Even with all the connections in the world, and the most expensive camera money can buy, you probably won’t go too far in the film industry without a great body of work. Your portfolio is arguably the most important asset you have, and in order to gain the attention of the people you want to meet and work with, your portfolio must be relevant and meaningful.
How do you build this portfolio? If you’re struggling on how to get your portfolio in motion, here’s six useful tips for getting started:
Stay Active in School
As a film student, it can be easy to get caught up in exciting plans for the future (or even the weekend), but you should keep in mind that the school projects you’re currently working on aren’t just for a grade – they are your time to build a portfolio.
Your time in film school, while it can sometimes seem neverending, is perhaps one of the few times in your entire career where you sit down and entirely focus on YOU. Not your clients, your boss, your producer – no, you are focusing entirely on self-improvement during film school. Taking advantage of this time and taking it seriously will be the biggest way to get a jumpstart on your portfolio.
Get ahead in school and make the most of it by:
- Quit procrastinating and get started early. Act like you’re getting paid to work on every project.
- Stay humble and assume your work needs improvement whenever possible.
- Ask instructors lots of questions and don’t be afraid to bug them.
- Volunteer to assist other classmates with shoots and edits.
- Ask for feedback on your work from classmates and instructors.
- Attend extracurricular workshops and events whenever possible.
Search the closest job boards and attend school functions to connect with your most experienced teachers or fellow students. Initiating relationships with these people will provide you with a valuable network of directors, editors, and actors. Your network will follow you when you graduate.
Start a YouTube Series
When you’re competing for gigs in the film industry, it’s highly advantageous to showcase a multifaceted skill set. Soon after graduation, challenge yourself to write, produce, and direct an original series. Execute the entire process from inception to final product to marketing it.
Regardless of the success, completing this project will give you real world experience creating and producing a project from end to end. It will also send the message to potential hiring producers that you have the work ethic and diligence to finish what you started. Many people coming out of film school have never put together their own project or have what it takes to see something through outside of film school. Don’t get too caught up in view counts or trying to launch the next Stranger Things, the key is that having the ability to show that you can produce a whole series will speak volumes.
IMDb pro is a useful resource for obtaining the contact information of nearly anyone in the film industry. There is a monthly membership fee, but you will benefit greatly from being able to reach thousands of producers, directors, editors, and crew. The service provides filmographies and credits for millions of titles along with access to in-development projects not listed on IMDb. Many of these features will gain importance as you progress in your career and must evaluate track records, cast relationships, and search for casting alternatives.
When you’re first developing your portfolio, you should use this tool to contact people you’re interested in working with. Get creative on how you can become a part of their network and give them a call. Rather than spam the entire catalogue, do your homework on the person you’re contacting and know the right time to make your move. Lead with your strengths and learn to project confidence rather than desperation. If you are genuine and effective, doors will open.
Start In Commercial Work
Every artist would like full-time film work, but sometimes things don’t line up immediately. Commercial & corporate video work can help keep you active in the general video production industry. Apply for corporate video jobs or offer services to business owners in your personal network to make web videos, commercials, marketing content, and other videos they might need. Even if you make a few thousand dollars, it’s money that can be used to refine your portfolio even further. You can pull shots from these videos that look more film-like to build your overall demo reel and they’ll never know it was a small business video.
48 Hour Film Project
The 48 Hour Film Project is a multi-city contest in which teams of participants draw a genre from a hat and then write, shoot, and edit a movie in 48 hours. Teams have full control over plots except for a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue that must appear in their film. The award for Best Film and a cash prize is awarded to entries that demonstrate artistic merit, technical merit, and adherence to the assignment. Films are then premiered at a local theatre for friends and family.
An event like this is a fun way to add a completed project to your portfolio. Additionally, if you produce a good piece, there’s always a chance you could win. Contestants have gone on to have success in other film festivals and others used recognition of their film to get paying work. Film Festivals are also great vehicles for making connections with people in your craft, particularly those who have an interest in your preferred genre. Make the most of the platform these organizations provide in order to get new people talking about your work.
Produce Music Videos
Music videos are one of the more fun ways to bring good work to your portfolio. There is constant demand for this service from young people who are rappers, singers, or in bands. Building a network of music artists is considerably easy to do via Twitter or Instagram. As you acquire more paying clients, shooting music videos can turn into a solid source of money for new equipment. It is actually much easier to get funding for these videos than a short film.
Creating videos for music artists allows you to explore creatively and will add things to your portfolio that commercial work won’t. Try to find artists who are looking to incorporate elements of film to their videos. While music videos are generally 2-3 minutes long, they usually welcome obscure or artistic concepts. It’s the perfect chance to showcase precise visual storytelling, and to capture a few extra shots for your demo reel.
Article by Mike Clum.
Mike Clum is the founder of Clum Creative, a corporate video production company that employs 16 full-time video production professionals.