How to Become a Filmmaker? The Journey of a Filmmaker

Hello! I decided to write a short guide on my experience on the journey to becoming a filmmaker. I had the honor to meet and hear from many filmmakers on this path and this article compiles many wise lessons and suggestions.

Everyone’s journey is different and everyone has different levels of privilege. Although this guide starts in the high school years, the concepts and suggestions can be adapted to your own process.

PRE-COLLEGE 

At this stage, consider joining art/filmmaking camps, groups, and workshops. You can begin to develop your skills and portfolio before college/high school graduation. 

There are many youth filmmaking workshops in town as well as camps and other opportunities. If you can go to an arts high school, that is awesome and will give you a foundation for the next steps on your journey as an artist/filmmaker. 

Make films! It can be with your phone or a camcorder or any kind of camera. This will help you understand so many things. I specially recommend watching tutorials on the internet for filmmaking. There are tons of knowledge and ideas- pretty much everything I ever learned so far as a filmmaker can be found somewhere on Youtube. 


Remember that it takes many tries to make a masterpiece but every piece leading to the masterpiece is just as valuable. They are a part of the process. Remember to be kind to yourself- you are learning, you are growing one step at a time.


COLLEGE

College is not necessary if you want to be an artist or a filmmaker. A filmmaker and artist usually is hired/commissioned by their portfolio and what they can make- even jobs require a diploma, most times they are willing to consider people who have an amazing portfolio. So building a portfolio and relationships is far more important than getting a degree.

College is great for building relationships and creating a body of work as well as having time to experiment and try new things in a safe environment. There will be structured critiques of your work which are sometimes helpful and will teach you to navigate criticism. In some colleges, there are great mentors and they are invaluable. If you find a filmmaking mentor outside of college, great! But if you go to college, you will find many mentors who are paid to be your mentor and most of the ones I met were passionate about it. We stay in touch even now after many years. 

If you do not plan to go to school, I recommend you continue to go to workshops and camps as well as film festivals (there you will find free film panels, moderately priced films, and film festival social events with many eccentric filmmakers). Filmmaking is often a collaborative process and you need to find collaborators who go along with your vision and values. You also need to read books and continue to develop yourself as a person. That means academic and history but also interpersonal and emotional knowledge. Learn how to solve conflict and the language of emotions. FILMMAKING IS AN EMOTIONAL CRAFT. If you understand trauma, healing, love, pain, and all the complexities of the human heart, you will make amazing films. I recommend you go to healing workshops and places where you can connect with your emotional self and learn the craft of emotions. Before you tell someone else’s story, understand your own story.

If you do not plan to go to college, consider working as a production assistant for small productions around town, opportunities can be found on social media and craigslists. Being on set helps understand the mechanics and roles of a film project. Most times, productions are looking for low pay production assistants to help out on set. There are many creative projects that would love to have another set of hands to help out in whatever way necessary. Do not harm yourself or drain your energy on projects that you do not have a connection to because it can be dangerous. Do not let anyone ever bully you on set or make you feel like less because you are starting- if you are being mistreated on set, just leave or find someone who can advocate for you. Filmmaking sets can have toxic energies and there are many that do not, so choose wisely who to work for and how long to work for them. Learning to say NO is just as valuable as learning to say YES to opportunities. “Your NO creates the boundaries for your YES to be authentic” - Adrienne Maree Brown 

If you plan to attend college, you will very likely need a filmmaking portfolio. Some schools do not require it as a part of their admissions process but it is important. If you already know you want to be a filmmaker, I recommend you go to community college for two years and then a filmmaking college for 2 years. There is no reason in my mind to spend tons of money on the first two years of college specially since most of it are basic foundation classes. 

In college, learn, learn, learn! Knowledge is empowering to you and your craft. One day, you may feel passionate about learning and going to classes and doing work at school. If today is not that day, then do not go to college because you will waste most of it. Go to college if you feel passionate about it and if you don’t, then save money and wait a couple years- there is nothing wrong with waiting to go to school.

I recommend going to a school that has a strong film program. Some schools have a film program but they do not invest into it enough and it tends to lack resources. Schools in cities that have a strong filmmaking culture are usually better equipped and resource-abundant such as schools in NYC and California. 

College is great because of the faculty and relationships you will build there and it provides innumerable resources such as expensive equipment and facilities such as studios and CINEMA cameras. Quick tip: When you are in school, take the classes that give you access to the high end equipment as soon as possible. Most schools have one or two classes that once you have taken them, you have unlimited access to the most professional equipment. So if you sign up for those classes early in your college career, you will have access to that equipment for much longer than if you take those classes the last semester of school. 

As mentioned, resources are incredibly abundant in college if you look for them. This reemphasizes that you should only go to school if you feel passionate about it. If you are going to school to just party and not take advantage of what you are paying for, it will be a waste of your life and time. If you want to party and let loose, go to Berlin. 

If you feel passionate about school, take advantage of internships, programs, equipment, and all the resources that will be available during school. 


After you are out of school, YOU WILL NOT HAVE ACCESS TO IT. You will not have access to CINEMA CAMERAS, STUDIOS, FACULTY, and any other resource that is lost upon graduation. Every second in life is incredibly valuable and precious- be intentional.

Hopefully, by the time you graduate, you will have an awesome portfolio. Hopefully, you already have your films presented at a few festivals included but not limited to student film festivals which are a great way to screen your film in a less competitive space. 

POST COLLEGE 

After college, you will find yourself free from school and academics!

Whatever you choose to do now, continue making your own personal films or working on collaborative films with people. You are still growing and have so much to learn about the filmmaking world and craft. Do not be hard on yourself if you are not where you want to be- graduating college is just the beginning if it does not feel like it. It will when you are older. 

From here, there are many paths towards where you want to be and it is important that you continue asking yourself who and what you want to be as a filmmaker. If you already know, great! If not, that is okay. There is a whole lifetime ahead of you. Once you discover who you want to be, hold it dearly and keep visualizing it. Visualizing that goal is super valuable and will guide you in that direction.

So you are out of school and have made a couple films? Submit them to film festivals! Get your name out there as much as possible. Films take lots of energy to make so make sure that once you finish one, you give the distribution as much attention as possible. Distribution is a celebration of how far you have gone and invite others to celebrate with you. 

Start applying for grants. Your portfolio will help with that. Start applying for film labs such as a the Tribeca Film Lab, Sundance Film Lab, and etc. Film labs are intense camps where you will grow as an artist accompanied with the most experienced mentors and talented colleagues. How did Rachel Morrison (DP of Fruitvale Station and Black Panther) meet Ryan Coogler (Director of Black Panther, Fruitvale Station, Creed, etc)? Through a connection they made at a film lab.

I once heard from a great mentor that these labs are CATAPULTS into getting your films into the well known film festivals. For example, a film you develop at a Sundance Film Lab will likely get your film in Sundance Film Festival. Once a well known film festival accepts your film, you will start to receive recognition and opportunities. 

So film labs are definitely a path to your dreams but in order to get into them, you will need a portfolio and solid descriptions of who you are and where you want to go as a filmmaker. 

Another pathway to receive recognition for your work and opportunities to come your way is to make an amazing film that gets into film festivals without the help of labs. If the film is a feature length film, it might be purchased by a broadcaster/online platform. If that happens, you will make lots of money (FINALLY!) and likely, receive on-going opportunities to make work. This pathway has been true for many filmmakers in the past including Berry Jenkins. 

There are many pathways depending on your desired role (director, DP, producer). What is important are relationships and that everyday is a step in the direction of your dreams. Learn, grow, question, and explore! And never ever forget to play-


I hope this was helpful and thought provoking- if you have any suggestions or recommendations on what to add/remove, feel free to let me know!

Von voyage, filmmaker! 

Different Video Lengths for Clients and What For?

VOCAB IN THIS ARTICLE:

Branded Content:

Branded content is a marketing technique that involves creating content linked to a brand. Content includes but is not limited to documentaries, films, music videos, and creative multidisciplinary art. Branded content shifts attention from products and delivers value to customers through emotional storytelling. In return, the viewer associates the energy and values of the content to the brand.

Origin Story:

An origin story is a video that tells the story of how a company, organization, or brand came to deliver its services and products. It often explores the values and roots of a brand to create a meaningful connection with the viewer.

Impact Story:

An Impact story is content that has a call-to-action focus such as a fundraising campaign or a volunteer growth mission for a non-profit. Impact stories tend to focus on how an organization solves a problem for its customers by telling a story from a customer’s perspective.


One of the first questions with our clients is the length of the requested video.

Sometimes clients come in with an envisioned length (ie. we want  5-sec, 30-sec, and 1-minute videos to be distributed on Facebook) and other times, there is a process to determine what kind of video will serve their goal.  

In this article, we will explore the different video lengths, what stories they can be containers for,  how effective they are on certain platforms, and what budgets clients can expect from each option. 

The first question we ask is:

Why is our client commissioning this video? THE WHY. 

If we skip the why and go straight to the what we are making, we are not serving our clients.

Is it for fundraiser? To strengthen relationships with existing clients? Branding? A video to be played at a conference? To reach as many viewers as possible?  

This is not modern art. We focus on function and form equally as opposed to form over function. 

In other words, the purpose of the videos determines shape and length. 

All these different lengths can be adapted to deliver different kinds of stories and content such as product oriented content, branding, branded content, and documentaries. A longer length allows for a slower well-rounded connection with the viewer while a shorter video is more of a fast attention grabber. A metaphor that represents this is the difference between having a in-depth conversation with someone or simply seeing someone pass by while waving at you and perhaps saying a catchy line. Both will create recognition and familiarity but in different forms and at the different depths. We will use this metaphor with the different lengths to facilitate understanding. 

In terms of the video lentos we will cover here, they are not fixed time durations but instead averaged categories. These categories helps us talk through the different options for videos. A video’s length may vary slightly from project to project. 

So let’s look at the different lengths and what they are most effective at delivering:

6 Second Video: The Fast, The Fastest, and THE FASTEE-EST!

A six second video is lightning fast and it has the highest chance to be fully watched by a viewer. 

It is often called a bumper ad.  In recent studies, audiences on social platforms will watch the first eight seconds of most videos. So with a six-second video, we can accomplish the delivery of a short message that is easily watchable in its entirety. This becomes progressively more complex and challenging for longer lengths. 

The message in a six second video can be used for repetitive interaction to create brand recognition. Imagine if a potential customer watches a six-second video ten times on Facebook. After enough interactions, they may feel prompted to learn more about what this brand offers its customer. To go back to our initial metaphor, imagine someone saw the same person ten times in different places, would it intrigue you to learn more about them? 


With that being said, we will always need to keep in mind quality over quantity. A variety of interactions might produce intrigued in the viewer about the product or service but if we sacrifice quality, it could also produce irritation. Many of us have been in a situation where the same video ad keeps appearing but it is so irrelevant and hard to watch that we begin to feel irritated any time it appears on our screens. Repetition does create memory but we want to create a pleasant relationship with our viewers. If the video has a relatable form, not only will the video create familiarity, it will prompt them to learn more about it. 

A shorter video can become a powerful tool to include a catchy and well placed memorable brand elements such as a jingle, logo animation, or tagline to effectively increase familiarity and branding. 

A six second video combined with a longer length video can create a powerful tool to connect with you audience. For example, let’s say one of your potential customers watches your two to three minute Origin Story video where they heartedly become acquainted with the what, how, who, and why of your organization. Then, they begin to see a six second video keeps them updated on what is happening with your organization or product. Since they already feel a sense of trust because of your Origin Video, the six second video will have a deeper impact on them.

In vice-versa, a six second video might direct them to watch a longer two to five minute video. Through continuous interaction with your potential customer, our clients will begin to create a relation with their audience. 

Has anyone heard the line by Woodrow Wilson: “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” This does not mean that we will take significantly longer period of time to deliver a six second video than a five minute video to our clients but rather, it emphasizes that a shorter video does require more precision in delivering a complete message. Sometimes, this will entail a more costly preproduction phase for the client. 

It is an exciting challenge to develop concepts for six second videos and see the ways that they can encompass story (beginning, middle, and end), grab attention, and reach hearts in a matter of seconds. 

WOOS: 

  • Easily watchable start to finish while delivering a complete message. 

  • Effective at improving brand recognition and familiarity in a short burst.  

  • Delivers best performance on Facebook Ads and Youtube Ads


WOES: 

  • Difficult to communicate fully rendered complex stories (beginning, middle, end) such as Origin Stories. 

  • Harder to reach viewers at an emotional level but not impossible

  • Not suitable for showing at organization or corporate live events

  • Not suitable for an brand or organization’s homepage website content


For examples of six second ads, look at this wonderful playlist someone made on youtube: 

15 to 30 second Video: What is possible in 30 seconds?  

Okay, now we are entering a more roomy video length. 

In a 15 to 30 second video, we can deliver 3x - 6x the amount of information. This is an elevator pitch scenario where language needs to concise and clear. 

This mid range length is ideal for shortened versions of longer videos client testimonials, Origin Stories, and Impact Stories. Often with our clients, we offer to create a three to five minute video that can adapt to shorter lengths. The 15 to 30 second length is one of them because it can serve as a trailer for the longer piece of content while still delivering the summarized version of the longer one. This means that if the viewer only watches one of them, they will be clear on the message. We can explain more throughly the problem and the client’s service. While still holding many of the strengths of a 5 second video, a longer length represents a higher risk of losing a viewers attention early in the video. As the duration becomes longer, it becomes more important to have a solid attention catcher in the beginning; one that would compel viewers to stick around for longer. 

WOOS:  

  • Easily watchable start to finish while delivering a complete message. 

  • Effective at improving brand recognition and familiarity. 

  • Capable of telling a shortened version or trailer of a longer form video (Origin Story, Impact Story, Branded Content) 

  • Could be used for announcements to existing network and clients

  • Excellent performance on Facebook & Youtube Ads & Instagram 

WOES:

  • Not suitable for showing at organization or corporate live events

  • Not suitable for an brand or organization’s homepage website content

  • Difficult to communicate fully rendered complex stories (beginning, middle, end) such as Origin Stories.

1 Minute Video: Whoa, that is a lot of time! Or is it? 

This may be the perfect amount for a shortened version or teaser of a longer video. 

There is  enough time to establish the problem and communicate how a client solves the problem. Within one minute, we can take our time and not rush a message so that it is felt by the viewer with the use of music and rhythm. We are slowly entering the world of more complex storytelling. 

The longer the length of a video, the less it becomes about stimulation and flashy engagement. Longer duration welcomes story, pace, and emotion. As we have more time, we can begin to utilize the different tools available to filmmakers and videographers such as story arcs, music, pace, and the century old language of cinema. We can tell more complex stories that more fully communicate the energy of a brand.

In today’s world where we have seen all kinds of obvious marketing, we are drawn to stories that embody the energy of a brand. Instead of saying “look at our product! Buy it! I promise it’s great!”, audiences prefer to see the product or service authentically coexist in a story about a character who overcomes a certain barrier and obstacle. In these kinds of videos, the product or services of our clients tends to help overcome the blockage.  

Nike is particularly masterful at this. The product is embedded within a story of athletes who overcome the impossible. Through placement of the product within a complex and emotional story, viewers associate the product with the feeling of athletic greatness.

One minute is the ideal length for instagram. Most videos on instagram are around this length but again, the longer the video, the more it needs to engage a viewer authentically.

The video can be a comedic sketch such as the ones made by the One Dollar Shave Club. 

WOOS:  

  • Can contain complex and emotional storytelling. 

  • Excellent performance on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. 

  • Capable of telling a shortened version or trailer of a longer form video (Origin Story, Impact Story, Branded Content)

  • Could be used for announcements to existing network and clients

WOES:

  • Requires a powerful attention grabber or engaging format to be fully watched. 

  • More suited for live events and conferences but still short 

  • More suitable for an brand or organization’s homepage website content but still short

  • Difficult to communicate fully rendered complex stories (beginning, middle, end) such as Origin Stories.

2 to 5 Minute Videos: No pressure, seat back, and enjoy the story. 

So why did we combine two to five minute videos into one section?  Because these lengths represent a different rhythm in story and video. There is enough time to construct a story with a character, a problem, and a solution. Hollywood trailers tend to be of this length. 

In this realm of length, Branded Content, Origin Stories, and Impact Stories thrive and connect to viewers at a deep level. Storytelling craft also becomes increasingly more important and there are few that can tell a five minute story that engages from beginning to end. 

If told by experienced and hearty storytellers, a five minute video can submerge and engage viewers at the deepest level. It can create a long lasting memorable connection to a brand or organization. If a viewer watches the entire video, they will have a familiarity with the client’s mission and brand. They will understand and feel the why, how, who, and what of our client’s mission.


To touch back on our initial metaphor, imagine an active conversation with someone for five minutes, if we pay close attention, we usually tend to understand people’s energy, mannerism, and intentions pretty well. After five long minutes, we usually have an idea of whether we would enjoy talking more with them or whether it is not a match. 

Here is an example of Branded Content:

And an example of an Impact Story:

For our clients, we can create additional videos with shortened lengths (5, 15, 30, and/or 60 seconds) from the content of a five minute video. This becomes a more affordable option for our clients than paying for the price of an individual 60 second video and months later paying for a longer five minute video. 

WOOS:

  • The ideal length for Branded Content, Origin Stories, and Impact Stories 

  • Suitable homepage website material for organizations and brands

  • Creates a long lasting brand familiarity with the target audience

  • Communicates the energy of a organization/brand and its mission

  • Utilizes more complex film and cinematic language

  • Suited well for Facebook & Youtube with a strong attention grabber

  • Can deepen an emotional connection with an organization/brand

  • Can be used in a variety of forms outside of the web such as conferences

WOES:

  • Not suited for short attentions spans unless it is masterfully crafted

  • Not ideal for repetitive interaction with viewers

  • Not suited for instagram 

5 Minutes or Longer: The Art of Filmmaking

Last year, one of our clients commissioned us to document the entirety of one of their fellowship programs for artists. The program would last six months and the final video would end up being over an hour set to broadcast on television. 

In longer formats, it becomes less and less about a product and more about the brand and the stories that an organization choose to support with sponsorship. The longer the duration the farther we move from direct commercial or promotional content and closer towards Branded Content. Whether it is an episodic series, a documentary, or even a narrative fiction film, the viewer becomes engage in a story that revolves around principles that matter to the brand or organization. The energy of the brand and organization is everywhere in the content but not overtly present. If it becomes clear that the content is aimed at selling something, we lose the authenticity of the story and trust in the characters.

Longer videos become something that people want to engaged at a deeper level of connection. It is as if we are being told a long story by our grand parent. Why else would we give thirty minutes of our life for something that aims to convert us in consumers? No one will stick around if they feel they are being sold a product or service for thirty minutes. No one would watch a thirty minute sales-pitch. We want to feel what the brand cares about instead of what they care to sell to us. Viewers are valuable and want to feel cared for by brands. This is the power of Branded Content. 

In order to attract attention to longer content, shorter teasers and trailer may need to be made to attract viewership and this would be important to include in the initial talks with the client. 

WOOS:

  • Broadcast Eligible

  • Perfect for conferences and live corporate events 

  • Utilizes more complex film and cinematic language

  • Different shortened videos could potentially be made from the vast amount of content

  • Can live on Youtube or Facebook but not as a promo 

  • Communicates the energy of a organization/brand and its mission

  • Demonstrates which stories a specific client wishes to elevate 

WOES:  

  • Not suited for short attentions spans or platforms that encourage stimulation over depth

  • Not ideal for repetitive interaction with viewers 

  • Not suited for instagram 

  • Not suitable for homepage 

  • Not suitable for an brand or organization’s homepage website content

  • May require trailers or teaser to bring in viewership 

The difference in budget of a 5 second video vs 5 minute video 

Now pricing a five second video or a five minute video depends on the concept. 

This is something that our clients may not be aware of in the beginning specially if this is one of their first video commissions. As creators, at times, we may need to educate our clients to set expectations and goals. 

The concept determines the scope of work. For example, a client hires us to make a five second video that includes five one-second shots that each take place in different cities around the globe. 

The price of travel and coordination would be much higher than 5 minute video that requires a single day shoot with a simplified concept. 

So whether it is five seconds or five minutes, the price may vary on the scope of work. 

So let's go back to the start and say that whether you are making a 5 second video for a client or a one hour documentary, the first step is the why and once that is established, the video length that best suits their goals will be more clear. 

We hope this guide helped you think through the variables and possibilities for different video lengths. Did we miss something? We would love to hear your thoughts below.

Human Horizon Films is a video and film production company. We make films with heart and cinematic craft.