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.

Publicity Prep in Pre-production and Filming

Publicity in Preproduction and Filming

I’m currently gearing up to serve as producer on an up-coming independent film. Wearing both a “producer” hat and a “publicist” hat has allowed me to think about filmmaking with a much wider focus (no pun intended).

Recently, I wrote about the optimal times for publicity and digital marketing of independent films (in that post I give filmmakers a handy timeline), but I wanted to discuss getting prepped in pre-production through to filming even further, because these are the key points when you can grow your audience in anticipation of your film’s release. It’s also a great period when you can gather materials that are going to be a huge asset when you submit your film to film festivals, look for a distributor and release your film.

Whether you hire a publicity and digital marketing consultancy for your film or not, it’s vital to have materials available that can be used for press kits, posters, promotional materials, DVD/VOD extras and further social media content. While it’s entirely possible to do publicity and digital marketing of your film solely in post-production and/or release, you have a better chance of succeeding in having people watching your film and your film securing media attention if you have a solid social media presence and materials available that media outlets can use. Investing additional time in pre-production and filming to ensure that you have these materials will save you a lot of time in post-production and release.

So what are the must-have assets for your film?

A stills photographer: the magic of filmmaking isn’t just in the finished film- it’s in the making of the film itself. Think about how many times you’ve seen well-known film websites publishing stills of directors guiding their actors between takes, fight rehearsals or scenes being filmed with known actors. People love to see films in production. It provides the audience with a look into how the film is progressing. I like to think of it as taking the audience on a journey. Great shots can have the audience salivating for the finished film.

A great stills photographer is a huge asset, as they can gauge what would look good as behind-the-scenes shots. They can also capture great candids that can be used on your website or via social media. Do you need a DSLR for these photos? If you have a smart phone you’ve lovingly owned since 2013, I’m going to say no. There are some excellent models of smart phone out there that have fantastic quality camera functions (like the Huawei P10), but it’s better to stick with a good-quality DSLR as you have better control over things like zoom quality, shutter speed, solar filter for sunny conditions, etc. If you have an experienced stills photographer who is dedicated to photography they will have their own go-to kit that is perfect for the job. You might also want to think about having your set photographer taking shots during table reads and rehearsals as well.

So once you’ve gathered a great collection of stills, what can you use them for? These can be included on your website, as part of your Electronic Press Kit (EPK), and via social media. Regardless of whether you are filming a micro-budget or a moderately-budgeted indie, I highly recommend you get likeness approval of these shots from your actors. You can read more about this in the book Success in Film. It’s something that not only protects you legally, but it also protects the image of your actors, regardless of whether they are a name actor or just starting out. You want what is best for your film and it’s also important to make sure your actors put their best foot forward image-wise as well.

Social media accounts: the best time to set up social media accounts for your film is in pre-production, especially if you are planning on crowdfunding for pre-production funds. If you’re not sure where to start with social media, check out the post about frequently asked social media questions from filmmakers. Getting your team on board with their social media separate from the film’s official accounts is good, too. Encourage your cast and crew to re-post content from the official account, as well as posting their own informal updates. When it comes to informal updates, it’s a good idea to discuss some guidelines with your team so that there are no overt spoilers posted, especially if there’s an element in your film you want to keep a complete surprise.

An official website: along with your social media accounts, it’s a good idea to set up your website early. Your website is like the hub of a wheel: it’s at the centre and connected to your social media accounts. Together, they move awareness of your film forward (I wanted to go with the metaphor of an onion with layers, but then you’d probably just think of Donkey in the first Shrek movie. You’re thinking about him now, aren’t you?).  The beauty of your website is that it serves as a place that is as useful for your audience as it is for media outlets looking to write features and/or reviews. Here, you can link to your social media accounts, keep a production blog, and have a page dedicated to posting features and reviews of your film. I strongly recommend having a press page that includes downloadable PDF versions of your press kit, as well as any official posters, one-sheets, and stills for media outlets to use. The advantage of this is that when you pitch to media for reviews of your film or features/interviews, you can send the link to your press page as opposed to attaching a PDF file. It means you are less likely to have your e-mail stuck in the spam filter, and having everything available on one convenient page makes things a lot easier for bloggers and journalists. I do suggest you shrink your PDFs and JPG images for your website to ensure faster loading of pages.

The following is something that falls into the “would be nice” category:

Video footage: it’s always good to get some behind-the-scenes video footage that can be used on your website, or via social media. You can also use it on your press page, especially if you are looking to generate publicity via your local and/or national TV news outlets. It can also be used as an embedded video for a feature on a news website, which may prove to be more enticing than stills. The advantage of having video footage is that you can also have this available as ‘extras’ for your DVD/VOD release.

Interviews with the cast are also a good idea. For a comedy you could have the cast members interviewing themselves and asking each other goofy questions. For a more serious film, getting the actors to talk about their character and the filmmaker talking about their motivation and inspiration behind the film can be great. If you want to do this, make sure you allocate dedicated time during filming to do this. One thing you don’t want to do is take time away from principal photography when you haven’t planned for it.

As a filmmaker, do you have to be on camera, talking about your film? No. Some filmmakers are keen to talk about their motivations, some prefer not because they find interviewing exhausting. It’s entirely up to you. Don’t force yourself to hop on camera if you don’t want to.

Having these assets available to you in pre-production and filming means that you have a wealth of content available to not only generate buzz around your film prior to release, but it also means you’re not scrambling around in post trying to find things you can use for publicity and digital marketing.