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Indie Filmmaker? Want a career in film? Then why aren’t you already working in the film industry…

This article was originally written by James Bradley for lift-off-festival.com. 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. 

With each event spread throughout the year, the festivals take separate submissions for each Lift-Off via their submissions partner FilmFreeway. If you wish to submit please click this link to their website, using submission code CityofAngels, to get 50% off of submissions for the next film festival Los Angeles Lift-Off – coming on the 25th to the 29th of August.

It doesn’t make any sense that a wannabe radio disc jockey sits at home doing regular podcasts to 150 followers a week, while working a job as a spreadsheet-­janitor for some business somewhere. Consider that there are actually nearly a thousand radio stations (local and national) in the UK alone, who are always on the hunt for fresh talent in many positions where on the run of that particular career path will be the position of ‘Radio DJ’. What’s the point of any aspiring professional to not actually have a working life in the industry they wish to succeed within?” — Ben Pohlman – Lift­-Off International Film Festival Network Co­Founder.

Selling you a lie.

work-in-the-film-industryThe new Star Wars trailer was released recently. As a sparkle in my fathers eye in the 70’s and a child of the 80’s, I know how significant, culturally, Star Wars was for the modern era. My eldest brother who went to see the very first films release back in 1977 said that at the time before: there were only John Wayne Westerns, comedies like Gone with the Wind, and films he couldn’t see because of age restrictions and limited access to a decent picture house.

For those of us who remember the queues to watch the first ever Jurassic Park, think bigger, a whole lot bigger when it comes to Star Wars

In the years between 1975 and 1977 there had only been two massive releases of any particular note, this was Jaws – which my bro couldn’t go and see (too young) – and Star Wars, which in the UK was given a Universal (no age restriction) classification – despite the burnt skeletons!?!?

This was the birth of the all-access transcending blockbuster – never before had there been a world release so massive, with merchandise, and a motion picture-led franchise which would span nearly fifty years. What made Star Wars so successful was its brilliance: it had a building and complex romance (unlike Avatar), humour (unlike Avatar), heroic characters including strong non­-wishy­-washy female characters (unlike Avatar), ultimate protagonists (unlike Avatar), special effects which were earned (unlike Avatar), a narrative circling the story through generations of a single family (unlike Avatar), animatronic modeling and amazing puppetry (unlike Avatar), a majestic religion with heaps of back-­story (unlike Avatar), exceptional acting (unlike Avatar), a wonderfully-composed classical music soundtrack (unlike Avatar), it was rammed with imagination from start to finish (unlike Avatar), and it started with the best hook ever written, ever…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…


Citizen Kane.

On-Tatooine-star-wars-a-new-hope-12499963-970-437 If you don’t get Star Wars, I’m of the belief that you simply haven’t given it a chance and this is probably due to the fact that’s in space, it has laser blasters, you’re confusing it with Star Trek and, you think, it’s some kind of boyish macho thing – it isn’t – it’s exceptional – and we can all relate to it, if only we sat down properly, cleared our mind of prejudice and watched Episode Four: A New Hope – on our own – with no distractions.

It showed the world that cinema tickets aren’t the only revenue stream a film franchise can muster. It crossed product and shop floors, as it did genre loyalty and stigma. It went far beyond science fiction and it spurred an entirely massive evolution of what we have today in Hollywood.

It created everything that Hollywood now is…and I wish it never happened.

Hollywood is ran by a type of mafia which statistically is almost impossible to penetrate.

Here are some numbers…

According to Google Insights, in the United States alone there are nearly 14 million active searches a day by people looking for film school courses. A marketplace with little to no logic, by what we can find there are around fifteen thousand accredited film schools, all offering filmmaker courses and teaching the craft of directing, cinematography and editing. Talking averages, as these things are difficult to pin down, that’s an average of three year groups, in three top disciplines, with an another average of around 20 students per class, this equates to nearly one million would be filmmakers graduating per year in the USA alone.

Graduating – into a sea of filmmakers the year before them…

And the year before them, And the year before them…

And the… You get the idea.

According to what I can glean from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, last year the total number of films produced in and outside of Tinseltown, all US-based which had a baseline budget of over a million dollars was roughly eight hundred…

By what I can see through the major worldwide distributors, only 18% (ish) of these films produced, gained proper world wide distribution deals & none of the 18% were films made by first-time directors. Whether or not my numbers are exact to the decimal, I’ve only had a week to rummage around, it is still pretty safe to say that the market is saturated.

Around the world everyday a new film school opens, attracting millions of would be JJ Abrams’. These establishments are usually created by people who failed in the marketplace themselves and by being exposed to the sheer volume of wannabe Hollywood directors deciding to parasitically make a living by selling false hope to a few million more. The same can be said for acting schools where it’s even worse, professional photography courses, fine art degrees, musicians and poets. Poets…

Burn the red carpet.

red_carpet_2.0 So, what drives us mad people to scale against such ridiculous odds? Why do we even bother? Are we insane? Are we simply drunk on an idea, obsessed with having our moment? Our red carpet? Our Oscar speech? What is it that drives us on despite it all?



The case is obvious and where there is ego there will always be those willing to feed it. They see an ego, hungry for fame and they squeeze as much as they can, false selling an idea, selling a false idea. One film festival website marketing for an event coming up in the not so distant future… “Book your tickets now. Come along and party like a film star!!” Shocking. Don’t fall for it.

So, what can we do? Well, we can all start by telling our egos to take a long walk off of a short cliff. Let’s all tell our unrealistic dreams to do one! And now that that’s done, let’s actually get down to business and start to work­smart in fulfilling realistic positions within the spaces of the industry where we will get opportunity, earnings and artistic growth.

Nobody, worth their salt, really starts off in a position thinking to themselves, I should be the boss – eta – today!

Natural leaders climb ladders through application, working correctly, raising their status non-­artificially, learning the architecture of their new institution and with genuinely open and respectful ambition. A pathway to work in the film industry is exactly the same, and it isn’t as cutthroat/psychotic as you may think.

The route to work in the film industry has changed. We can learn a lot from the likes of Robert Rodriguez (read: Rebel Without a Crew) and Kevin Smith (watch: Clerks) for instance. Sure, it takes killer ambition and a load of luck to land into the industry as a filmmaker but it doesn’t need to be that chaotic if you took a humbling step back and built your career from a more polite and less deluded dimension.

The best films, more often than not, come to us from runners, grips, 1st AD’s, actors turned filmmakers, professional editors, filmmaking freelancers…not accountants, taxi drivers or construction workers.

Of course we all have to pay bills. But finances are an excuse. Today’s society has tricked us all into living and forging lifestyles around the absolute edge of our incomes, but with a bit of intelligent planning not much needs to be sacrificed in order to develop change in our working lives. You are not obliged to live in any particular way unless you actually want to.

Changing your life isn’t selfish. This is your life. And one day you’ll be dead. It is better to be at the bottom of a ladder you wish to climb than on the middle of one you totally don’t.

A real plan.

The number one thing anyone must do if they want to climb realistically and work in the film industry is to first of all get on as many film industry sets, where they are not the boss, as possible. Inside knowledge is key – and film sets are way more accessible in the film industry than you think. If you are ambitious enough, take time off work this year and instead of going on vacation, go and work in the film industry, on a film set.

It can be any sort of work, from being an extra, to a runner, a producers assistant, a grips — anyone’s. It doesn’t matter what you do at this stage, all that matters is that you’re inside an opportunity to observe and learn.

Over the next few weeks, open your mind to the possibilities around you. Are there local TV Networks? Famous locations where filming might be taking place? Is there an extras agency in your town? Or a film crew agency? Maybe there’s a studio near you, which you could contact?

Whatever you do and however you reach out be sure to pick up the phone. Call the people you want to work with — you’ll be told to email in, by the person at the end of the line, but only if you sound generic will you be given an info@ so use your charm. You don’t have to give anyone your life story but if you need a little help in tracking down the right people, a wee bit of sales/tact/charisma may have to come into play. It isn’t difficult providing you are polite, honest, and determined.

“Work in the film industry” – THIS IS THE GOAL. So, at this stage all you need to be doing is getting through the door onto a film set. Not for career opportunity, necessarily at this stage (i.e contacts, resume and IMDB entries), but for knowledge.

Many of us fancy ourselves as film directors for a few reasons and, unfortunately as mentioned above, it is normally ego led, this can be taught out of us very quickly through basic knowledge and exposure to the realities of the business. I’m of the belief that once we are ego free we can be more creative, more receptive and a whole lot luckier in everything that we do. In and outside of our professional lives.

On your marks.

Starting a journey to work in the film industry and TV: it will be an exciting one, it will quickly give you a better understanding of what to do next in your career and it can bring with it focus and an informed knowledge surprisingly absent in our part of the business.

The majority of films we receive demonstrate that many of us haven’t had this knowledge, in a marketplace totally saturated with ambition, flare, total injustices, mixed creativity, and random talents (in that order). The best advice we can give anyone who wishes to work in the film industry is to learn by doing, but also to do this where the project is out of their hands, professionally funded and applied by people who have been doing it for years.

In a world of ‘America’s Got Talent’, ‘Kim Kardashian’, bullshitty overwhelmingly cruel X­Factor/freak­show competitions, Michael Bay’s and Zach Snyder’s – I’m not surprised that many of us believe we can make it, but the reality is a solid one – it is chaotic and the luck is random – totally random. And it rarely finds pure talent.

Talent has to find it.

Hard work can pay, but by constantly throwing that shite against the wall in the hope that something will stick, you’re going to loose part(s) of yourself. We see it in actors a lot. There’s no need for it. Hard work is pointless without strategy, it is working smart which will enable you to glide into the business, providing that you aren’t on some ‘super­-objective’ to be the next Spielberg – smart people, usually the ones hiring you, can smell that… and it’s ugly.

The most successful people I know, find it effortless, this is due to a simple approach, of stepping carefully, building knowledge, working smart and being really genuinely nice and humble.

It is so important to remove everything else out of your agenda which is ultimately self serving and try to focus your wants into nothing but a hunger for knowledge and experience.

The film industry is a business. The currency of business is ‘success’ and, unfortunately, the industry works only off of that. Success happens mostly as a one off in terms of awarding and championing style and originality – which is why there is only one Tarantino, one Nolan, one Jodorowsky. Finding a unique style has to be organic and it will happen quicker and get noticed sooner the more submersed we all are in biz, with credible work in the film industry.

There is a linear pathway to winning and it isn’t always the same tone. Most of the time all of us have a unique way of finding it. But without experience, one could never be consistently better. Making your own work is awesome, getting it screened at festivals is brilliant, getting it into our festival is even better, but by only having the industry, in some form, wrapped around your daily life, will you ever truly expand into having a ‘professional life’ within it. It can also only improve you as an indie filmmaker.

In summary.

If you are serious about work in the film industry, earning from your film work, having a life within the business, then take some time out right now from your “everyday” and go and actually work within it.

Having a genuine career in film shouldn’t be shadowed by the intimidating billion dollar machine which is the silly­-bugger business of Hollywood. You would have to be blinded by ego to think the blockbuster machine of Hollywood was anything but impossible to penetrate, but with a clearer understanding into the business around it and within it – along with the tasks you set yourself purely to build knowledge – you will get closer than most.

Contact us direct if you’re having any problems and we’ll do all that we can to help you find something suitable to your skills, location and aspirations, it helps to have others having another think for you.

If in the meantime you find yourself in the awesome position of working as a film professional and having the time to build your filmmaker portfolio, bloody let us know! You’re our kind of filmmaker and we want to help you as best as we can to show your work to the world.

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 Jul 6, 2015

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