That's a hard question to answer because it really depends on the filmmaker's financial situation. When making my first indie documentary I could not possibly imagine treating it like a full time career. How could I? No one was giving me any money to make this film and if I spent way too much time on this project I had no time left to make money from a regular job and feed myself. Often the first film and many times a second one, is made on a shoe string budget. You can't afford to hire anyone and you can't pay yourself so the effort comes from time left over from whatever you are doing to pay your bills.
But I can never accept calling filmmaking a hobby. A hobby is something like an activity you do on the weekends or in the evening when you have a couple of hours to kill. Filmmaking is much more involved and demands so much more from you.
From the time you have a film or documentary concept and launch yourself into this pursuit, it becomes an all consuming endeavour. You become obsessed and really everything else falls in the realm of banal chores which you must do to live but pretty much 24/7 the idea of the film and how to get it done takes over.
So when does filmmaking become a career? You can have a career within filmmaking in roles such as camera person, editor, sound operator or actor etc. Most of these tasks offer good and lifelong careers opportunities especially with established studios and companies but ofcourse this cannot be mistaken for filmmaking. The difference is that it is not your vision you are working on. If you want to own the film, you have to make it thus be prepared to take charge and provide all resources necessary to get the film done. That is why filmmaking is a hard career to pursue, but many indie filmmakers have gone onto make not only their first rookie film but many others thereafter carving out a voice for themselves and a very lucrative and fulfilling lifelong career. Michael Moore who made Bowling for Columbine is one such person. I challenge you to look up other such success stories and find out how they were able to get their first film made!
When we think of films we often think of the latest blockbuster and stars like Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio. These are studio films made by large companies as 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Paramount. These films are multi million dollar ventures with large marketing budgets (several millions) and with famed and well known actors. These studios are not only selling to a broad American audience but also to world audiences. They cater to a very large demographic of theatre going audiences around the world, predominantly young and male.
What does this mean for the quality and type of stories being told in these studio films? They are formulae stories - themes and topics that have proven to be a success in the past. A typical studio film will have a likeable hero character who will meet an obstacle in his path, will have to overcome this problem, make friends and enemies along the way and eventually achieve success.
Independent films on the other hand are films made by an individual or company outside of the studio system. They are often made on very small budgets, often with actors who are not famous yet. Independent films don't have hugh marketing budgets and often rely on film festivals to get the word out. Its evident that the path of the independent filmmaker is fraught with difficulty, and little chance of success especially in the face of big studio films that take up all the limelight.
So why do people make independent films? Its a passion pursuit. Something about a story makes it so compelling that the indie filmmaker cannot resist embarking on a several year long effort to make a film about it. Or the storyteller is just in love with the camera and the idea of capturing a story. So in effect it is this reality that makes for interesting films. If the artist has decided to struggle so much to tell a story with no promise of financial success, there must be something about the film that is worth watching, right? And that is why often the greatest films lie somewhere in the pile of indie films/documentaries waiting to make there appearance in front of audiences.
Filmmaking is an artform like painting or writing. In our times, most people who want to have a creative pursuit write or paint. Why is that? Because its an accessible art form. Filmmaking is a bit more difficult. It involves more resources, like a camera and an editing system. Also it may involve hiring people, like cameramen or actors. So often people feel this creative endeavour is not within their reach. But painting or writing one can easily do on own's time and resources, a pen, paper, easel and paint is all one needs.
But really the process of creating is the same. Filmmaking is an art form like any other. It starts off from the vision of the artist or person who wants to create. The filmmaker typically wants to "show" a story. He/she is not satisfied with an image - like in a painting or by telling a story in writing, he wants to show a story unfolding in images. There are two main forms of filmmaking: fiction or documentary and now more than ever the lines between the two are disappearing. Fiction filmmaking requires setting up and shooting a scene and then another scene until all scenes necessary to tell a story are shot. Documentary making is different in that you film reality as it unfolds.
So a preconceived plot or script is not in place and often the story reveals itself as it is filmed and the entire film is created in the editing room where the director will chose which parts of the filmed footage will be included and in what order.
Filmmaking is the art of storytelling. Good filmmakers tell their stories with beauty and grace. They try to capture an aspect of life that they feel is worth telling and they labor over this storytelling process often for months and years. Good filmmakers very artfully disappear in the process of their art and although their vision is there, the audience never really sees them and is duped into a reality that has infact been created or manipulated by the artist.
The filmmaker's thirst of telling his story can only be quenched by an audience. He/she will only be satisfied when the largest number of persons see their film. Often filmmakers will refuse large sums of money by broadcasters or film distributors if they feel this will limit the number of eyeballs their film will get.
Hopefully this little piece gives you an insight into what a true filmmaker is about. Please share experiences, comments, questions.
Farheen Umar is a