5 Reasons Why You Should Apply to Filmmaker Workshops and Labs
Filmmaker workshops, labs, and fellowships offer a number of benefits for the indie filmmaker. Here’s what you need to know before you apply.
On the heels of the announcement of SXSW Feature winner Jim Cummings inaugural class of the Short to Feature Lab, we take a look at some of the most important considerations when applying for filmmaker workshops, labs, and fellowships. While some of the perks may be obvious, many of the takeaways are more nuanced. However, you should consider them all before you pay your fee, submit your application, and finally attend.
First and foremost, for many of these workshops and labs, like the wide array of workshops and labs offered by the Sundance Institute, applying and being accepted for a program means that you’ll probably be looking at travel arrangements. (However, there are some online lab shops to consider, like the New York Film Academy’s Filmmaker Lab). It takes some planning (and maybe some vacation days), but getting to jump fully into a program is definitely one of the best ways to grow as a filmmaker.
This is sort of a catch-all term for everything that will happen at a workshop or lab. You’ll be surrounded 24/7 with incredibly helpful information and insights for your career. Bring notebooks, audio recorders, and cameras to capture as much information as possible. Many workshops and labs (like the famous documentary lab in Brooklyn, New York UnionDocs) involve days full of presenters and guests who offer insights into all aspects of filmmaking — from pre-production, to production, to post, to funding and distribution.
Another aspect of many workshops and labs is the work you do while you’re there. Take the Points North Fellowship, for example, where the two-day mentorship program tasks each attendee with creating a sales pitch for their unfinished documentary project. With the help of industry veterans, each person must hone their skills to craft a seven-minute sales pitch to deliver at the end of the workshop in front of a panel of industry funders. You’ll encounter similar hands-on, real-world examples in many of these workshops, and they’re all invaluable.
Mentoring is an inherent part of many workshops, labs, and fellowships. They say a strong mentor is the number one indicator of job success in many industries, and film and video production is no different. If you can find a good workshop (like the Buert Bals Fund, which caters to filmmakers across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Eastern Europe), securing a personal mentorship is perhaps the best move you can make for your career. Look to connect with industry experts and veterans who have similar career tracks to those that interest you most. Say in touch and communicate often.
Similarly, establishing connections with everyone else involved with these programs is a good idea. This means not only the folks who run the workshops and labs but also your fellow attendees, who can become your friends and colleagues moving forward. Even long-distance fellowships like Filmmakers Without Borders is a great way to stay connected with fellow filmmakers. You never know what your next project or job might be, so maintaining a strong network can be the best way to stay active on cool projects with cool people.
Cover image by guruXOX.
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