry
By Robert Hardy, No Film School
Right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “That’s a pretty bold title for an article, Mr. Hardy. There couldn’t possibly be one single thing that’s SO important that it could make or break your career as a filmmaker.” Well No Film Schoolers, there is, in fact, one thing that is more important than all of the skills that you’ve put together over the years, the gear that you own, or even your sparkling production resume. It’s such an important facet of your success, yet we rarely, if ever, think or talk about it. And now that the suspense has been adequately built, the single most valuable thing that people can do for building a career in the filmmaking industry is…
Build A Strong Reputation
In the world of freelance filmmaking, where a good portion of your gigs will come from referrals, your reputation is your most valuable asset. How many times have you been on a film set, only to find that there’s one person whose attitude or outlook is so negative that nobody would ever choose to work with them again? It happens all of the time, and when all is said and done, that person will not get referred for jobs, and likely won’t make it in the industry.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you build a solid filmmaking reputation:
ALWAYS BE ON TIME
This one seems like a no-brainer, but for some reason, many young filmmakers are lackadaisical with their time keeping. When you show up late (even if you have a good excuse), it shows that you lack professionalism, and when it comes time for the next round of hiring, you’ll be out of luck. So, if you have an early call time, set multiple alarms. If you think there might be bad traffic or nasty weather, always make sure to budget extra time to get there. No matter what, get to set on time.
This tip goes deeper than being on time, however. Instead of just showing up on time, get there 15 minutes early. And when you arrive early, find ways to get to work and be productive. This shows initiative and makes you stand out from the crowd in a good way. Just make sure you’re always sure of what you’re doing, even if that means clearing it with a department head first. If you’re an art department PA and you show up early and start building the camera, then you may be hard pressed to find work ever again.
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
I can’t stress this tip enough. I’ve worked with some fantastically talented people over the past few years who I would never choose to work with again, despite their talent or their knowledge, because they had a crappy attitude on set.
The bad attitude comes in a couple of different forms.The first one is straight-forward negativity. When someone starts talking about how the equipment sucks or how the production isn’t up to their standards, it sends a message that they’re not committed to the project. Even when productions aren’t going well, if you can maintain a “glass half full” attitude and emanate positivity, you will stand out from the crowd and bolster your reputation.
The next kind of bad attitude is the absolute worst thing that you could ever do on a film set: Don’t talk shit about your colleagues behind their backs. This is a sure-fire way to not only lose the respect of your peers, but also their trust. How can you trust someone who’s constantly disparaging people behind their backs, and how can you be sure that they’re not talking behind your back as well? You can’t. If it’s necessary to criticize someone’s performance, do so with a constructive attitude and lend a guiding hand.
STRONG WORK ETHIC
Everyone knows that having a strong work ethic is key to building a good reputation. However, working hard is only half of the battle. You also have to work smart. If, for some reason, you work hard for 20 minutes wrangling a 100 foot bates cable, then you’re not working smart. Learn how to do various tasks quickly and efficiently, and people will notice that you’re pulling more weight and being more productive than other people at your position.
The best possible tip for working smart is to always be prepared. This breaks down into two separate categories. First, you always need to be prepared with the requisite knowledge to carry out your craft to the best of your ability. That means studying in your spare time. If you’re an AC, make sure that you have an immaculate understanding of the particular camera and lenses that you’re using for your next shoot. If you’re a grip, familiarize yourself with all of the gear that will be on the shoot and touch up on rigging theory and various knots and whatnot.
Secondly, you can always be prepared by having the right tool for the job. If you’re an AC, that means having a tool kit with every tool that you could possibly need to complete your tasks quickly, and having the proper tool set for various types creative problem solving. The same goes for every other position on a set. However, since filmmaking tools are not particularly cheap, newcomers should at least come prepared with a multi-tool of some sort and a good pair of durable (and heat-resistant) work gloves. Then as the paychecks start coming in, start picking up the pieces for a full filmmaking tool-kit — like these from this The Black and Blue video:
HUMILITY IS KEY
This is one of the reasons why I love Roger Deakins so damn much. Despite the fact that the guy is one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, he is constantly working to create better images. And, in my opinion, it’s this sense of humility that really pushes Deakins to the next level. He never phones anything in despite his prestigious status. He’s always learning and trying new things and doing a hell of job.
So, when you’re on a set, make sure you check your ego and your “I already know everything” attitude at the door, because every set is chock full of learning experiences for everybody involved.
JUST BE NICE
This one is along the same lines as the attitude section, but it’s a bit broader. Just be an amiable and likable guy (or girl). Have a strong handshake and greet people with a smile. Have fun and joke around on occasion, but don’t let it distract from your work. Say “please” and “thank you,” and give off the vibe that you’re legitimately grateful to be doing what you love for a living. Show respect to both your superiors and the people under you.
So there you have it, folks. Putting these ideas into practice will certainly help you develop a stellar reputation, and as a result, you’ll bolster your chances for being gainfully employed for years to come in a tremendously difficult industry. This stuff isn’t rocket science, and it can make all the difference in the world.
What do you guys think? Is your reputation your most valuable asset as a filmmaker? What are some of your tips for building an excellent filmmaking reputation? Let us know in the comments!
- How You Can Use Skype to Help Build Your Film Career (blogs.skype.com)
- The Future of Film Discovery Part II: Independent Films (socialfuturecinema.wordpress.com)
- Film Illiteracy (goodbadeducation.wordpress.com)
- Short Films or Feature Films (newurbancinema.wordpress.com)