So You Wanna Be a Filmmaker? Part 1

When I first took video production courses at De Anza Community College’s Film and TV Program way back in 1992, I had aspirations of being the next Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriquez, or [Insert your favorite filmmaker here]. Then I ran head-on into a little thing called “reality.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Truth is, the vast majority of film students will never rub elbows with Hollywood’s elite. There’s nothing wrong with having those dreams (I still do), but you gotta make a living.

So, you have two choices. One, get a “real” job (i.e., waiter, sales person, tax collector, etc.) and do your passion on the side, while hoping you’ll be discovered one day, and get to quit your real job. Or two, you go for the gusto and blaze your own trails as a filmmaker. You don’t have to go the traditional “Hollywood” route to make a living at this craft.

When I started my video business in the summer of 2002, I decided to start with wedding videos. They were easy to break into and there were plenty of resources on the subject. But I was only going to do weddings until I could do “real” videos (i.e., music videos, etc.). Weddings, I thought, were for people who couldn’t cut it as a “real” filmmaker. I was wrong.

Never having seen a wedding video at the time, when I started to make them, I used my natural skills as a narrative storyteller to make my wedding videos. Instead of a boring, 90 minute to 2-hour documentary that only a mother of the bride could love, I made a 30 minute, tightly edited “romantic comedy” about the bride and groom called, “When Harry Married Yuka.” I interviewed Harry and Yuka about their relationship, re-enacting key aspects, and included video footage of his actual proposal to her that was captured the night he popped the question. The video footage from the proposal was awesome because as a fire fighter, he had access to a fire engine.”He and his buddies rolled up to the restaurant where she was told to meet him for a drink. The lights on the truck were flashing. His captain went up to Yuka and said, “We heard that someone here has a ‘heart’ condition. Then Harry came in with a bouquet of flowers. The crowd in the bar went wild!”

I then combined the footage with footage from the wedding day and made the whole thing one cohesive story. Before finishing the whole thing, I showed Harry and Yuka a 7-minute highlights clip from their movie and in that time they laughed and they cried. They were shocked and amazed. It was a spiritual experience for me seeing my work have that kind of effect on people. I knew then that using my skill as a filmmaker to bless brides and grooms was a noble profession, and one that would allow me to be as creative as I wanted. I was no less a filmmaker just because I didn’t have a deal with Miramax.

I was paid a whopping $800 for that first wedding project. In retrospect, that’s pretty good. I know of many wedding filmmakers who had to do one or two freebies before getting paid. Now the wedding division of my company averages between $5000 to $6000 for a wedding (that is for about 6 hours of coverage and a 25-30 minute edit). By staying true to my art as an artist, and using my marketing and branding experience from my previous job as a marketing manager for Quicken, I was able to grow our company to be an award-winning studio and one of the highest paid wedding filmmakers in our region.

You can do it too. While you’re pursuing your dream to be the next Hollywood wunderkind…why not eek out a living getting paid to make films? Weddings are a great place to start. Many aspiring filmmakers or pro video producers snub their noses at the thought of doing weddings. Those of us who have done it well, and marketed it well, know better. Here are some tips on starting:

Join the community: one of the greatest sources of education and inspiration will come from fellow colleagues. Find a local professional video association (PVA) in your area and go to their meetings. Get connected online and join any one of the popular forums like Video University or WedFACT. The latter is pretty pricey at $150/year, but the best of the best in the business, frequent it. Video University has free forums plus a $25/year special Member’s Only forum where most people hang out.

Go to the conventions: the Wedding and Event Videographers Association (WEVA) is the largest association of its kind for event filmmakers. Their WEVA Expo is the biggest event of its kind for the business. It’s an excellent place for people new to the biz. I also highly recommend InFocus Event which is smaller and more intimate. I’ve had the honor to be a speaker at each. There’s also a conference called Re:Frame, but I am unsure of their plans for future gatherings.

Marketing and Branding is Key: one of the biggest mistakes made by novices and long-timers alike in this business is a poor marketing or branding presence. Your brand is what people think and feel about your business. It is the essence of who and what you are. Learn everything you can on creating a strong brand. Marty Neumeir’ book “Zag” is an excellent source. My wife and I were also honored to write a book specifically for event filmmakers, called ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business. It has a whole section and marketing and branding.

Since starting out as a boutique wedding videography business, we’ve since evolved into a new media marketing and film production company serving Fortune 1000 clients like Apple, Adobe, and my old employer, Intuit. We still do weddings and are paid very well for doing them. I hope to branch into documentary filmmaking for film and television. And yes, I still have dreams of producing a feature film.

But even if I don’t know what the future holds, what I’m doing now keeps me inspired and satisfied. Thus, if you build a strong body of work and gain experience as a wedding filmmaker, there’s no telling where you can go. If I’m not mistaken, the owner of this website got his start as a wedding videographer. Look at Steve Weiss now. If HE can do it anyone can!

In my next installment, I’ll talk about some routes you can take in this business, and explore the pros and cons of being a contractor for hire vs. starting your own studio.

Ron Dawson is an award-winning video producer, writer/director, speaker, and producer/host of two visual arts related podcasts: F-Stop Beyond (for photographers) and Crossing the 180 (for filmmakers). For two consecutive years he was named to the EventDV 25, one of the top 25 event videographers in the industry as voted by his peers. He is the founder and president of Dare Dreamer Media, a boutique new media marketing agency and production company whose clientele have included Apple, Adobe, Kodak, and QuickBooks.

Ron and his wife Tasra co-authored the new book, ReFocus: Cutting Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business, by PeachPit Press. Ron writes a weekly blog about branding, social media, and visual arts at

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About the Author

Rachel has been with Zacuto since 2009. She began working in the sales department and moved to marketing in 2013. In her role as Digital Marketing Director she oversees the gear loan and review program, social media, blog content,, and works with the team on overall marketing strategy. Rachel has a BA in Theatre with a focus on Directing from Arizona State University. Those who have spoken with her on the phone know she occasionally reveals her homeland by slipping into a British accent. Rachel likes tear-jerker sports movies, reading cookbooks for pleasure, and crossword puzzles. Contact her at


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