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The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Filmmakersby Elliot Grove | 6 April, 2017

There’s lots of advice out there for screenwriters and independent filmmakers. Film schools the world over are chipping in too.The question is – which of it is of any use? Who do you trust?

I grew up on a hundred acre dairy farm just north of Toronto and have had no formal film school training at all. I never went to film school. What would make anyone trust me with filmmaking advice? Perhaps my roots is the perfect reason to trust me. Or maybe not. I will let you decide, and I am totally OK either way the penny drops.

One thing that has stood me in good stead over my stint at Raindance Film Festival is my farm boy training to look for patterns: patterns of animal behavior and patterns of nature. These patterns often come in pairs too.

Here is a pairing I have noticed: filmmaking and marketing.

My guess is that three quarters of the films and filmmakers at this year’s Raindance use marketing as part of their strategic filmmaking plans, and often from script stage. But that doesn’t mean that they know what they are doing will work.

What does it take to become a good filmmaker or screenwriter with good marketing savvy? How can you invest into yourself to become the sort of filmmaker that your peers look up to and seek you out for advice?  Here’s the dirty little secret: It all starts before you touch a camera or keyboard.

These habits will work for you in every situation you find yourself in: crewing on a big budget film or self shooting your own movie.

But listen up: big changes like this won’t happen over night. You need to develop these habits and make them good and strong. And like us farm boys, remember that the sooner you start, the sooner you will start harvesting, the sooner you will become a truly successful filmmaker.

Habits of Successful Filmmakers

1. Read the trades

If you want to create work that resonates with your audience you need to know what is going on in your industry. It’s not good enough to read, you need to pore, scour, scrutinise and search for news and trends in the film industry. After a while you will be able to start placing film industry news into context of relevant trends. You can also get really good at extrapolating the future based on historical facts. For example, what can we learn about video piracy and self distribution from Napster? Have a look at the fabulous documentary Downloaded by, yes That Alex Winter.

Here is a nifty time-saving trick I learned a fortnight ago: keep all your favourite blogs, hashtag keywords and websites all in one place using an app like feedly.

2. Use it or lose it.

One of the first film persons I met was Dov Simens of 2 Day Film School fame. Although he is neither a screenwriter or director, he writes every single day. He doesn’t write twelve page articles that are finely polished, or a script a day – all he does is flex his mind muscles – a bit like going to the health club.

If this becomes a daily habit you will be amazed at how many ideas come through the actual act of writing like this article, for example).

3) Curate Content (When It Makes Sense)

There are tons of people curating content these days. In fact, it’s something anyone can do: create an index of other people’s content and then splat it online with some of your own thoughts and reactions.

Successful filmmaker know it takes a lot more than just regurgitating the obvious. You need to formulate an opinion and become a trusted expert in your field.

Now that you are trolling the internet for relevant industry news on a daily basis, get into the habit of giving the followers on your social networks the benefit of your experience and wisdom you have gained. There’s an added benefit too – people will start to view you as an expert!

We spend a lot of time curating contents and publishing it on the @Raindance Twitter account. You can follow us and pick up tips for your own profiles.

4) Network Network Network

Successful filmmakers know that their achievements and success is due in part to those who have taught and inspired them.

Here’s how filmmakers become successful filmmakers: They accept the fact that there is more to learn than they already know. They accept that there are always new ideas and new ways at looking at things.

Get the networking habit. There are countless opportunities. Spend some time on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to check out who the thought leaders are in your industry and follow them. Learn how successful filmmakers manage their online reputation.

Ease into face to face networking and get good at it even if it means meeting your mates at the pub. Face to face networking is a wonderful way to expand your circle of influence.

5) Question Everything

Successful filmmakers are curious by nature. They have to be, for each film is a complex new puzzle that needs to be fitted together carefully. Filmmakers also learn to question the knowledge they already have. It is this curiosity that makes successful filmmakers interesting. It’s the way they approach age-old problems with new solutions. This is what gets filmmakers on the radar.

One technique successful filmmakers use is to continually question the status quo. Taking a contrarian view, or playing the devil’s advocate allows you to start to think critically about the story you are trying to tell or the film you’re trying to finance and produce.

What other habits or suggestions do you have for people who want to hone their filmmaking skills? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t be shy – your opinion is important.


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