Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

I get a lot of emails asking me the same questions.
Before you send me a message, please check this list.

Currently, Yvonne Welbon's favorite book on filmmaking is "What They Don't Teach You at Film School: 161 Strategies for Making Your Own Movie No Matter What" by Camille Landau and Tiare White.

"There are many ways to learn about filmmaking. Some people learn how to make films in elementary and high school. Some learn about filmmaking through weekend seminars and short courses. Some people decide to study for an undergraduate or graduate degree. Some people watch every film closely and read every book they can get their hands on about filmmaking.

Some people learn by doing, and being mentored by established filmmakers. There is no one right way to learn to be a filmmaker, but some combination of what is above is ideal if you want to be a successful filmmaker." -YW

The opinions expressed below are mine.   - Yvonne Welbon

1. How can I find development money?
Please see 20 Film Fundraising Strategies.

2. Where can I find the money to make my film? I’ve raised about $100,000 but that isn’t enough to finish the film. Should I start shooting anyway and hope to find finishing funds?

I think it is a hard time to make low-budget independent films right now. Since there is less than a 4% chance of getting any kind of distribution for any kind of film.

Most people I know who start off like you are suggesting end up in debt and filing for bankruptcy. But then there are always stories like BOYS DON’T CRY, that did start shooting and eventually ended up winning an Academy Award.

If you can revisit your script breakdown and you can try to figure out how to make it for $100,000, I think that would be great. You can probably get that money back in terms of all you ancillary market sales. I'm not an advocate of spending other people's money on a film that is clearly never going to see it's money back, because the market can't handle yet another low-budget independent film.

My advice to you is to get a producer. This person should be well versed on what is happening in the industry today. She should know who is funding projects like yours and where to take it. Then you and your producer shop it around to someone who can pay for it. Production funding entities, usually in LA and NY, will talk to you. I suggest you find someone else to pay for your film and make your film with proper funding.

If you can't find someone else to fund your film for you to make a feature properly, perhaps it's not the right time for this script and you might move on to your next project? Most of the folks funding films know exactly what they can sell right now. So, ideally when you are meeting with these people about your project, you will already have another one ready in case they are more interested in that one. All of this is to say, don't put your entire career into one film project.

If you don't have another script ready, you might attach yourself to a couple of other scripts written by your screenwriter friends, so that you have more than one thing going for you as you go out into the world looking for funding.

My suggestion is to be prepared for the opportunity to direct when it presents itself.

Finally, you can always just make your film for the money that you have. There are many examples of filmmakers who have made films with slim budgets. They will probably tell you that they can’t make a living at it, but they continue to do it because they love making movies.

Click Here for ideas on how to raise a bit of money to get you started.

3. Can you help me contact the directors on your website?

If their contact information isn’t listed on the website, it is not available through

4. Can you hire me or help me get a job in the industry? Can you read my script? Can you give my script to the directors on your site to read? Can you help me get my script made into a movie?

No. But, I suggest you join a film organization. There are probably a few in your hometown and many possibilities on-line.

5. Who is the best person to contact if I want to volunteer or work on a film?  

Most positions are filled by the producer or line-producer. Not the director. In fact, in many cases, even the director is hired by the producers. Once the producers fill the key positions, then the department heads staff their departments. For instance the make-up and costume assistants on a film are not hired by the director.

6. How do I find people to help me with my career?

There are many places to meet your peers and those who can help you with your career. Aside from film school and workshops, you will usually meet people at film festivals, and conferences, which can range from  film festivals in your hometown, to the Sundance Producer’s Conference, to the IFP Market, etc. The best way to find people is to VOLUNTEER to help other people by working on their films and in their organizations. One key to getting people to help you is to beREALLY REALLY good at what you volunteer to do. And to make sure that you are an absolute pleasure to work with.

7. Did you go to film school?

In a manner of speaking I have gone to film school three times. I received an MFA from The School of the Art Institute (SAIC). A PhD in film at Northwestern (all PhD’s at Northwestern are required to do production.) I went to film school one last time at the American Film Institute through their Directing Workshop for Women. Each time I went I focused on something different. At SAIC, I learned the fundamentals, the equipment, and what it is to bring an artistic vision to film. At Northwestern, I focused on the business side of filmmaking. I took courses at the Kellogg Business School, I took courses on Producing, Entertainment Law, etc. I did the course work for a certificate in Telecommunications Policy, Management and Science as part of my degree, so that I could have a full understanding of new technology and how it will affect us as filmmakers. And the last time I went I focused on traditional narrative filmmaking, structure, script, directing and production.

I have to know everything. Which means in addition to what I learned at school, I took real life lessons seriously and attended specialized workshops so that I could get more in depth information about what I wanted to learn. And so, when I decided to learn about filmmaking I decided that I wanted to know everything, from experience. I’ve personally stood in the shoes of every crew person on a film shoot and done their job. I have been a gaffer. I have been a grip. I have been a script supervisor. I have run an art department. I have been the camera person. I have done craftservices. I’ve been the sound designer, editor, office manager, production manager and the producer. The first job I ever had on a film production here in Chicago, was that of a P.A., etc. etc. I decided to learn about filmmaking this way because I wanted to really understand what I was asking everyone on my crew to do. I wanted to have an experienced idea of how long it takes to do things and what is and isn’t possible.

8. I’m an artist and I’d like to use film like a painter uses a canvas to create work . What should I do?

Learn how your favorite directors got started and how they learned their craft. I suggest you go to graduate school and get a MFA and then get a job teaching at a school that has great equipment and then use that equipment to make your films.
Teaching at a college or university will insure that you make a living while you are making your art. There are a few artists who make limited edition films and videos that sell in galleries for thousands of dollars. One day, that might just be you.

9. How do I establish a career as an independent filmmaker that works in Hollywood like Woody Allen, John Sayles, Spike Lee, and Kevin Smith

All of these filmmakers one one thing in common. They work with producers. In some cases the producers work with directors as if  he is a business entity. Spike Lee, Inc., Woody Allen, Inc., Kevin Smith, Inc., etc. I suggest you research how your favorite directors got started and how they learned their craft and how they survive as filmmakers. You will find that each is a like a corporation and that their producer is something of a CEO and that the director is a product, like Coke. That product (director) has a value just like shares of stock on the stock market. Each director has brand name recognition and ideally he diversifies himself, he is like an entrepreneur, except he is the product. Spike Lee is a great example of this method of making movies.

10. Do I have to go to film school if I want to direct music videos?

First, I suggest you research that business and most importantly learn how your favorite directors got started and how they learned their craft. A lot of music video directors did not go to film school. I really don't think you need to go to film school if you want to be a music video director. Use that tuition money to take a couple of basic classes and then start making music videos. You will only be hired as a music video director if you have samples of music videos that you have directed. Learn on the job through internships and by volunteering to work with directors that you admire. A lot of music video directors hire assistants. One aspiring music video director that I know simply started a company with three of her friends and over a 4 and 1/2 year period they produced over 150 music videos. None of them went to film school. They learned by doing.

11. Do I need to go to film school if I want to direct big budget action packed special effect Hollywood movies?

First, I suggest you research that angle of the business and learn how your favorite directors got started and how they learned their craft. Briefly, if you want to make a living making big Hollywood movies, I’d suggest you go to film school in Los Angeles. There are 30 film schools there. So even if you don’t get into UCLA or USC, there are still plenty of other options, including Loyola Marymount which is becoming increasingly popular. A lot of film schools that aren’t based in Los Angles have Los Angles programs that run for a semester or a year.

Even Columbia College Chicago has a LA program. While in school it is important that you make a calling-card film that is derivative of what Hollywood is doing. Show that you can use the equipment, work with the actors and create a polished product. Being funny and short helps. Get that work seen on the Internet, through an agent, at an industry screening that your school is hosting -- but remember yours not only has to be very good, but you have to have connections. Exploit your school’s alumni to help you make those connections. And in the meantime, work really really hard to start directing music videos employing all the techniques to prove you can do what they do in Hollywood...basically, action, violence or comedy. Or just skip film school altogether. See below.

12. What is a good way to learn about making a living in the film business?  

One way is to learn about the background and career paths of the directors or other industry personnel that you admire who are currently working in the industry today and figure out how they got to where you want to be one day.

13. Can you give me advice on how to get started in the film business?

There is no one way to become a filmmaker or to succeed in this field. This business is just like any other business a good education is the best thing you can do to prepare for it. There are many ways to get that education. I suggest you read everything you can about filmmaking, take as many classes as you can, study filmmaking in college, community workshops, or graduate school and try to volunteer to work on as many film projects as possible for the experience. Whatever form of education you choose it should provide you with the skills you need to do the job that you desire to do in the business. But remember, going to school is not going to get you a job it is just going to give you the skills to be able to perform the job.

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