Lights, Camera, Persistence: Filmmaking Challenges and How To Tackle Them

Starting out, you might feel like an outsider, but you're not alone in that feeling. The learning curve is steep, and the journey is long. You may currently lack some of the skills and confidence needed, but there's no limit to what you can learn. Growth comes with embracing failures and learning from them.


Vicky Markolefa

10/10/20234 min read

Hey there, welcome back to the blog. We're diving into a favorite discussion topic for filmmakers: problems! Or, better to say, the challenges and hurdles we encounter on our journey to creating cinematic magic :)

The path to filmmaking heaven is rarely smooth, and we've certainly felt those bumps along the way. But there are ways to navigate them. At Mind the Bump, with over two decades of global experience, we've learned to see these bumps as opportunities for growth and moments to craft something remarkable.

During my own journey, I've been fortunate to work on projects in over 30 countries. Through both successes and setbacks, I've gained insights into overcoming some of the common hurdles we encounter. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, these challenges are something many of us can relate to, even though they vary in size and shape.

Documentary work, especially on impactful topics, often demands substantial financial resources. This challenge arises from several factors, mainly due to the specialized nature of documentaries, which can make them less appealing to traditional investors or mainstream funders. Budgets can be stretched thin during long production cycles, and let's face it, it can take quite a while from research to post-production. To make matters more complex, the financial return on documentaries can be unpredictable or even non-existent, considering that the market is primarily built on fiction.

Increase your chances of sustaining your work by diversifying your funding sources

Look for grants from organizations, foundations, and government agencies aligned with your documentary's subject. Tailor your project proposal to meet industry standards. You don't have to do this alone. Forge partnerships and collaborate with organizations, groups, or businesses in the same field. These partnerships can provide financial support, expertise, and access to valuable resources. Just be cautious when choosing your partners; not everything that glitters is gold.

Platforms can help you raise funds from a broader audience. Yes, it will require a significant investment of time and effort, but if done well and consistently, it can work, especially if you already have an audience. A small group of dedicated people can help get your project noticed.

Be prepared to invest some of your own savings. Showing your commitment can attract additional funding since the community sees how engaged you are. And remember, the more you engage, the more experience you gain.

Experience is your most valuable asset

Starting out, you might feel like an outsider, but you're not alone in that feeling. The learning curve is steep, and the journey is long. You may currently lack some of the skills and confidence needed, but there's no limit to what you can learn. Growth comes with embracing failures and learning from them. Easier said than done, I know. Get out there and experiment. Overcome your fear of failure by taking small steps. Whether a little or a lot, as long as you're learning and improving each time, failing can become a friend rather than a foe.

In the beginning, you can't rely on an extensive portfolio or industry connections, but there's somewhere to start. Think of all possible ways, especially the less obvious ones. Listen to others in the industry, how did they make it happen? I can't stress enough how important it is to begin with manageable projects. They offer a chance to experiment, learn, and refine your skills.

Now, let's talk about honing your skills when you have limited funds and time. Learn by doing, at your own pace. Filmmaking is hands-on and all about problem-solving. Don't wait for the perfect time or ideal conditions because there's no such thing. Watch online courses and tutorials in your free time. Practice. Start capturing footage, interviewing subjects, and crafting stories in your own space. The set for your next film can be right around the corner.

Do the work with what you have, right where you are now

As for gear, you don't need much to start these days. Instead of fixating on gear, focus on what you're filming, who your movie is for, and why you want to film it. Budget constraints will limit your access to high-end equipment, post-production facilities, or crew members. Focus on the essentials. Identify and prioritize them. Which is the most accessible camera? Can you borrow or buy a used one? Experiment with different shooting styles. Explore free post-production software solutions. The point is to learn how to make the most of the equipment and software you have. This skill will serve you well every day as a new filmmaker.

Whether it's camera equipment, location access, or funding, embrace resource limitations as creative challenges. And be prepared for more challenges ahead. As an indie filmmaker, you'll need to handle distribution for your film and take on most, if not all, of its promotion. These aspects are often overlooked but are crucial for a documentary's success. The documentary market is highly competitive, with many films vying for attention and limited distribution opportunities.

Understand how the industry works

Learn the intricacies of distribution. Explore various channels, from film festivals to streaming platforms. Start drafting a strategy early in your production process. This way, you can align your film with industry standards, which is the first step in getting your work out there. Plus, you'll gain a better overview of the work involved in making and screening a film.

Now, onto the marketing plan. I know it might not be the most exciting aspect for a creative like you, but it does work. Watch some videos, take free courses, chat with people, and create a basic plan that matches your potential. Include digital marketing and engage with relevant communities. Keep it real and flexible.

adopt good habits

Much of what I've accomplished comes from personal perseverance, which has made me more resilient, determined, and focused. Learning from each project has become a life-changing habit. Education, in any form it comes in, is the best investment you can make for your films, far more valuable than any camera or rig.

Working habits are also crucial, and there's immense value in partnerships. Having reliable partners can significantly impact the way you work and think about filmmaking. Sometimes, they can help you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, while other times, they might make you question why you got into the business in the first place. Develop the skills to find and collaborate with people whom you trust, value, and can learn from.

What challenges have you faced in filmmaking so far? Share your story with us. I'm sure we have a lot in common ­čśŐ And if you found this article interesting, check out our YouTube channel. Consider subscribing to stay updated, as more exciting content is on the way.


Cover image by Bastian Fischer.