Filmmaking is an exciting profession.
Like many creative industries, it can be tough to break into. But the career that awaits you if you do can be varied, stimulating and incredibly fulfilling.
Knowing where to begin can be a bit of a minefield. From writing, editing and directing to producing, lighting and sound there are countless different pathways to choose from. And even when you do decide on a route, you may still find yourself asking, 'how do I know this is the right career path for me?'.
With this in mind, we set out to discover what a career in filmmaking is really like by talking to someone in the know.
Ben Hunter is an award-winning writer, director and filmmaker. After graduating from the National Film & Television School, Ben went on to create a range of films and shorts. His work has been screened in competition at the Glasgow Short Film Festival and won multiple awards at the Royal Television Society Awards.
We sat down with Ben to get a clearer understanding of what being a successful filmmaker is all about. What we discovered was very interesting. Whilst a love of film and a creative flair are essentials, passion and talent are just the beginning...
Interested in gaining a unique, 360-degree experience of filmmaking? Ben is just one of the amazing speakers on our Filmmaker Programmes. Each is jam-packed with immersive career simulations, exclusive site visits and personalised career coaching, all designed to give you a more hands-on experience of the film industry.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What does a typical day in your working life look like?
It really depends on what I'm working on.
My time is mainly split between writing, networking, researching and directing. The former three take up the majority of my time, as is the case with even the most seasoned directors.
During the pandemic, I have been focusing on developing two feature film concepts for development funding, which is when a funding body gives you support (both financial and creative) to take a project from an outline to a polished draft.
I usually spend around 3 hours per day writing, 1-2 hours online networking and researching, and then countless hours reading screenplays, learning my craft as a writer and watching as many films as I can.
All of my writing, pandemic or not, I like to do at home at my desk, and I split the day up with lots of exercising and running. I’ve been a very keen runner for a few years now — it really helps with my mental health, general health and wellbeing and is also the place where I do my best thinking (whether that’s coming up with ideas, or solving problems [within] the ideas I already have).
What first inspired you to consider filmmaking as a career?
During my last year of school, I went to Peru on a group expedition.
I bought a cheap digital camera, filmed large chunks of the trip, and then edited it together to music. We screened the final film to the parents and the other kids and I found the experience very rewarding: the craft, the creativity and the feeling of experiencing the viewers be moved by the piece.
My parents always talk about how my entire being completely changed after making that film. My whole life changed, and suddenly film was the only thing I cared about.
The cavalry is not coming. You need to make your own opportunities.
What’s the best thing about your job?
It sounds cliché, but the best thing is that it doesn’t feel like a job a lot of the time.
I feel mentally and physically healthier when I am writing, creating and workshopping ideas. I’m aware that when I’m not creating I often feel very down. It’s like a need for me.
So the idea that I am able to make a living doing something which is so integral to my being, and has been my driving passion for so many years, is a real privilege.
What’s the hardest thing?
Film school is an incredible place.
You have equipment, crew and actors at your disposal almost 24/7.
The real world isn’t so easy. Getting used to rejection is a very tough but necessary part of the business. The reality is there is a lot of competition in the industry, and even if you are incredible at what you do, you will inevitably often lose pitches and funding applications.
Thankfully, there are so many of these opportunities floating around, so if you are savvy with your networking and researching and develop a thick skin to rejection, hopefully, it can pay off eventually.
What has been your biggest achievement since starting your career in film?
Although I’m not sure I would say my career had officially started with this achievement, I am still exceptionally proud of being awarded a place at the National Film & Television School.
There are only 8 places given each year from thousands of applicants around the world. It’s widely regarded as one of the best film schools in the world and rightly so, they were the best two years of my life so far.
What are the perks/incentives, financial and otherwise, for a graduate looking to become a filmmaker?
I think for the financial side of things to pay off for a writer/director it can take quite a while, however, being able to live a comfortable life — and by comfortable I mean to be able to pay rent and eat relatively well — it’s a really incredible feeling to be able to support yourself doing the thing that you love.
For me, I also really enjoy being able to structure my own schedule and workload. This can, however, be quite challenging on the days where I lack motivation, as I am only ever answering to myself.
Most people’s first films are pretty terrible, the important thing is to understand what went wrong, learn from the mistakes, and use them to create the next project
Are there different pathways or specialisms budding filmmakers can choose, and if so, what are they?
Within the entire film and television industry there are too many to name, and probably far more specialisms than I am even aware of.
However, specifically for a writer/director, there are paths to feature films, television, and commercials, all of which are interchangeable; many directors can (and do) work between all three.
Someone like David Fincher, for example, started out by becoming one of the most successful commercial and music video directors in the industry before he made his transition into feature film directing, then, more recently, into television with House of Cards and Mindhunter.
The crossover between the three is forever narrowing, especially between film and television. This is mainly due to how we are consuming content now, i.e. [Video on Demand] platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ etc. meaning the clear distinction between what is film and what is television is forever becoming more narrow.
How did you find your first 12 months in the field?
I found them quite shocking, honestly. It’s a very competitive and challenging industry and you really have to make yourself stand out.
I left film school with high ambitions of jumping straight into my first feature film. By the end of the first year, I began to understand that it's a much longer process than I maybe realised, and was able to see that being able to afford to stay in London, pay rent, eat, and have time to work and develop my own projects was a pretty great place to be by the end of the first year.
It’s a long game. Thankfully my passion for film will last a lifetime!
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I love running. Like, really love running.
I also really enjoy football, cooking and playing the drums. My mind is always thinking about writing and films, which I really enjoy.
However, it’s really beneficial to find hobbies and things outside of the world of filmmaking that allow me to genuinely switch off and not think about anything else.
Do you have any advice for young people thinking about pursuing a career in film?
Spend time every day networking, expanding and nurturing your connections.
Then spend the rest of the day making things. There really is no excuse these days. Everyone has a camera phone in their pocket. Make little films with your friends and family, or with the network you are slowly expanding.
Learn from your mistakes and learn the craft of filmmaking. Then, once you start making things you’re proud of, your network will be there to get that thing out into the world and hopefully get the ball rolling on your career!
The cavalry is not coming. You need to make your own opportunities. Relentlessly. However, if you chose not to, that’s fine too. More work for me!