The Glamorous life of Very, Very Independent Filmmaking…
Life is all about balance, don’t you think?
Being a filmmaker, especially a filmmaker with no immediate expectation of monetary compensation for their work, if we are being realistic…which we must be, I am afraid…is not very lucrative.
Of course this goes against the populist ideology of the ‘movie making world,’ but we know better.
The best we can usually hope for is to not run out of money the first weekend of shooting, or that the people we work with love us unconditionally.
So let’s get real about what a ‘career’ in film really is all about. I have actually just looked up the word ‘career’ online and the interweb has regurgitated the following:
“The course or progress through life (or a distinct portion of life) usually involves special training or formal education, and is considered to be a person’s lifework.”
Good old Wikipedia.
Interestingly enough it makes no mention of money!
This surprised me too I can tell you. I had always thought it a bit pompous to yell back at my kids as they raise their eyebrows at me when I refuse to drive them somewhere ridiculously close to the house because, “I’m working…this is my bloody career you know.”
I now feel sufficiently vindicated…
But still poor…
There is no money in Independent Film.
Once you grasp that truth, then you can focus on making money somewhere else and making films with what part of that money is left, after you have paid all your pipers, so to speak.
So why do I hear you gasp? Well you have a couple of choices.
Be independently wealthy.
Create income streams.
The second option is the most realistic of course, wealthy ailing relatives not withstanding…
Getting, and then sustaining a job that fits into your “I’m really a filmmaker” concept can be a little tricky.
In the end you have to weigh your situation against having enough free time to work on your projects.
Having kids can slow things down, mine certainly did, (I love you Josh and Lily). But they are quite nice on occasion, so it’s a matter of compromise and somehow I’ve made it work, although to what degree I am sure their therapists will have to determine at some point in their future.
If you have mortgages and college tuition and expensive ski vacations that you feel are necessary to your existence, then this might not be the ‘career’ for you. But if, like me, you have fewer vices and less outgoings, you can juggle and you can live in a way that feeds your tummy and your creativity. It just takes some practice.
I know people who work in some capacity within the industry, although I tried that and it didn’t work for me as well. I found it frustrating and all-consuming and it took away from my creativity. but many people can make it work really well. Reality TV producers, or editors or camera, with time off between productions to work on stuff.
But I prefer to make some money doing things that are less directly related. It keeps my creative mind free for my own projects that way. Although I am still in the arts, not a chemist or a mortician or anything like that. I write, I do videography for various short term gigs, I take photographs, editorial and head shots, I create arts workshops with a tour company and I even drive Uber occasionally, when I need a few extra bucks. Actually driving is one of my favorite ways to make money, if not the most lucrative. I drive strangers around LA, they always talk, usually about the most amazingly personal things, which is funny and liberating and gives me lots of material for characters and stories, etc. It also frees my mind up, something to do with having to focus on driving and listening I think…which I find similar to meditation…I’m very calm when I get home and full of ideas.
Don’t feel like you should be making a living at filmmaking right away, or really ever. Think about it, we are lucky to be living in an age when we can buy a camera and make a film without breaking a sweat financially. We can edit it, we can self-distribute without needing millions of dollars or rooms full of people. Sure, it might not be Raiders of The Lost Ark or Batman, but it feeds the fever and, when we do it right, the soul.
You need to understand the balance of life and film and everything else. Once you forgive yourself that you are not making loads or even some money through film, you can begin to create stories that mean something, if only to you. Because if it means something to one person, then it could mean something to another and that’s what will bring you success, monetary or otherwise. Because that is real and that is authentic and if it is also good then eventually someone will take notice and the financial success will come.
Even successful filmmakers make money doing something other than their art. Sometimes it’s even crappy blockbusters so they can use their paychecks to make something brilliant and personal. Anything you do you can learn from, especially if you see it as a means to an end.
Remember everything and use it in a film…
I used to be embarrassed that at my age I was not making my living at my art. But lately I have been looking at it completely differently, I’m not sure why, maybe it’s menopause. I feel lucky, honored even, that I am able to live and work and create and feel as happy as I do, living the life I chose, in the way I feel.
It’s really all we can hope for in the end, to be content, to make something we are proud of and to be ourselves, rich or poor…