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Categories: Features

Lift-Off’s James Bradley gives us an introduction into building yourself a creative brand or filmmaking style and the 5 steps in making it happen.

This article was originally written by James Bradley for lift-off-festival.com. Use the code AmsterdamJam50 for a 50% discount on submitting to Lift-Off’s Amsterdam festival, which will be held this October. 


The work will get you work, it’s as simple as that. The more work you are creating with a clear filmmaking style and a particular ‘brand’, so to speak, the better a representative may sell you as a filmmaker to some people who want to pay you to make movies” – Stanley Kubrick.

Give your filmmaking a particular filmmaking style. In a nutshell, this is what will give you a career as a filmmaker within today’s global marketplaces. A creative identity, which is easy to translate, easy to sell.

Getting new work is all about selling your previous work as a creative marker which in turn gives the prospective employer a clear idea as what to expect with the project they’re looking at and where they feel your clear filmmaking style fits.

The challenge comes from actually building a filmmaking style…

“My client is a great fit for this project because in the last three shorts they’ve directed, all of them had the same sort of look, and energy, which I believe match your brief.”

A creative brand or filmmaking style is something of its own beast. We have some really strong examples in modern day cinema; The Coen Brothers are a very good Hollywood example, and the work of Chris Cunningham in music videos is too. These and many others have quickly established themselves as a trusted creative output source which the-money can rely upon in getting the work done for a global entertainment market.

It isn’t artistically void or disrespectful to start looking at your own filmmaking style early. As you look into many other forms of artistic output, you see it everywhere, from Lichtenstein to Ted Hughes.

If you want to cross style, feel or substance at any level, it seems almost impossible when you look at any highly commercial achieving artist.


hahaha…I don’t why but seeing these guys together makes me chuckle.

When we take a look at the work of William Shakespeare, it very soon becomes apparent that we’re not reading the same author; Henry V does not feel, sound or resonate at all as to the penmanship of the same soul as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Why? Many have argued that Shakespeare was a pseudo brand built up behind a bunch of ghost writers who needed a collective identity to publish under, in order to have their plays commissioned, but at the same time, maintain anominity and keep out of the public eye. It is said that Sir Frances Bacon wrote the tragedies, Ben Johnson the comedies, a young King James of Scotland (later to be James 1st of England) the histories and Queen Elizabeth the love stories.

It’s just a conspiracy theory, but if true could explain just how hard it is to succeed. Shakespeare, if you weren’t aware, is heralded as a genius, and one of the greatest storytellers of our civilization – because he could never be pigeonholed. Unfortunately, not many people turn out to be shakespeare, but within this is a strong message about expectation which serves as proof to human behavior – trusting what they know and relying on what’s safe. A clear filmmaking style is considered by the money to be safe. That’s how all the big directors are millionaires; they deliver the expected time and time again. In my mind you have three perfectly admirable options…

  • Go for your own style and be employed a lot more and more often.
  • Go against your own style and try new things out, take risks and earn artistic satisfaction, and sometimes money, doing this.
  • Or, may favourite choice, mix it up.

In your strive for creating a filmmaking style and creative identity, try to split between, what we at Lift-Off call the ‘Love Work’ and the ‘Work Work’ – the WW covers most of the top bullet, and the LW covers the second one. The idea is to ultimately make the LW part of the WW. However, early distinction really helps in allowing you to develop your filmmaking style but still have an avenue to play around and mess up.

Another example, from the picture above, JK Rolling, is a strong brand, and a very successful narrative spored through her need to develop characters, complete a story and make a living. Her brand was identifiable globally. The brand was successful, all executed at the right time.

JK Rolling’s next work was released under a pseudonym. Why? Because she wanted to know if it wasn’t just hype and brand that made her successful, but also her craft too.

Sales under the pseudonym were hardly anything to celebrate.

But then when her name was released, the sales in this new ‘unrelated to wizards’ stories sky-rocketed! Her statement was clear, she wanted to move away from the world of Privately Educated Middle Class Wizard-Children, and into the realms of being considered a more mature storyteller. She wanted to change her branding and build strong credibility as a writer.

That is the power of branding. It is so strong that if not harnessed early could be the difference between earning hundreds or earning millions for your art.

5 Steps: creating a brand within your filmmaking style.

1. Filmmaking style. It’s not about repeating content.

If you are looking to develop as a director who gets offered lots of different paid work then mix up the content: shorts, corporate, music videos, webisodes, the cinematic sequences in a computer game…whatever.

Don’t stick to short films about ‘boy meets girl’, spread yourself across the different types of content a filmmaker can produce. Show that your talent and your filmmaking style is multifaceted and diverse – it’s a very employable quality.

2. Filmmaking style. Try and connect your output toward a human response, building your work around it.

This is hypothetical but could be for anything…

“Every-time I watch this person’s work I feel a massive sense of isolation, in everything they do. They really capture what it means to feel alone in the world. Which is why I think this film director is perfect for directing this next……”

Some which instantly spring to mind:-

  • The next Radiohead Music Video.
  • A ‘One man vs Zombies’ Computer Game.
  • A Horror Feature Film set in an abandoned cottage on Dartmoor.
  • A Land Rover advert located on the moon.
  • A silly and extreme example, it’s Christmas, but one which clearly demonstrates what I mean.

We have filmmakers on the Lift-Off network today, whom their work would suggest that they need to emphasise a certain feeling more over others. It’s usually because they do it better than anyone else we’ve seen. They are two, maybe three projects away from having a portfolio with strong enough content to be able to go out there and make a living from doing what they love to do — they’re on the right path and we’re helping them all we can.

If you can be clever enough to evoke a similar emotional response in all of your work, through your filmmaking style, which either highlights a positive or negative feeling among your audience then you are on the right track to building a quality portfolio for yourself and a clear and sellable filmmaking style.

3. Filmmaking style. Visualise your future pitches.

Nowadays most artistic-based jobs are won at the pitching stage. Film, sculpture, architecture, art-commissioning, everything…

Seriously take a second to imagine what your pitch would be like for the work you want to do. The greater the visualisation, the clearer your understanding of your capabilities, and the more effective you’ll be in engaging with current projects geared toward manufacturing that moment in your not too distant future, where you are selling your own, most treasured, filmmaking style for the big bucks.

The most determined people on this earth have a moment at some point in their journey where they decide to take stock, and change direction – resulting in the upgrade from working hard, to working smart. For many, this comes directly from the point they visualise the above moment. Not the Academy Award acceptance speech, or the colour of the ink in the signature of the million dollar record deal. It is inside the moment where they visualise what they need to be, as an outputting creative source, which will be unique enough and capable enough to get every-single-project they plan/want to undertake – which will be done on time, on budget and in the most artistic way possible.

By visualising how you want to pitch, seeing the development of your filmmaking style, realising what you feel stands you apart from others — you may look at what you have now, and plan your future projects to enable you to be that person then.

4. Filmmaking style. Work with different people.

A unique selling point is the professional who can slot into any team at any point and still deliver the visualised/imagined response for the client. The client might be a producer, a band, a company, whatever, they are all still people, people with expectations and limitations.

Like your crew. Like any crew.

Using the same crew on every project seems an obvious way to go. You have the team atmosphere and the personality management down, but it can also be limiting.

A professional who can use any crew and get the same result, produce the same filmmaking style, is always desired over others. There might be budget restrictions, calendar and geography issues – anything like that.

What we find impressive is when a director submits two separate films they’ve directed over a period of time, but where the cinematographer is different, yet the filmmaking style and the creative brand of both films are the same.

Remember, your brand isn’t the “cinematographers-look”, it’s your artistic depth and delivery. Pretty pictures are easy to achieve, a linear narrative told through expert emotional sharing and execution of immense storytelling – isn’t.

5. Filmmaking style. Look for work to do today, that will help you on the journey tomorrow.

Music videos are made in their thousands all over the world each year. A filmmaker with an impressive collection of narrative-based music videos have easily identifiable talent.

If you’re a filmmaker and you want to get paid to direct films, start by building your content, and brand with three or four sexy music videos.

Finding that sort of work is easy. SoundCloud has tons of artists listed, the entire communication and delivery can be done from email, which gives this sort of opportunity a global reach. You may have to do a couple for nothing, or you could land on your feet and be given a budget.

Whatever you do to find work, you will find it – you just have to look, maintaining a realistic hand in creating your creative brand and filmmaking style.

Lift-off Festival Network

The Lift-Off Global Film Festival Network currently has six festivals around the world, expanding to ten in 2016. They are the largest festival-level indie film distribution network on the planet. Articles written by James Bradley unless otherwise noted.

Posted on Aug 3, 2015

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