Level Up Your Filmmaking, Producing and Screenwriting in 2020

level up your film career

Here in New Zealand, kids around the country are going back to school. Unlike the northern hemisphere, here in NZ our school year starts at the end of January/start of February and ends in December. I was always the weird little kid that used to love the start of a new school year because of getting new stationery and potential to learn new things.

That hasn’t changed much- I still love to learn new things and I believe that learning is an ongoing, life-long process. Currently, I’m in the early stages of learning something brand new: if you follow Sprites on social, you will have seen that I am transitioning my career from publicity and social media marketing to producing. And while the best way to learn is through doing, there are lots of resources out there that can help too.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of handy resources for courses, podcasts and other materials that can help you to upskill your film career in 2020. While the title of this post references filmmakers, producers and screenwriters, the resources aren’t limited to these particular strands of the industry.

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Courses, Workshops and Webinars

You don’t have to go to film school to pick up some excellent insights! There’s lots of courses you can do at your own pace from the comfort of your own home; including courses which lead to certifications:

You can’t go wrong with the courses offered by Raindance. With branches in London, New York, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, Brussels and Budapest, they offer excellent-quality courses with the tutors who know their stuff. For instance, if you’re UK-based there’s courses, workshops and sessions like the Director’s Foundation Certificate, the Deep Characterisation Workshop, and Breaking into the Film Industry. A few years ago I did the Producer’s Foundation Certificate online through Raindance LA and found it hugely beneficial for building my knowledge base.

Another resource for courses and workshops is Sundance Collab. They offer a wealth of courses(usually 4- 8 weeks) that cover writing, filmmaking, directing and producing. They’re pricier than the Raindance courses, but another resource to keep in mind.

Want a quick dose of knowledge? Try their Master Classes. There’s one Master Class per month with a knowledgeable practitioner in the field, and take place online. They’re reasonably priced as well.

They also offer free webinars on occasion, and I find their newsletter is one I actually take the time to open and read because the content available is really valuable.

Speaking of webinars, Stage 32 offer some excellent on-demand webinars that cover a really wide and varied range of topics, like distribution, financing, pitching, directing, and international co-productions (just to name a few!).

And, finally, it’s time to take your seat in class, because today’s instructor is David Lynch. Or Spike Lee. Or Mira Nair. Yes, I’m talking about MasterClass, the online platform where the greats will teach you what they know. The film and TV offerings in MasterClass include Natalie Portman teaching acting, Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting, and a generous handful of directors teaching their craft. MasterClass classes are the kind of gift you give yourself when you want a dose of inspiration and insight from a practitioner in your field that you greatly admire.

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Film Guilds

Your local film guilds can provide great opportunities for working (and networking), including workshops and clinics. In New Zealand, we have incredible industry guilds, like WIFTNZ, which provide workshops covering various topics. For instance, there’s an up-coming safety workshop being held by WIFTNZ which will no doubt have excellent attendance. Membership fees vary, but with some guilds their workshops are free for members, with a very small fee for non-members to attend.

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Skill Sharing

Want to learn something completely different from someone you know? Offer a skill-sharing arrangement. I am about to undertake a few skill-sharing arrangements this year; including sharing social media insights and knowledge in exchange for producing know-how. If you want to learn from someone or have a mentor, think about how you can skill-share with them. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can do it face-to-face if you both live in the same location, but you can also do it via Skype if you’re living in different cities.

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Hit the Books

Of course, you can always find new insights in a good old fashioned book. A few years back, I made a list of Great Reads for Filmmakers you might want to check out.

Cheap and Cheerful Options

Learning something new doesn’t have to break the bank (and let’s face it, when you’re in indie filmmaking there’s not a lot of $$$ to spare)! Here’s some no-cost ideas:

  • YouTube: I’ve found that many of the big film festivals have great YouTube content, including Q&As with directors and actors, as well as the odd master class or two. TIFF Talks is excellent and includes industry masterclasses, Q&As, In Conversation sessions, and more.
  • If, like me, you like your knowledge on the go, think about subscribing to filmmaking podcasts. There’s many excellent podcasts to choose from, but here are a few of my favourites that I have found most valuable: Indie Film Hustle, Screen Australia, Film Threat, and IndieWire Screen Talk. The Big Screen Symposium in NZ have also made many of their talks and masterclasses available via podcast, as have the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Our Blog and Free Resources

Finally, you can find 7 years of publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding experience distilled down into blog posts right here on the website, and FREEresources available for download. Topics include putting a publicity budget into action, how to prep for a crowdfunding campaign, and more.

Why There’s No Such Thing As A Wasted Opportunity

nowastedopportunity

Many years ago, I trained to be a primary school teacher*. I was fresh out of high school, the world was big and uncertain and I chose to go to Teacher’s College. On the first day in our first class, our lecturer got us to introduce ourselves to one another. There were so many bright, bubbly people who were excited to be undertaking the journey. Some had waited their entire lives to become a teacher.

And…then there was me.

I couldn’t tell you why I wanted to be a teacher. I think partly it was parental pressure, partly trying to suppress my real desire to work in the film industry. So I persisted with this path for 3 years. I did well with the academic work, my teaching placements also went well. I was one teaching placement and a university paper away from graduating when I decided that this really wasn’t for me.

I felt like a complete and utter failure. My parents were supportive of my decision to leave, but I knew they were disappointed as well. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do- schools need teachers who are 100% passionate about what they do and can instill that into their teaching. The classmates I had whose eyes lit up on the first day and had wanted to teach from a very young age were exactly what the education system desperately needed (and subsequently they have gone on to have very successful teaching careers).

But what at first seemed like a complete loss was actually a gift. I may not have gained my teaching degree, but along the way I gained valuable skills which transferred over into everything I did subsequently. Even now, the skills I gained all those years ago are appropriate for the work I do in publicity. There’s not a lot of difference between the research, planning, implementation and review of a lesson plan and the research, planning, implementation and review of a publicity campaign. Teaching taught me how to be adaptable, to manage my time effectively and work with a wide range of people. Better yet, when I did a Bachelor of Arts a few years later I was able to cross-credit some of my teaching courses over into my BA and ended up completing my degree in 2.5 years instead of 3.

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a wasted opportunity. Even in your bitterest disappointments, you’ll find a diamond in the ashes. You might have to wait a while to find that diamond (because let’s face it- disappointments are awful and you might ruminate for a while), but it’s there. If you’re in the indie film industry, you’ll know that sometimes productions fall through, you might not get the role, or locations that were initially viable at the start of production are taken off the table suddenly. None of this is a waste of time. A production that stalls or doesn’t go through to post is valuable experience. The role you didn’t get gave you the opportunity to audition and put yourself in front of an agent and director and put yourself on their radar for future projects. The location you had your heart set on that was made unavailable may open the way for a better location.

A few years ago I spoke to a filmmaker whose short was crowdfunding on Kickstarter. With Kickstarter, it’s a case of “all or nothing” for funding, and the campaign didn’t look like it was going to reach 100%. The filmmaker was incredibly positive about things. “OK, we’re not going to get the funding. That’s fine,” he said to me, “but having our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter meant we were able to gain positive awareness around our campaign, so we’ve got a solid grounding for the next steps”.  He subsequently used the data from the campaign to look at what worked, what didn’t and what they could do in the future to ensure they had a successful campaign.

Currently, I am transitioning from working for myself to potentially joining a new PR team and that has meant sending out a lot of applications and getting in touch with agencies. I’m not worried about rejections, because connecting with agencies is another opportunity to network, and at the very least they are aware of me and what I have been doing as a freelancer. I chose to look at this undertaking as being a positive one, no matter what. Eventually, there will be the right position and it may come from somewhere completely unexpected. You can never underestimate the power of networking- there are times when someone will know of another person who is looking for exactly the skillset you possess and can put you in touch.

So if you receive a rejection e-mail, you don’t get a callback or things go kaput on a production- find the gift in it. There’s always some experience or skill you have gained during the process that can be of use later on, you just have to find it.

*= for those of you who are American, primary school is the equivalent of elementary school.