Every Sunday I send out an article to my newsletter subscribers, sharing advice and insight on the business and craft of micro-budget filmmaking. For the most part, these articles are never shared on my main blog, but every once in a while I’ll break from tradition and share an article here for those who may have missed it.
The article I’m sharing today seemed to really resonate with the readers when I wrote it two weeks ago. It’s all about achieving your goals as a filmmaker, making room for your passion projects, and balancing your career objectives with the reality of needing to pay the bills and work a “real job”.
Hopefully for those of you wrestling with these issues, this post will give you some insight and perspective as you move ahead on your journey.
So without further ado –
How to push your filmmaking career ahead when you work full time…
Chances are 99% of you reading this are not making a living from your movies… yet. You probably have a day job or freelance to pay the bills, and inevitably your day-to-day work eats up the vast majority of your time.
You might wonder how it’s ever going to be possible to get your film career off the ground, when you’re spending 40 – 60 hours a week working for someone else, unable to push ahead on that film project you so desperately want to get off the ground.
It’s the age-old dilemma that has plagued filmmakers for as long as I can remember. And everyone has a different strategy to deal with it.
For some people, the plan is to grind it out at their day job until they can save enough money to quit for a year. The dream is that they’ll use that year to make their feature and get their career off the ground before they run out of savings.
But whenever I hear about people planning to do this, I almost always advise them to re-think their strategy…
After all, there are no guarantees that you will be able to “make it” within just a year (let alone a lifetime), and giving yourself that kind of pressure will almost certainly effect your work negatively. Decisions aren’t made solely based on what’s best for the film, but what is best career-wise, which are often two opposing forces.
There is also an exit plan built into that strategy. Even though you may commit to a year off, you are also committing (whether you realize it or not) to going back to work after that year is up. And in filmmaking, there can be no plan B.
That doesn’t mean you need to quit your job forever and become homeless until you make your masterpiece… Quite the opposite. In fact, I think you can keep your job, not take any massive amounts of time off work, and push your filmmaking career ahead, simply by changing your perspective on work.
Building a life-long career in film is not about the big bold moves that you might want to take – like quitting your job for a year. It’s the small things… The daily habits you can commit to, that when carried out over time, can have a profound effect on your life in ways you might not even be able to fathom right now.
While I don’t personally work for a company, in effect I still have a “day job” as I run two businesses – my production company and my website. I love both, and they keep me more than busy at all times, which is exciting but also challenging when it comes time to work on my film projects.
Currently, I have close to a dozen commercial projects that I am producing or directing, while also running my blog, podcast, and newsletter. And most importantly, I am in pre-production for my next feature film (WHITE CROW) which shoots next month.
People sometimes ask me how I find the time to “do it all”, but in reality I just have no other choice. I have mentally committed to making feature films, and have prioritized that goal above all else, so I find time each and every day to work on my movie. It doesn’t matter how much other work I have or how tired I get, making movies is the #1 priority.
A few years ago, I was in the habit of pushing my filmmaking aside. I very much wanted to make a feature, but I would find excuses – I’m too busy with work… I’ll start after my next round of commercial projects… I don’t want to start until things settle down… and so on.
But what I realized was, life was never going to calm down. It was only going to get more hectic, and unless I changed my daily habits and my perspective on my filmmaking career as a whole, I would never get ahead.
So I made the conscious decision to make filmmaking my #1 priority. That didn’t mean I had to shut down my commercial projects or my blog, but rather that those would serve my filmmaking efforts, not the other way around.
I made a commitment to myself, that whatever amount of time I would spend working on non-filmmaking tasks or projects, I would spend at least the same amount of time on my next film. That way when things would get busy with my day to day work, it wouldn’t slow down my filmmaking efforts, it would actually speed them up.
If I had to work 30 hours one week on commercial projects, I would commit to putting in a MINIMUM of 30 hours that week on my feature film (or whatever creative project I was working on). Yes, this meant I was working around the clock, but it also meant I was actually progressing with my filmmaking efforts. And that I could sleep well at night, knowing I am not letting my film career fall into the background while I work like a dog to make someone else rich.
And generally speaking, I actually find I am more productive in my filmmaking work when I am also extremely busy with my commercial/day to day business work.
I’m sure you’ve heard that expression – “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. I think that very much applies here. When you get in the habit of prioritizing your film, and you are committed to maintaining whatever day job/freelance setup you have, you get things done. There is no other option.
If a non-film related task comes across your desk, it gets done immediately. You have no time to spare, so you start to develop efficiencies to work smarter, and you leave yourself with more breathing room for your passion projects.
And the same applies when you’re working on your film. You only have so many hours in the day. And you can’t work yourself to the bone to the point that you get sick (I’ve been there!). So you have no choice but to become more decisive with your work, sharper, more diligent, and somehow it all gets done.
On the contrary, try working on your film project when you have absolutely nothing else going on. If you’re anything like me, it will be a slow burn… I get WAY more done on my film projects when I’m also busy in other aspects of life. I like keeping all the cylinders running so I can maximize my output.
All that said, everyone is different and has to find their own way when it comes to being productive in film. But if you’re anything like me, I hope the message from this article is clear – don’t focus on the monumental career steps, focus on the daily habits.
Simply changing your state of mind can be more powerful than quitting your day job or taking any other drastic action.
It will give you an unwavering ability to stay laser focused on your goals, and you will naturally adopt new habits and processes that will allow you to make room for your film projects without sacrificing your income.
So if you feel stuck right now, and you don’t know how you’re going to push your film career forward, I promise you there is a way. It’s not going to be easy, but if you really want it that badly, take some time to really reflect on how important it is to prioritize those goals, and do whatever it takes to get there, every single day.