I've lost track of how many times I've been told I'm lucky to make a living as a filmmaker. Apparently its a tricky business that's more about connections than skill and perseverance. Maybe it's just coincidence, but the harder I work the luckier I seem to get... but perhaps they're right. After all, I'm not exactly a natural talent - it took me three years to get my first professional commission as a screenwriter and five years to secure the finances for my first short. And even today, after working in the business for nearly eight years I still feel envious of new talent.
People are generally even more surprised when I tell them that I'm completely self taught. They wonder how I've managed to make a living without going to film school. I try to explain: "One, I live a very modest life. And two, anybody can do what I do!" My statements are usually greeted with a doubtful smile and curious eyebrow raise.
But I'm not lying, literally anybody can make a career as a filmmaker. The networking thing certainly helps, but it's a trainable profession like any other. Granted, some people seem to be born with some kind of creative gene; however, they're few and far between. Most have to hone their skills over time. In fact, I think it's quite insulting to call anybody a natural talent. If anything it belittles their ongoing quest for perfection and previous struggles.
So how did I become a filmmaker without professional training? I simply started recording and selling stock videos.
Stock footage may not be the most glamorous sector of the business, but it's an extremely lucrative industry that will always be in high demand. Just think of all the new and emerging companies out there looking for the perfect shot for a promotional video or advert; or movies that enter post production only to discover they're lacking crucial establishing shots. Hiring a film crew isn't exactly cheap. And while a single royalty free clip can cost up to $150 (roughly £120), or $100 per second if it's exclusive rights (roughly £80), it's certainly a heck of a lot cheaper than filming from scratch.
So if you're an aspiring filmmaker and want to learn the craft and earn some pocket money along the way, here are my top three tips:
Look at Your Personal Video History
Whether we realize it or not, we are all content creators. Just think about the last time you took out your smart phone and hit record: a friend's birthday, a beautiful landscape, a plane flying in turbulence - all of these videos can be monetized. In fact, sometimes it's the amateur clips that have the most charm, so it really doesn't matter if you have the latest cinema camera or lenses. Besides, modern smart phone video capabilities are pretty amazing these days. Take a look at all of the footage you've shot through the ages and I'm sure you'll find something that'll make the grade. If you've got some B-roll lying around from a previous shoot, even better!
Think About Your Platform
If you're after some pocket money consider signing up to a stock video website - Video Blocks and Shutterstock are great starting points. While you won't become rich overnight, they will give you a pre-built platform to build upon. If you'd prefer setting your own prices and going it alone, build a website. Whizz Hosting recommends aggregating your videos with a streaming site like YouTube (make sure they're watermarked!) if you want to save yourself the bandwidth and reduce your upkeep costs. When launching your own stock footage website it's best to specialise in a specific sector rather than having a broad bank of videos. For example, my first website was focused purely around coffee. This helped me rank in the search engines when people were scouring Google for latte art and brewing closeups.
You need a bank of videos. While quality is far more important than quantity, you will need at least a couple hundred decent videos to your name. It will take time to turn your stock footage into a viable business, but if you stick to a daily routine there's no reason why it won't become a reliable source of residual income.
There you have it, a simple way to make a living as a filmmaker and learn the tricks of the trade. What's great about shooting stock video is that you can resell royalty free clips over and over again; therefore, when you feel ready to venture out into the real world and seek commissions, you can keep making pocket money on the side. So go out and get shooting!