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5 Tips for Growing Your Filmmaking Career

  • August 24, 2016
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
5 Tips for Growing Your Filmmaking Career

No matter what you’re trying to be in your career, there is one thing that never changes and stays true – the relationships you build. They are the most important aspect of your career.

Relationships, yes. Your professional relationships are personal relationships and are just as valuable in your career as knowing the technical and artistic side of the business.

I have been asked quite frequently of late, “how did you manage to get started in Los Angeles?” and “What do you think is the most important aspect of your career in making money?” There is only one answer: Relationships.

Making it in a large market

This is the big question for a lot of people and it was for me before I moved to LA. In no way have I ‘made it’ in the respects of being widely successful, but I’m right where I should be, building my career and working hard. To me, this defines ‘making it.’ Note that I said ‘making’ and not ‘made;’ there is a vast difference in both ideas.

I could dive into my story here, but I already did that on my good friend and fellow Inner Circle member Rob Ruscher’s Podcast – Cinematographer’s Insight. Listen Here: Episode 101: David C. Weldon Jr.

Ok, so where do you start?  What should be the first step and what do I do?

1. Be True to Yourself and Get Ready for a Long Walk

It’s a walk, sometimes even a crawl and you’re definitely not running in this race.  We’re all working towards similar goals, some of us want to be Directors, DPs, Producers, etc.  When I first moved to Los Angeles to intern with Shane, I was short sighted; my level of expectations were high; I was excited!  It was a great opportunity but I had no idea what it would actually take to make it in this business.  I burned out fast, ran out of money and ended up moving back to the east coast for a couple of years before coming back to work for Shane and Lydia at Hurlbut Visuals.

My expectations were too high. I needed to be real with myself and hunker down for some hard work.  I was willing to work and bust my ass to get jobs but I was clueless as to how to network in a city like Los Angeles.  Maybe I was overwhelmed. I definitely needed to mature a little and that happened in my time back on the east coast.  Sometimes you’re just not ready – and that is OK.

2. Get Out and Make Friends, Industry Friends

Make friends in general because it will allow you to open up your mind to different areas of creativity but get out there and make friends in the industry.

But how? I don’t know how?!  I can’t!  

Stop it. Give yourself the respect to not allow yourself to let negative thoughts seep in, it’s all a mindset. Of course it’s going to be hard, but where’s the reward in things that are easy?

Remember that you’re not the only one who has made a big move. There are plenty of people who have moved to LA, New York, Chicago and other cities who are after the same things you are and they are people you want to meet. Trust me, you can find people in your city who are like minded and looking to work together.  

Make friends by getting out to events in the industry, go to panels, movie screenings, educational events, anything you can get involved in. Find communities online, like “Shane’s Inner Circle” (shameless plug), Stage32.com or various Facebook groups and online forums where you can connect with people.

3. Use Social Media. USE IT.

So you hate social media and you refuse to use it. Well, that’s silly! Get over it. That’s a mistake! Stop reading now and pick a new craft. Honestly. If you hate social media because of all the negativity it can bring and seeing cat videos drives you mad, I get it, but you’re missing out on a world of access to people who you would never have access to otherwise.

My own personal filmmaking career story up  to this point in my life is result of social media.  I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version in an attempt to inspire you to just get out and try something new or something you hadn’t thought of.

My current stage of my career is a direct result of connecting with Shane via Twitter.  About 6 years ago, maybe 7, it’s getting hard to remember, Shane reached out via Twitter that he was looking for 10 interns. I was living on the east coast in a transitional period of my career, looking to get further into the film/commercial world and when I saw Shane’s tweet, I saw an opportunity to get the education on the path I was looking to head. Shane and I exchanged tweets, where he said that as long as I was willing to come to Los Angeles.  

I took it one step further by heading to the NAB show that year to put myself in front of Shane.  I figured if he was reaching out to his 30,000+ Twitter followers, that he would certainly have a pile of resumes, emails and messages from people who were all looking to jump at this opportunity. I got to NAB and found Shane speaking at the Tiffen booth. I waited until after he was done giving his speech and I asked him about the internship. Shane gave me some more detail but I felt that I hadn’t made an impact on him, setting myself apart from the pack.

Shane Hurlbut, ASC, talking at the Canon stage. Great stuff.

A photo posted by David C. Weldon Jr. (@davidcweldonjr) on

I decided to go to another booth he was speaking at later in the day and approach him again, only this time I forced myself to get over my nerves and ask him point blank what I had to do to get the internship. This definitely struck a chord with Shane and he proceeded to give me his business card and told me to email him my story and explain to him why I wanted the internship so bad. A few weeks went by with a pair of interviews, and then I was offered one of the 10 spots out of a few thousand people.

The point of telling you my story of how it really started for me is the fact that no one handed me the opportunity. I had to work for it and figure it out on my own.  There is no playbook, no cheat sheet, just life. You’re going to have to break out of your comfort zone if you’re looking to do something extraordinary in your life that goes beyond a desk job and a 9-5.  You’re going to have to take risks or you’re going to live your life filled with regrets.

4. Relationships in the Film Industry: Why They’re so Important

I’m stressing hard on relationship building and now we’re ready to talk about the meat of it.  Through my internship, I built a relationship with Shane which eventually lead to an even greater opportunity with Hurlbut Visuals when Shane and Lydia asked me to come out to Los Angeles in 2014 and work as Shane’s Assistant.  This job evolved a lot over the course of a year and grew beyond being his Assistant to the role that I have today, working as the Creative Director.  

Without the opportunities Shane and Lydia have brought me at Hurlbut Visuals, I wouldn’t be making more connections through this position at HV or on my own pursuing commercial work and short films to build my portfolio.  I’ve been able to use the tools that Shane has been teaching me as well as various opportunities — connections to equipment and to like-minded people who are looking to work together to make great art.  I’ve had great success in building my own relationships with two Directors who, like myself, are building their careers and we have created some great work together so far. I should note that I’m working towards being a Director of Photography full-time.

One project that I am particular proud of is this short film – “Late Shift,” directed by Jon Carr. This project has allowed me to get some connections for more work in my career.

This project caught the eye of Director Joseph Kahn, who brought me on his latest feature film “Bodied” as his 2nd Unit DP, which we just wrapped in late July.

Catching @mattwisedp creation of his overhead rig of @litegear on set of @josephkahn movie @bodiedmovie. This was our 30′ Jimmy Jib shot with a @samyanglensglobal #XEEN 14mm. just finished 30 pages in 3 days! Holy f&@k. Only 2 day more days left. This is the best cast and crew I have ever been on. Credit to JK for putting this team/family together, true genius at work here. #let’s go #notdoneyet #thehomestretch #roundingthird #sportsreference #LA #movies #bodied

A photo posted by David C. Weldon Jr. (@davidcweldonjr) on

One of those Directors in particular came from the same market I was living in back on the east coast, Pittsburgh, prior to his move out to Los Angeles. Strangely enough, we never met until we both ended up here. We never met because we were both working as DPs and Camera Operators, essentially competing for the same job. When he moved out here, he chose to begin making the jump to Directing. As we collaborated on one project, then another and now one more coming up, it feels like we both can see a future working together for years to come. But it’s not just a business relationship, we’ve found a friendship alongside working together. I think that aspect is very important.  

At the end of the day, if you’re going to be spending 10, 12, 14+ hours with someone day in and day out, working towards the same goal together, you better damn well know if you like being around that person, if you can communicate well together and if you have a vision together that you can collaborate on.  It’s very much like any relationship you have in life, very much like a marriage. There will be ups and there will be downs, but at the end of the day you know you have each other’s back. That’s what counts most and what gets the best out of you, each other and the crew you’ve put together.

The relationships you make now in this business are going to carry you for the rest of your career. You’re going to work with these individuals for the next 15-20 years, maybe longer.  But that doesn’t give you an excuse to be lazy or get comfortable. Don’t let fear motivate you — that you might get replaced or they might find someone else better. Let the idea that you have common ground to work together as a team motivate you. The idea that your foundation is strong and you are looking to add the finer details and the upgrades to your looks, design, the “house.” It takes years to build that kind of trust and level of attention to get that working together. Sometimes it happens faster than you’d expect, but that can also be the case of seeking out individuals who are very much like yourself. You’re looking for a match so to speak.

5. Have Something to Offer in a Relationship

Think of going through a breakup that you’ve had with someone you’ve dated in your past.  If they broke it off with you, chances are that you probably didn’t have “much to offer” at a certain point. You became “stale” or “comfortable.” Remember this when you’re looking to seek out new contacts. Have something to offer to get you in the door.

Only the person people hate comes to a party without a gift. So don’t be “that guy.” I’m not saying show up with a full on camera package but perhaps you just bought a MōVI M15 on the big discount a few weeks ago, reaching out offering your MōVI for a project would be a great way to get in the door. I’m not suggesting that you give gear away for free all the time but letting people know that you are willing to pitch in however you can will go a long way.  Sometimes just offering your hard work and open mind will be enough; it just depends.

From the Rywire doc. #gt3 #porsche #nofilter #canon #c300markii

A photo posted by David C. Weldon Jr. (@davidcweldonjr) on

For me personally I try to offer up my equipment to Directors whom I work with whenever they have a passion project and there is little to no money. I’m not concerned with the cash on those projects because they aren’t either. If it is a good passion project with someone you trust, you know you’re going to have a chance to be creative and not limited to a box that is only a 2×2 space. You have to do these projects. You have to get time together to create and learn each other. This lets the relationship grow.

6. Final Tip; Bonus, if You Will – Be Positive

No one likes a Negative Nancy on set. When you see the problem in front of you or around you, come with solutions. Standing there and complaining that “this is terrible” or “this is so bad” does nothing but waste energy and divert your attention from where you will end up being – at the solution.  

So focus on it this way. If you come with a positive approach, you will waste less time and get to the next setup or completion of your day much quicker. It will change the entire perception.

Got a chance to check out Alex Buono’s #visualstorytelling2 tour excellent workshop and evening seminar on Visual Subtext in Storytelling. Alex is known for his 15 years as SNLs Film Unit DP and Co-Director of “Documentary Now!” Coming to IFC (starring Bill Hader and Fred Armisen)

A photo posted by David C. Weldon Jr. (@davidcweldonjr) on

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