When it comes to filmmaking is it better to be a master aka specialist or jack of all trades? Throughout the years I have heard both arguments. I see the value in taking either path. Before starting your filmmaking career or expanding it, here are a few things you should consider.
So, for clarification as to what a specialist is, I mean you have one skill in the area of filmmaking, and it is your only or main area of expertise. For example, if you are a screenwriter or a director then you do this solely. If you are a screenwriter then you double down on this.
Now, I am not referring to the screenwriter who wrote a pilot and/or a short. I am talking about a screenwriter who sacrifices their time and resources studying the craft. You go to workshops or take screenwriting courses at USC in Los Angeles. You consume countless how-to books and read screenplays of your favorite movies daily. When you aren’t doing this, you are entering into screenwriting festivals trying to test your metal against other upcoming screenwriters. Some are actively seeking representation. This is how you grow and develop. This takes time. So, if you aren’t this invested or committed, it’s hard to be considered a “specialist”. People who devote this type of time rarely have room to do anything else because it’ s all consuming.
Jacks are peculiar filmmakers. They are Jacks either by necessity, interest, or both. The most common are by necessity. They bought the how-to books on screenwriting. They purchased the DVDs and read screenplays from their favorite movies and screenwriters. Their movie heroes are often writer/directors. Their screenplays may not have made the first or second round in any film festivals. After years of going through this and finally realizing no one will make their movie rather than lose hope they begin learning other aspects of filmmaking. They begin researching and studying cinematography and directing, which leads them down another rabbit hole called producing and editing. This takes years because the information is limitless. Somewhere in all this they are able to squeeze out a film or two.
Where do you fit it? Which do you lean more towards: Jacks or Masters?
I have done both but for the sake of this blog I would like to explore the cons to being a Jack or Master.
What are the Cons?
- You are a one trick pony.
- You have to work within the system to make movies.
- If you don’t know how to perform other functions of filmmaking you will have to pay for services, barter, or ask for favors.
- Having no knowledge of the other functions may leave you at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating rates or knowing how things work.
- Having no knowledge of the other functions may leave you at a disadvantage when it comes discusses other aspects or the creative process.
- You will have to spend more money overall to shoot every single film but you will have quality product.
- You will be spread thin.
- Let’s face it, there are only 24 hours in a day and there is only so much you can learn, so you may retain enough from every aspect of filmmaking to perform certain functions.
- Most of your time will be spent either learning, researching, or doing.
- Quality will be sacrificed in some areas and your product will reflect this.
- Filmmaking will become less collaborative because as you learn you will reach out to fellow filmmakers less and less.
- Turnaround from project to project will be lengthy and laborious.
If you are enamored with the Hollywood machine or wish to work in a system that is supported, then you are more likely to gravitate toward the master. It is appealing with the allure of money, red carpets, and A-listers. Not just that, it’s also the way a Hollywood movie makes us feel. We all have a love affair with movies that lead us to want to create them.
I chose the blue pill.
I did not want to wait on the Hollywood system to answer my call. I got tired of not getting into film festivals. I wanted to make movies by any means necessary. So, I did just that. Remembering there are no wrongs to filmmaking. Everyone is on a different path. Steven Spielberg’s path is no more relevant and honorable than Kevin Smith or Robert Rodriguez.
If you are starting out your filmmaking journey, try to consider the path that offers least resistance. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, time, and resources. At the end of the day your path will have more to do with your personality, sensibility, and creativity than anything else. Above all remember filmmaking is hard work and no one gets a pass on that.