Before you can achieve big things as a filmmaker, you first need to think small.
It's no secret that the key to being successful at anything in life lies in your daily routine. Quite simply, when we take small, but not insignificant actions consistently, those actions build up over time into bigger and better things.
It's kind of like compound interest. You put a little money in the bank each month, and slowly but surely, that money begins to grow well beyond the principle.
The same is true with our actions, but the results are even more dramatic.
For instance, if a screenwriter commits to writing 2 polished pages a day (which takes about 30 minutes), they could write 7-8 feature scripts each year. Now imagine if they doubled or tripled their daily writing time, which is totally doable, even for people with a full time job.
If an aspiring cinematographer commits 30 focused minutes a day to studying light and how to manipulate it, their lighting skills will improve dramatically over the course of a year. The same can be said for any other skill on the wide spectrum of skills needed to make a film.
I'm sure you're getting the point. It doesn't take much to make meaningful progress towards our filmmaking goals, as long as we focus and take the right kinds of actions consistently.
But there's just one problem...
We don't spend most of our time working on the things that consistently move us forward.
Think about how much time you spend on things that are related to filmmaking, but don’t actually move you any closer to success.
Maybe you spend an hour a day reading film blogs and industry news. Or perusing filmmaking-themed facebook groups or subreddits. Or watching lots of interviews and tutorials on YouTube.
Sure, you might occasionally learn something from these activities, but if we’re being honest, they’re not really moving you towards success. More often than not, they're distractions in disguise—things that make us feel like we're being productive when we're really just wasting time.
So, what if instead, you used some of that time—even just 30 minutes a day—to take consistent, focused action? And what if you knew those actions would build up over time, slowly and surely, and eventually result in success?
Sounds way better than messing around on facebook, doesn’t it.
With that in mind, here are some ideas for productive daily actions you could start taking right now to move closer to filmmaking success. There are way more of these in my new course, but this is more than enough to get you started.
Idea #1: Actively build and nurture your network.
No matter which path you take through the world of film, you can’t do it alone. So focus on building sustainable long-term relationships with other filmmakers, creatives, businesspeople, or anyone else who you could potentially partner with in a symbiotic way.
More specifically, reach out to one new person, or one existing contact in your network, every single day. Shoot a quick email or text message to see what they're working on and if you can help in any way. Build up a sense that you're genuinely invested in their success, and they'll be invested in yours.
Idea #2: Work to build a few important skills.
Not all skills are created equal. Some have much higher returns on investment. High value skills are the ones that make us more likely to get paid work, or they make our films noticeably better.
Depending on what your definition of success is, identify a few key skills that will have the maximum impact in getting you there, and then start building those exact skills, one at a time.
Once you know the key skills you should be working on, develop systems and routines so that you can improve that skill by just 1% every single day. That's all it takes to get good at something relatively quickly.
Idea #3: The monthly micro film.
This one isn't so much a daily practice as it is a monthly practice that can be broken up into smaller sets of daily practices.
So for a little bit of background, micro films are shorts between the length of 1-5 minutes. If you lean towards the shorter end of that spectrum, you can write one in a week, plan it in a week, shoot it in a week, and edit it in a week. Then start over.
Even if you take a month off, you can still churn out 11 of these things in a year, which will significantly expand your body of work, improve your skills, help you find your voice, and maybe even build an audience if you're proactive about promoting your work.
Either way, the body of work piece is the most important thing to note here.
In the Filmmaker's Guide to Success, I talk about the idea of building up your ideal body of work because it's your calling card. It tells a story about who you are and where you're going. When you crank out quality micro films that contribute to your ideal body of work, you set yourself up for quite a bit more success than if you just spun your wheels for a year trying to get a feature off the ground.
Idea #4: Find your voice with non-filmmaking activities.
Fun fact. When you have a unique artistic voice, it's easier to stand out and get noticed in the world of film. This is becoming increasingly more important (and more difficult) as more people start creating films.
Now, your voice is comprised of two distinct elements: the ideas at the center of your film, and how you translate those ideas into the film language.
For me at least, the ideas are the most important part of that equation. And great ideas come from actively immersing yourself in all sorts of things other than films. They come from other artistic mediums—from books, newspapers, plays, paintings, sculptures, and music.
Great ideas also come from truly experiencing life and getting outside of your comfort zone. They come from watching people, from having unpredictable conversations, and from listening more than you speak.
So if you can build a daily practice around cultivating interesting ideas—whether that's through consuming content you find interesting or having new experiences—your filmmaking will flourish and be far more unique in the long run.
Take this idea of small daily actions, and translate it into your own unique situation
Now, those are some of the things that all filmmakers can do, but this also applies to specific types of filmmakers as well.
- If you’re a freelancer or run a production company, spend those 30 daily minutes prospecting for new clients, or nurturing your relationships with existing clients.
- If you’re a screenwriter, spend that time coming up with ideas, researching, writing, and editing.
- If you want to make a living from your original films, spend that time building an audience by producing engaging content for the specific niche you’d like to serve.
- If you’re a cinematographer, work on your compositional skills through taking a daily photo, or make detailed notes about natural light at different times of day.
I could go on an on about how this applies to producers and editors, documentarians and experimental filmmakers, but I’m sure you’re getting the idea at this point.
No matter what you want to accomplish in the world of film, there are small daily actions you can take that will slowly and surely move you towards success. And if you carve out the time in your life and make those actions a top priority, you will see massive results. It really is that simple.
If you're ready for a dramatically expanded list of small daily practices that can boost your filmmaking success, consider joining me for the current round of enrollment in the Filmmaker's Guide to Success.