So you want to work in film? Well, becoming a successful filmmaker doesn’t just happen, it takes years of dedication and honing your skills. 

By Nicole Boyd

Ask any great filmmaker how they made it, and most will tell you by a lot of hard work, a willingness to learn and being able to take criticism well.

Taking a look at some of the advice given by legendary filmmakers, allows you to see a common thread amongst them. Habits that they all share, here then are the five most important habits that successful filmmakers have:


1. Maintain a Good Reputation.

Your reputation in the film industry is possibly the most important tip we can give you to succeed. Reputation is everything in this industry and a bad one will follow you, no matter what crew role you fulfill. A bad rep can/will ruin your career. We’ve all heard the stories about bad productions, unsafe work practises or tyrants/divas on set and like any other workplace most people won’t tolerate that behaviour. You may be incredibly talented but if you’re rude, a constant complainer, or arrogant, nobody will want to work with you, which will make it difficult to find employment.

Part of building a good reputation is to always be on time, be clear in your communication/instructions, be courteous and polite to other crew members (even the extras/interns/caterers), stay on task and most importantly don’t be a jerk.

Having a positive attitude can make all the difference to your colleagues or on-set.

Scorsese chatting with his camera crew, on the set of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (image: Paramount Pictures).

Martin Scorsese sharing a laugh with his camera crew, on the set of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (image: Paramount Pictures).

2. Have a Great Work Ethic.

Like building a good reputation, having a great work ethic will open the door to more filmmaking opportunities.

Keep the production flowing and do your work as efficiently as possible. In other words don’t get consumed with time-eating minor details. If it’s taking to long, leave it until you have more time to work on it or ask a colleague for their opinion. Your colleague will have a different view than you and may see an easier solution. Being willing to listen to advice will be noticed (and appreciated) by other crew members, showing that you have humility and that you’re willing to work towards the best possible outcome for the project.

Stick to your deadlines as much as humanly possible. There will be times when life throws you a curveball and circumstances are taken out of your control. At those times be sure to communicate this to your clients, along with an estimate of when work will be complete. In saying that, when setting deadlines, be sure to give yourself the time it will take to complete the task, plus an additional 50%. That way you always have extra time and if you constantly submit your work before the deadline, clients will see you as dependable and efficient.

Regularly upgrade your filmmaking tools. It’s hard to have a full kit when you start out, but there may be multi-tools that can be used. As your career and pay packet grows, so should your kit. For example, if you work as a sound recordist, you may only be able to afford a cheap recorder at first. But be prepared to look for the best one in your price range (Tascam have a just released recorder, the DR-22WL for around US$150), the same goes for your shotgun microphone. Or buy a second-hand recorder and mic until you can afford to upgrade. You can make a DIY boom pole by covering a broom handle in gaffa and taping the mic stand to it.

Director Lliam Worthington  on the set of 'One Less God'

Director Lliam Worthington using a MoVI on the set of ‘One Less God (image: Nelson Lau/Looking Glass Photography).

3. Stay Knowledgeable.

Regularly read the trades to find out the latest updates/technology for your crew role. You need to know what is happening in the industry and stay on top of new filmmaking trends and tech. As Elliot Grove (founder of Raindance) says, “It’s not good enough to read, you need to pore, scour, scrutinise and search for news and trends in the film industry…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.”

Staying knowledgeable can also mean undertaking new or refresher film courses and studying reputable books within your field. This should be a continual part of your filmmaking career and will help move you into becoming an expert at your role.

4. Networking

You may be an expert in your field but if nobody knows that, then nobody will hire you. In this industry that old adage often rings true, it’s not what you know but who you know. That doesn’t mean you should start advertising yourself in the trade papers, but having a good online presence and an updated website or IMDB page does help.

Go to film festivals, shows or conventions, and take the time to meet new/other filmmakers while there. Greet people with a smile and a warm handshake, and be willing to listen to their point of view.

If you’re not confident to begin face-to-face networking then start to following industry leaders on social media and online. Join film networking platforms like Team ProCreate and Movidiam, along with portfolio platforms, such as The Loop, Vimazing or BeHance.

Remember to always be a part of the conversation, rather than just spamming requests for people to watch your showreel/short film/Kickstarter.

James Cameron champions film tech, often creating new ways to make great film. Here he's seen with a 3D concept camera built with Sony parts, at the CES in Las Vegas (image:

James Cameron champions film tech, often creating new ways to make great film. Here he’s seen with a 3D concept camera built with Sony parts, at the CES in Las Vegas (image:

5. Be Creative

To be a successful filmmaker you need to question everything you see in film. Take the time to discuss and analyse how shots, sound and composition was done on each film that you watch. As Raindance Film Festival founder Elliot Grove, says:

“Each film is a complex new puzzle that needs to be fit 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 get filmmakers on the radar.”

Never stop creating or as they say, use it or lose it. If you’re in-between jobs, then don’t spend your time playing video games. Use that time to update your showreel, or finally create your website. If you’re a film editor, then re-edit your favourite film and make it something new. If you’re a cinematographer, then go out and shoot stock footage to sell online. If you’re a writer, then keep a blog and write everyday.

Keep your passion for film alive, by immersing yourself in the cinematic greats and working out how they made each shot.

Finally, no matter whether you’re film career spans for fifty or five years, always ALWAYS keep on creating.

Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro on the set of 'Raging Bull' (image: United Artists).

Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro on the set of ‘Raging Bull’ (image: United Artists).


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