4 essential principles you can use to become a better filmmaker in 2016

The media inundates us with “overnight” success stories, but we know there are years of hard work behind the scenes.

Being a filmmaker is both a business and a practice. More than anything it’s a vocation—something you are compelled to do. Otherwise we’d all be working on Wall Street, right? One of the biggest struggles filmmakers face is finding a way to pay the bills while also developing as an artist.

Working in film and video can be a grind, regardless of where you are in your career. Growing as a filmmaker requires perspective and planning, as well as hard work. Set goals to become a better filmmaker in the year ahead.

While there are as many goal-setting strategies as there are filmmakers, we’ll start with the biggest, boldest goals and work towards practical steps you can take in the next year.


Imagine yourself as arrived, the filmmaker you really dream of being. What would your ideal life look like ten years from now? Maybe you’re making huge films like Creed or Captain America. Or indie touchstones like While We’re Young or The Danish Girl. You could be making commercials for Fortune 500 companies, or be an Internet giant like Rocketjump’s Freddie Wong. Think big.

Your vision for your career—your progression as an artist—is the starting point from which you’ll set goals. Your vision might change as time passes. You may end up somewhere completely unexpected. But your vision says something important about who you are and what you’ll do in the future. Don’t be ashamed of your dreams.

But in order to reach your biggest, boldest goals, you have to think two steps ahead. Which brings us to—

Stretch Goals

Your stretch goals should be practical—or better yet one step beyond practical. Stretch goals are what would happen if you worked hard and had good luck for the next two to five years. They are realistic, but can’t be taken for granted. You’ll have to do something new to make them come true.

Some examples of stretch goals: you want to quit your day job to become a full-time video producer. Or to complete your first feature film. Unlike traditional, corporate careers, no one is going to promote you for sticking around and doing a pretty good job. If you want to reach the next height in your career, you’re going to have to earn it.

Next Steps

This is your next year. You’re going to keep doing what you’ve been doing well, but add to it. Build on it. Maybe you need to expand into a larger market before you can land major projects. Or you need to finish your first feature screenplay. Make a great short film. These are goals that you can accomplish—and that will move you closer to your five and ten year goals—but will require some adjustments in your life to make sure you nail them.

Daily Practice

Think of your daily practice as routine tasks that you’ll need to navigate on a daily or weekly level. It’s maintaining a healthy creative discipline.Take thirty minutes every morning to free write. Reach out to one potential client each day. Watch movies or TV shows with a notebook in hand, taking notes on story, craft, and style. Shoot something just for fun every month. Whatever these smaller commitments are, following them will make you a better filmmaker—maybe even a better person. Keep your Next Steps in mind as you commit to your daily practice, and every day can bring you closer to your goals.

Write these goals down and see how your Vision, Stretch Goals, Next Steps and Daily Practice influence and build on each other. Consider making a poster outlining your Daily Practice and putting it up in your home. Live out your goals from the smallest habits to the biggest commitments. It might be a grind, but it’s the life we’ve chosen.

What are your goals for the new year? What does that look like on a daily basis? Share your goals in the comments and inspire other readers to become better filmmakers in 2016.

Stephen Heleker

Stephen is a producer and writer/director living in Los Angeles. His first feature film as a producer—Good, starring Keith David—debuted at the 2020 Austin Film Festival. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @stephenheleker

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