When it comes to learning any new skill, one of the big issues that a lot of people have from the beginning is too much information. We do, of course, live in the information age. We should feel special that we live in such a thriving and ever-growing era, where information about absolutely anything is at our finger tips. Gone are the days when someone would have to to wait until they could speak to someone face-to-face in order to find an answer to a problem.
Nowadays we just consult Google.
But what do we do with all the information that’s out there? How does someone avoid information overload?
Just like kids running free in a candy store, our eyes are oftentimes bigger than our bellies. Even though we know that we’ll never be able to consume and digest all that we put on our plates, our candy-store mentality drives us to grab as much as we can before it’s no longer available.
We have to first understand that the information isn’t going anywhere. There’s certainly not a limited supply and it’s growing all the time.
So What Do We Do?
Where does a dedicated young filmmaker begin the quest of the Holy Grail?
To answer that question, we may want to broaden our scope and add some historical perspective outside the parameters of filmmaking. For starters, let’s take a look back at the glory years of the craft and trade unions to see how the learning process functioned under that system.
Young apprentices went to work under the tutelage of someone who was already working within the film industry. A skilled artisan, craftsperson, or trade specialist. They were both working within the studio system. The apprentice was paid little or nothing at the beginning, but as his skills developed, so did his value to the studio.
Each year of apprenticeship completed earned the young man a raise in pay and another level of rank … Apprentice First Year; Apprentice Second Year; Apprentice Third Year; and finally, in most trades, Journeyman — when the apprenticeship was completed. Beyond that, there was a special designation of Master Carpenter, or Master Mechanic, or Master Whatever the Trade.
The essential structure of apprenticeship training could be compared to the world of martial arts. That basic process continues today, in a form that has remained remarkably similar for decades in some disciplines, and for centuries, and even millennia in some of the older schools.
In recent decades, we have seen the development of a blend of these fighting techniques into what is now generally accepted as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The concept grew from a question that has been pondered by every fight enthusiast – “I wonder who would win between a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grappler and a practitioner of Thai Kick Boxing, or between a Greco-Roman wrestler and a pure boxer, or a Black Belt in Karate against a Tae Kwon Do expert. Man, I’d love to see those fights!”.
Thanks to the Gracie family and other visionaries, we now know the answer – “It depends on the physical and mental conditioning, the appropriateness of the coaching received, and the ability to create and follow the right fight plan that takes advantage of a particular opponent’s vulnerabilities”.
But What About Filmmaking?
There are different styles of filmmaking that a student can learn, depending on the purpose. Studying editing might be compared to studying Judo; whereas studying how to write a great screenplay might be likened to becoming a submission artist. If learning a set of writing skills was approached the same way you approached choosing a set of fighting skills, you would need to first examine what your preferences are.
As a fighter, if you want to learn how to master stand up, then you should choose to study those elements of MMA that stress the use of punches, kicks, knees and elbows; if grappling is your preference, then BJJ or pure wrestling might be a better choice. If you have little interest in throwing blows, but prefer to develop strictly defensive techniques, then perhaps Judo would be a good choice for you.
“But I Don’t Know What I Want To Learn”
Choose what you study based on your acknowledged strengths, as well as (and this is crucial) who you have available to “coach” you. Use the same process to select a filmmaking mentor that you would, in the example above, use to choose a fight coach.
Think of it this way – if you wanted to perfect your execution of the arm bar submission, you wouldn’t hire a boxing trainer as your coach, even though he’s a master of pugilism, would you? You’d be much better off working with someone who specializes in the area of expertise that you have a desire to master. Does that make sense?
That’s how important it is to select a filmmaking mentor who will bring the best out of you. Studying under someone who does not understand the discipline you’re in can screw you up more than having no mentor at all.
The Missing Factor
A key issue that most people ignore is “Who can I access and who can I depend on?” What I mean by that is this – is there someone who has the filmmaking or business skills and experience, as well as the teaching ability that you require and who also is accessible to you, either electronically or in a shared physical space?
I know that right about now you might be thinking that I’m writing all this as a pitch of my own services. It doesn’t have to be that way – there are plenty of great teachers and mentors out there for all levels of filmmaking and business skill. I mention many of that time and time again on this blog.
Yes, I know, we have all of these wonderful resources on the Internet, so why would you want to invest time in getting to know a filmmaker or business-person personally?
You won’t find many things that will improve your skill as quickly as meeting and communicating with a someone who’s mastered a skill or area that you want to master yourself. In fact, when I started meeting and communicating with like-minded people who knew more than I did about what I wanted to learn, my skill and experience went up massively.
Returning to our example from earlier, for a Mixed Martial Artist, there’s no place like the mat to learn a submission hold. No matter how many times they watch a video of an armbar in action, they’ll never know how painful it can be until they’re lying on the mat with their shoulder locked up and some guy is wrenching on their wrist like it was a pretzel. Filmmaking are business are the same way…or welding, or fishing, or even making love…all the videos in the world fail to convey the subtlety behind a master’s moves.
What Can I Do?
This advice can be used for finding a specific market/audience (a group of people) who you want to aim your filmmaking or videography services at.
Here’s what I would suggest in order to find your market. You narrow down your list of what you want to do…I know you have a list. You get very clear about what kind of films you want to make and who you are best working with.
You narrow this list down until you find those groups that you want to build you video production business around. That’s the market for whom (not to whom) you should be marketing your services at, because you understand how they think. You know what frustrates them and what excites them. You know what they already are willing and able to invest money into. You know them because you are one of them.
But What Can I Do If I Have Zero Experience?
A good place to start – as early as today – is to find out who is already working in the market you want to reach. Determine who the best of those are, then contact each of them and offer to work for them as an intern.
Your goal is to serve as their apprentice and eventually learn the filmmaking and business skills through a combination of hands-on practice under their mentorship until you are able to go out on your own.
The apprenticeship concept is still one of the best ways to learn any skill – just ask Donald Trump, Sir Alan Sugar or the UFC.
This is the most important thing to learn in filmmaking…in business…and in life – choose the thing or person you would naturally want to spend your time with because you love doing that thing or being with that person. I believe that most people fail at this crucial first step, and many of them end up in loveless marriages, dead-end jobs and vacuous lives.
That’s my philosophical point for this post. 🙂
Be bold. Follow your heart. Work with what fascinates you, not just what’s paying well this month. Put your passion out there. Tell the world about something you love. If you choose properly, you will never run out of ways to bring something to life on film.
Making the right decision will make your life and your business a joy every day. It has for me. This is what finding your voice is all about.
And don’t forget to invest some thought into finding a unique voice in your market…one that has not yet been claimed, but which could lead to Star Status pretty quickly. You always want to keep that strategy in the back of your mind during every project that you work on. Always ask yourself: “How does this contribute to building my career and future?”
Over To You
I hope this post will help you on your journey to finding your market, your voice and your real passion when it comes to filmmaking and making a living from it. Let me know your thoughts below. I’d love to hear what you got out of reading this.