NY Resolutions For Filmmakers

Okay guys it’s 2012 and time to set those new business goals, and establish new game plans that will allow you to rock it out harder than ever this year. All the past projects that failed or never got off the ground are behind you, and there is no going back. That’s right 2011 is dead and gone for forever. Now is the time for moving onward. Here are my ten top resolutions for filmmakers in 2012 that will help you increase your potential and hopefully your bottom line.

1. Make Money
Okay so I know this doesn’t sound very fun or artistic and creative, after all that is why you are doing this right, to create your art? Well before you throw that mug of coffee through the computer screen, just hear me out. It is time to decide once and for all wether or not production is going to be a career choice or a hobby. The cold reality is we all have bills to pay, and I’d rather pay mine doing something I love instead of punching in the ole time clock. So what it’ll be? Now that’s not to say you can’t have fun on the side, but if you are going to run a viable business then some things need to change this year. Start with accounting. Learn it and track income and expenses for every project, and client. You need to have a traceable paper trail for every client. Learn to do proposals, treatments, and contracts. Providing proper paperwork ads accountability, legal insurance, and credibility for your business. It cost only time to do so there really is no excuse. The goal of making money will empower you to run a real business, even as a freelancer you need to turn real profits. This will accomplish several things:

1. Remove much of the day to day stress of life.
2. Instead of working multiple jobs you can focus more time and energy on the one you love. In return will make you better at what you do.
3. You will now have the resources you need to pursue those personal projects you really want to do. That’s your chance to play, experiment, and have fun.

You need to be careful not to become a slave to the bottom line as well. Working 70hrs a week is okay for a time, but it’s a recipe for creative burnout! There is more to life than just money. Find balance. For more on finding the balance in creating profit check out this great post on the topic by Ron Dawson.

2. Learn To Light
Maybe the easiest way to ad production value to your work, and earn new jobs is to learn everything, every chance you get about lighting. Be intentional about it, watch and study films, do workshops, volunteer on qualified sets, talk to other shooters. Above all else just start being specific about the way you approach lighting. Good lighting fundamentals will always improve your projects. Cameras and camera technology come and go, but lighting is something that you will find useful forever. The jedi DPs of cinematography will tell you that you never really “master lighting” but rather it is a continually evolving learning curve. Dedicate yourself to that learning process, and you will be better because of it.

3. What Did You Do Wrong?
One of the most useful things I do after every project is a “postmortem”analysis. This means analyzing the entire project from beginning to end, concept to post. We analyze what we did right, but most importantly we look at what we did wrong. Where did crew communication breakdown? How could I have better facilitated proper communication? Did I empower people to succeed in their job functions? What creative decisions did I make that didn’t work? What style decisions were inappropriate for the project? You should know and be able to identify first and foremost where your own mistakes are. Trust me everyone else will be more than willing to point them out for you. If you can’t identify your own mistakes then you are either a genius that needs to be working elsewhere, or more likely, you are too arrogant to think you made any. I make mistakes in nearly every project I do. Now that doesn’t mean those projects are trash, far from it. It simply means there are things I can learn to do better, cleaner, or more efficiently.

4. Never Quit Learning
When I first started in production an old school film guy said, “Never quit learning, I don’t care how long you do this. The moment you quit learning you are dead in the water.” Wow, what an absolutely true statement. Never be so arrogant as to think you can’t learn from someone beneath you. My goal on every job I work on, despite crew position, is to walk away having learned something I didn’t know before. I don’t care if I’m directing, or gaffing. I’m willing to learn from everyone on set from the PA’s to my AC, or gaffer. It can be something simple such as a grip doing a rig in a way I have never seen before. I had a PA once show me how to make a water bottle holder from gaff tape. Commit yourself to never be above being teachable, and you will grow exponentially as both a person and filmmaker.

5. People Over Projects
This is a personal mantra I try to live by, and sometimes it is very hard. Essentially what I mean by this is that people, especially friends, are always more important than projects. When the project is finished and everyone has moved on; it is those relationships that will last. I never want to sacrifice relationships or people to get a project done. Now, I realize that this is inverse from much of the production world. Most of the time it is dog eats dog, and everyone gets sacrificed along the way for the sake of the project. I have simply decided I’m not willing to do that. Perhaps that may mean I will never work at a certain level because of my inability to do that. If that is the case then I’m fine with that. Relationships with people should be preeminent over projects. Relationships are the basis for good people, and good people working together will always produce better work. Strive to build and keep great relationships with great people in 2012 even if sometimes it means taking a hit on the project.

6. Just Because You Can
Buck the trend to do something simply because you can, as we all know that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Whether shallow DOF shots, crazy handheld, or a fog machine, we all have the propensity to stop at a default solution to a creative problem. Never stop at the first most obvious solution, push yourself to find at least one or two more approaches that might work. Usually, one or two things will happen. You will find a better solution, or you will be further convinced that first solution was indeed the best. Only by pushing yourself past the obvious can you begin to discover the truly creative. Educate yourself on the rules, this doesn’t mean you always have to live by them. However, if you know the rules and conventions, then you can break them intentionally. Not knowing the rule is never an acceptable excuse for incompetence masquerading as originality. (ie..I didn’t know what white balance is so I made the whole film black and white.) Make specific, educated decisions in your work, it shows.

7. Have Stupid Filters
Cultivate relationships with people you trust who you can bounce ideas off. These should be people who can offer brutally honest feedback that you will listen to. I call these people my “stupid filter” Their job is to filter my ideas and keep me from implementing one that is really dumb. Now if you know me, then you know that obviously some dumb ideas still slip through the cracks. So clearly we are still refining the system. These people help broaden my perspective on a concept, identify problem areas, and offer constructive criticism. Having these relationships can help circumvent problems before they occur. I will also have these same people give feedback on the finished project. Again, brutal criticism should always be welcome. Remember if you aren’t honest with your work the general public will be. There is far too much content produced these days to avoid public criticism.

8. Write
This year set aside some time to do some writing. It doesn’t have to be the next oscar feature film, or novel. It can be as simple as doing some personal journaling or committing to write on your blog. The goal here is not so much to become a proficient writer, as it is to become a better communicator. Working with people and crews in productions is a lot about being able to communicate your visions or ideas clearly. Many of us have clearly defined visions or ideas, we just don’t know how to express them to others. Learning how to get your thoughts out in writing will help make you a better communicator. Set aside some time this year to work on putting your thoughts into words. Writing, even at a very basic level will help facilitate that learning process. If you can’t communicate what you are thinking then, you cannot empower people around you to help execute your vision.

9. Done is Better Than Perfect
This year, commit to starting and finishing at least one personal project. Don’t wait on that perfect camera, or million dollar contract deal to do it. Just do it. Acknowledge up front that it won’t be perfect, or maybe even right. Chances are a bigger budget would just mean bigger mistakes. We need to start the learning curve, get those mistakes out of our system. You will actually learn more by simply completing a project than nearly any other way. Your first couple of attempts will suck! Mine surely did, heck some of them still do. It’s okay, that’s part of the process, refer to points three and four. Chances are if you always wait until all the stars align to make that perfect project, next year at this time you will still be waiting. Don’t take this as an excuse to produce crap, you should apply yourself, and do the best you can. Allow no room for excuses. If had only had this, if I had that light kit, dolly, camera etc… Pursue perfection, but recognize that there is more value in just being able to complete a project than putting it off. Finish it, learn from it, grow from it, and move onto the next one. As a director friend of mine says, “Do it again but better”

10. Study Your Craft
The production industry is a broad industry with many different disciplines, lighting, camera op, etc…It can be a daunting task to attempt to learn and master all these different areas. Something I have done the last couple of years is to identify one area of production I wanted to learn more about and made that my topic of study for the year. One year it was lighting, I read about lighting, watched DVDs about lighting, and did workshops. Most of my personal professional development for that year was dedicated to that single topic. This worked for me for several reasons. One it makes production easier to digest by attempting to learn, and master one discipline in depth at a time. Secondly, I learn best by repetition and I found I retained more information if I gave that topic a continual year of reinforcement. A workshop would be followed with a book that would reiterate a principal or concept. Maybe I’m just a slow learner who takes that much pounding to get it through my thick skull. Whatever the case, we need to be intentional about developing our skills and honing our craft. This field is simply too competitive; you simply can’t afford to stay where you are.

So here is to a phenomenal 2012, may all your projects be outstanding, your shots in focus, and your clients happy. Have a great year guys!


9 Responses to “10 Resolutions For Filmmakers in 2012”  

  1. 1 Nels Chick

    Thanks for the kick in the rear! I find that I get plenty of study done, but not enough hands on. 2011 was not a high grossing year for my biz. Time to make some money. Also, I’ve set some goals to write, produce, and finish a personal project this year. Hopefully something unique. FreshDV.com is one of my favorite hangouts, thanks guys!

  2. 2 Nate Clarke

    You forgot the most important…Stop using the term “Game changer.”

  3. 3 Kendal Miller

    LOL But hey, wouldn’t that inherently become a game changer :)

  4. 4 Oakhurst

    “Done is better than perfect.”

    ^ my favorite

  5. 5 Jordan

    An excellent and practical list.

    One question – what books did you ready during your “lighting year”?

  6. 6 Jordan

    *read

  7. 7 Sarah Eshelman (@sarahedits)

    Your last point about repetition is great. I’ve invested in classes and reading that I forget within a few months because it wasn’t drilled in multiple times. Esp. as a film school grad, it’s easy to write off “Oh I learned that in school,” but the key question is how well do you REMEMBER the actual material in action.

    I second the request for what lighting books you read!

  8. 8 Kendal Miller

    I read alot but here are some of the ones I enjoyed the most:
    “Set Lighting Technicians Handbook”
    “Motion Picture and Video Lighting”
    “Reflections”

    I wish I could recommend some good lighting DVDs but honestly beyond 3pt lighting basics there really isn’t much out there. Would lighting tutorials be something you guys are interested in seeing here on FreshDV? If so what topics would you like to see?

  9. 9 Debbie Colby

    What accounting software would anyone recommend for a novice fillmmaker working lots of different jobs.