Building a successful career in film is no easy feat. Creators must attempt to stay true to their vision while navigating the realities of financing, working with a team, and the ultimate need to create something that has commercial appeal and will turn a profit. The truth of the filmmaker, unfortunately, isn’t optimistic: many want to do it, and most fail, whether it’s from mistakes during production, poor marketing, or even just bad luck and timing.
But before aspiring professionals even have a chance to get paid to make a film, they have to get noticed by the clients who are offering the paycheck. In almost every case, this means that a client was impressed by a filmmaker’s portfolio and chose them over the competition. It’s the reality of the business that you’ll need to be a part of projects and build your portfolio before you even get the paycheck you’ve been working so hard for. However, there are several steps you can take to help build and market your portfolio and stand out from the rest of the pack.
1. Put your portfolio on your own website.
If you want your portfolio to catch the eye of financiers, the best way to do that is to make your portfolio as easy to reach as possible. Not only should you be able to send out your portfolio to prospective clients with ease, but those clients should be able to find your portfolio on their own. The best way to do that is by hosting your portfolio on a website. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to build a custom website from scratch (though if you have the means to, that is certainly an advantage). There are all sorts of DIY website builders, such as Weebly and Wix, that you could use to put your portfolio up for the world to see.
One of the most important parts of rising above the noise is being accessible. Don’t make people hunt for your work; make it as easy as possible for other people to find your work.
2. Place your best work first.
You may be tempted to arrange your portfolio by a theme, put your most recent work first, or perhaps save your best work for the end of your portfolio and end with a stellar impression on a client, but none of these are wise choices. All of the best portfolios take one simple action: put the best project first, whatever it may be, whenever it may have been done. Most of the time, clients stop looking at a portfolio as soon as they stop being impressed. It’s crucial to wow them with that first project and encourage them to keep reading through and viewing your work. If you can impress potential employers with that first project, you’ll earn goodwill that can be the edge to make clients overlook small mistakes, such as that weak fourth project or the poor formatting of your resume.
3. Focus on problems and process.
A great portfolio isn’t just a collection of shiny, perfect things. It’s the history of your career and work. Take a page from the portfolios of great designers and don’t focus your portfolio solely on final products. Instead, consider each entry in your portfolio as a story. What problems did you encounter in a particular project, and how did you overcome it? How did you vary your process to accommodate the goals of your latest work? A portfolio shouldn’t just reveal that you can create something pretty, but rather, it should help you articulate how you handled the unforeseen hurdles that you met along the way and how you were able to meet both the creative and financial visions of the project.
4. Showcase projects that reveal growth and an evolving skillset.
Similar to the reasoning of avoiding too many neat projects in your portfolio, you also don’t want your portfolio to consist of a series of similar projects. While filming five science-fiction shorts with the same theme is cool, it doesn’t show range as a filmmaker, nor does it reveal growth as a professional. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn't include your first project ever to show how much progress you’ve made, but if you’ve made an experimental piece or even a half-finished project that is compelling, include them in your portfolio. Remember you want your portfolio to provoke curiosity about your work, and that curiosity can arise from imperfections. A lack of ambition is its own flaw, so don’t be afraid to show your more out-there projects if they convey an evolving skillset to future employers.
Building and marketing a portfolio is as much about showcasing past successes as it is revealing ambition and the ability to solve problems. The best portfolios have flawed projects (after all, no project is first), but the best filmmakers can explain exactly what went wrong and how they can prevent it in the future. The key to rising to the top and getting hired is not only having that great portfolio, but making sure that portfolio gets into the hands of those who will pay you too.
About Susy McNeil
Susy McNeil has been working in the retail industry and eventually transition to publishing to pursue her passion for storytelling. You may connect with her on Twitter.