Filmmaking challenges: 3 things that may get in your way

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In our 30+ combined years of experience, we’ve faced countless filmmaking challenges. It seems like it should be so simple: work hard, make good art, be nice to people, and all the pieces will fall into place. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. There are so many road bumps that filmmakers come up against as they try to get their movies made. Here are a few of the filmmaking challenges that we’ve come across, and a few ideas for how to work to overcome them. I want to note that many of these are systemic challenges, so I don’t have an easy hack to get around them, but I certainly have thoughts on how to make your filmmaking journey feel more possible.

#1: lack of funding.

The state of independent film funding is, simply put, extremely depressing. It’s hard to see blockbuster movies getting marketing budgets that are millions of dollars more than your entire film’s budget. Even microbudget filmmaking is expensive and difficult to pull off. We’ve totally been there; trying to scrape together a few thousand dollars for a short film, scraping entire scripts because they’re just too expensive to pull off, trying to shrink the budget by dollars and cents so we can pay our people, working full time (or more than full time) to be able to squirrel money away for the next film. I think that’s a challenge that most indie filmmakers can relate to.

We’ve written quite a bit about independent film funding. Unfortunately, there is really no easy way to overcome this filmmaking challenge, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions. Learn more about how to make a movie on a micro budget. Teach yourself skills online for free so that you don’t have to pay as many people. You can partner with other production companies who are looking for an investment. Crowdfunding is a lot of work, but it really pays off for some people. This article here covers some of the basics of independent film funding, and we hope that it’s helpful in terms of helping you overcome these specific filmmaking challenges.

Lack of funding can also be a challenge for filmmakers because no matter how much they hustle, pay on film sets is so poor that it’s difficult to pay their bills. We’ve been there, too. Or maybe you have to work a day job (or multiple jobs) to get by because you’re not being paid at all for your creative endeavors. This can be stressful, but there’s absolutely no shame in this; many great artists can’t pay the bills with their art alone. Keep reading for thoughts on how to fit filmmaking into your busy schedule, read our article on financial wellness for artists, and just remember that you’re not alone in this and eventually you will figure out a balance that works for you, regardless of how brutal capitalism can be.

Here are a few resources that may be helpful when dealing with the reality of independent film funding:

  • We update our blog three times a week with free articles that will help you get started in the indie film industry.
  • Each month, we post a resource round-up of our favorite free online filmmaking resources.
  • We write ebooks that we price as low as we can in order to teach filmmaking skills that will help you keep your films under budget.
  • We offer coaching calls where we can help you puzzle out your budget and other production problems you may be running into.
  • Our CEO Raven regularly goes live on Instagram to answer filmmaking questions.

#2: the industry isn’t always friendly.

This is another tricky one, because unfortunately there’s very little you as an individual can do about it. In filmmaking, like many other industries, it can be difficult for newcomers, especially women, people of color, queer people, and disabled people to get a foot in the door, let alone make a living. We’ve experienced it ourselves, and we’ve seen it with many talented, hardworking filmmakers. Then you also have to contend with the people who insist this isn’t an issue in our industry, that personal identity has nothing to do with making movies… simply put, it’s exhausting. Or, maybe that’s not a factor for you, but you’re still having trouble connecting with people who want to have fun on set and make good art without buying into all the toxicity that comes along with the industry. 

It’s not fair, and it’s not something that anyone should have to contend with. If this is your experience in the film industry, I want to tell you that I believe you, I’m sorry, and there IS a place for you here. Here are some tips for finding like minded people if you’re having trouble getting a foot in the door or can’t find someone to collaborate with.

  • Search for festivals in your area, and see if you can attend and network. We always say that connections built in person are what comes to mind for producers when they’re looking to hire, so even if you’re a novice, attending a festival (especially one that centers marginalized voices,) introducing yourself to people and letting them know what you’re interested in is a great way to get your foot in the door. Read our tips for attending festivals, be professional, and enjoy watching movies from badass filmmakers. 
  • Look for online groups. Places like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to build community, learn more about the industry, learn about opportunities, and make connections. These groups can be filmmaking specific or identity specific. For example, I’m part of a queer Facebook group in my local community. Sometimes I post and see if there are any other filmmakers in the area, and more often than not they want to meet up for coffee! This can lead to opportunities, but it can also lead to me feeling less alone, which helps me stay motivated and focused on my art. This is also a great way to advertise your services if you do commercial work; you can connect with other like minded people who want to support you BECAUSE of who you are, not in spite of it.
  • Don’t ever tone yourself down to get more opportunities or connect with other people. When you’re a marginalized person, the whole world is constantly gaslighting you, telling you that you’re too much or not enough. It’s easy to think that part of being professional is putting your identities to the side and “toning yourself down,” but I want to tell you that’s not the case. The truth is, sets where you can’t be yourself aren’t just unpleasant, but they’re also unsafe, emotionally and perhaps physically. I really regret all the time I spent trying to fit in with people who were always going to look down on me. This can be difficult if you have bills to pay and need work in order to survive, but genuinely, you will feel happier, safer, and more creatively fulfilled when you are working with people who actually treat you with respect. If you’re financially able, work on building connections with like minded filmmakers instead of trying to impress people who treat you poorly. This is especially true if you’re looking for a creative partner to collaborate with; why would you want to build that type of relationship with someone who doesn’t respect all aspects of who you are?

#3: filmmaking takes a long time.

 Here’s another on the list of filmmaking challenges that, unfortunately, I don’t have a real workaround for. Filmmaking takes a really long time, especially if you’re working full time, are a student, have kids… sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day. Especially if you’re building your skills from scratch, it can be really challenging to find the time to make a movie. I can’t change that taking a film from concept to post production is going to take a long time, but I can give you some ideas for how to fit it all into your busy schedule.

  • Find small pockets of time when you’re able to work. Sometimes, we hold ourselves back from working on our art when we don’t have hours to dedicate to it, but the truth is, a movie is still a movie even if it was made in ten minute increments. There are lots of ways to fit filmmaking into your schedule. You can wake up 30 minutes early to get 30 minutes of writing or pre production time. You can edit your film for 30 minutes after your kids go to bed. You can listen to a filmmaking podcast while cleaning the kitchen. You can dedicate your morning run to thinking about your concept, stopping to make notes as you go. You can use your commute to work on your film, brainstorming ideas using voice to text, having phone calls with other producers, or straight up opening up your laptop and getting to work if you use public transportation. Do you have a lunch break? If so, how much can you work on your film during that time? Is it possible to carve out an hour here and there on weekends to get b-roll?
  • Ask for support from your friends and family. When I have a creative project I’m itching to get done, I turn to my support networks with a couple of specific asks. I might ask my spouse to help out with a few of my chores while I focus on editing my project, or to watch the dogs while I hole up in my office and dedicate my whole weekend to my work. If you have kids, do you have friends or family members who can take them to the park while you film for a few hours? Sometimes, when I’m really deep in a creative project, I’ll let my loved ones know that I’m not especially available to socialize until I hit my goal, because for the next few weeks my art is my priority. Now, as I say all this, obviously I understand that you have a life that’s full of obligations that you can’t just ditch for a year while you work on your film. But can you ditch them for a week? What will happen, really, if you get behind on laundry for a few days while you focus on your film?
  • Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s hard to remember, because once you’re on set things move quickly and you’re working round the clock, but until you get to that point, you really need to pace yourself. I’ve seen so many promising creators get burned out because they tried to rush the process, or because they set themselves time-sensitive goals that just weren’t realistic. Thirty minutes every day is much better than one frantic weekend where you try to get everything done at once, even if the slow but steady method takes longer. Try to let go of the mindset that you’re in a rush or that you have to meet certain milestones in a timely manner. Your audience will be waiting for you when your film is done, so take your time, take care of yourself, and do it right.

Do these filmmaking challenges resonate with you? What are some other filmmaking challenges you’ve come across, and how do you address them? Hit me up on my Instagram and let me know what you think about this article!

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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