Many an aspiring filmmaker has spent months, if not years, in Craigslist job-board hell, working for shady productions, at unthinkable day rates, worrying about rent, and wondering, "Why exactly did I go to film school again?" Gone are the days of the studio system, healthy unions, and living wages, while only the long hours and hard work remain. Far too many so-called producers these days believe it is perfectly reasonable to hire a DP with a RED Epic for $200 per day, and fill out the rest of their crew on promises of deferred pay, copy, and the ever-useful IMDB credit (plenty of sarcasm intended). The falling prices of professional video equipment, coupled with the explosion of film schools and film school graduates have made it possible for an entire class of amateur enthusiasts, who have no business being on a film set let alone running one, to create a "production company" out of thin air and attempt to make movies for next to nothing.
In many ways, however, these same changes in technology and media consumption have been a huge boon to many filmmakers, and have inspired an entire aesthetic of filmmaking. Despite my somewhat pessimistic opening, I have truly mixed feelings about the state of the Industry today, and still believe in the possibilities that new technologies, media outlets, and audiences provide. It is the Wild West, where old systems are crumbling and the establishment is struggling to keep up with the new. I find that simultaneously very exciting and incredibly terrifying. So here are a few things that have helped me navigate the dark and stormy waters of an aspiring video production professional.
1. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you.
It doesn't matter if your film has the perfect dolly move or is shot on an Alexa that costs more that your monthly rent. It doesn't even matter that you films are good. What matters is that you shoot them, finish them, and show them to people. Use your $600 DSLR and your friends in your mom's basement if you have to, but just do it, and eventually your films will get good, and when they do they will get noticed. Which brings us to our next point.
2. You can't do it alone.
Make friends, join groups, be social. Filmmaking requires help, and no matter how much equipment you buy, you can never make a goof film without good actors and a few good crew. Go to plays, act yourself, anything that gets you out of your house and meeting other aspiring artists. You never know who will bring you your next job, so be respectful and maintain your professional relationships.
3. Find a mentor.
This is probably the most important advice I could give to anyone looking to pay the bills in the Entertainment Industry. While many things have changed, one thing remains constant: training in the Industry doesn't happen in school, it happens on set. If you want to be a DP, find a working DP to apprentice under. If you want to be a Gaffer, find a Gaffer to grip for. If you want to be an AD or UPM, get a PA or scripty job and try to work your want up to 2nd AD. At the end of the day, the secret to the next job is who you know, so when you find someone who has skills, break down their door to get them to teach you what they know.
4. Play the Craigslist lottery
Craigslist and other job-boards are not a consistent source of quality work. For every 100 gigs there is usually 2 or 3 that are good, and the competition is usually intense. Try not to get discouraged. While most jobs will be terrible, I have met some really great people, even a mentor or two, from jobs on Craigslist. Some of them have even led to regular work at a decent rate.
This is just my experience. What has worked for you? Post in the comments below!