Eat Your Own Dogfood.

It's a fairly colourful expression, "eat your own dogfood," which is why it's probably still around. As opposed to "eat your own cake" or something.

It suggests that you should take your own advice.

I'm going to do just that.

My advice to anyone who wants to be a filmmaker is simple. It's a very easy strategy. It doesn't involve huge expense, stalking Steven Spielberg, or sneaking under the fence at Warner Brothers.

It will guarantee 100% success.

But first, ask yourself this wise, old question usually reserved for actors; "do you want to see yourself in the Art or the Art in yourself?"

Think about that. Don't rush an answer.

OK, OK, I can see I'm dealing with someone impatient. I'll presume you want to become a filmmaker because you want to make films, not because you want to "hang out" with celebrity actors, or because you're addicted to Entourage.

So, here it is. My four step plan to becoming a film-maker:

  1. Read
  2. Write
  3. Shoot
  4. Repeat


OK? Any questions?

Read.

Read everything. I was surprised by just how good the Robert McKee book on Story Structure actually is. I knew it would be good, a breath of fresh air from this world of "killer movie scripts in only 3 days (and lose 20lbs at the same time)," where films are distilled down to this sort of awkward formula which gives us films like that Nicholas Cage thing "National Treasure" or whatever it was called, but it is very good.

It avoids the cliche'ed formula but still covers key points like the idea that conflict defines character, etc.

Of course everyone tells you to read Chinatown (and you have, right??). They're not wrong. But don't assume when you reach the last page, and you see "Forget it, Jake..." that your scriptreading days are over. Oh no. Go again. Read something else. They're not all as good as Chinatown, but the key point here is to understand why that is.

So, read McKee (and some of the others, too, just for comparison). Read scripts, lots of them. Thirdly, though, I think it's useful to read books about scriptwriters and filmmaking as well. It keeps the juices flowing, to see how others have approached things or what they went through to make such and such a film.

Write.

Nothing improves your writing ability than reading other peoples work. Conversely, nothing improves your reading ability than writing something. I like to write vignettes, if I have that dreaded Writers Block curse.

If you're looking for someone to pay for your film productions, it helps if you're the person who wrote the script. It makes sense, right? Why are you the best director for this project? Ever been to a film festival which showed shorts? You'd think there were four million film directors out there, and you're probably not wrong.

Why should someone let you direct this project?

Well, it's a lot more convincing if you point out that you wrote the script.

If you're planning on doing the whole Hollywood thing, then having a few film scripts under your arm can't hurt. Hollywood is always interested in new writing talent, and sometimes interested in new directing talent. At least according to those people who work there.

But, more importantly, who cares about Hollywood? You want to be a filmmaker, right? Hanging out with Ben and Angie is boring, right? So, start producing shootable scripts. Today.

Shoot.

It was Ridley Scott who figured this one out. He came to the conclusion that he wasn't making enough films. So he stopped being as selective, as choosy, and then only started doing stuff like Gladiator. You know, those cheap, B-films.

David Lean was an editor before he was a director. He edited countless hundreds of films. So, when he set foot on the sound stage, he already knew what kinds of shots would make it into his directors cut, and what shots wouldn't.

How many feature films does the average DGA member make? Probably something awful like 2.5 per director? I don't know. But if you're a busy director you're making one every three or four years. And not many directors have a career spanning longer than twenty years. OK, that's at least 5 for the busy ones.

Five films.

Hmmm. Not much opportunity to hone your craft, eh?

What about those that only make one or two?

It's like sitting behind the wheel of an articulated lorry, for the first time in your life, and being told to drive that load of dynamite from Paris to Warsaw. And quickly!

(cue a very loud bang!)

The solution is obvious. Don't let 2009 go by without making at least two films.

There. I've said it. Don't let 2009 go by without making at least two films.

You can cheat though, they don't have to be 110 minutes. Or even 11 minutes. They don't even have to star Brad and Angie.

So, to recap, here's my secret formula for becoming a filmmaker:

  1. Read
  2. Write
  3. Shoot
  4. Repeat


Operate that little model several times over, and you'll find friends will introduce you as "the filmmaker." Now that'd be a nice way to celebrate Christmas.