The Industry Newbie: How to Get Your First Project Off the Ground


“My name is Ayelette Robinson and I am an actor and producer.” It took me a while to make that statement confidently, and although I have been acting for a few years now, I still consider myself a newbie in the filmmaking industry. I live in LA where filmmaker resources are everywhere. That’s a good thing, right? Well, yes. But it is also frightening because being a new filmmaker in LA is like being a very tiny fish new to the Pacific Ocean. Sure, you can find lots of food, water, flora, and friends, but how are you supposed to know where to go for the tastiest food, the cleanest water, the safest flora, and the friendliest company?

I have been, and in many ways still am, that proverbial tiny fish, and I want to use this Industry Newbie column to share how I have, and still am, making it through the vastness of our proverbial filmmaking ocean. In addition to sharing my successes and lessons learned, I may even throw out some questions myself. And I hope someone will be able to help me out too.

Who Am I?

I am a smart, creative, thoughtful professional who loves what I do. I am an actor and a producer. A year ago, I had barely begun my first project in LA and was overwhelmed by the amount of filmmaking information available to me.

Although I had interviewed people in my prior career, this was my first time interviewing crew. It was also my first time working with a post-production team. It was my first time preparing for a screening. It was my first time researching and preparing for a project’s online streaming. It was and still is my first time going through the film festival submission process. But today I am proud to say that, with that first project, I just hosted my first live premiere and just announced my first online launch of a project. I am also in development, for the first time, on my first feature film. Notice how many “firsts” are in that description?

Who Are You?

You are a smart, creative, thoughtful professional who loves what you do. You want to begin, or are preparing for, or are stuck in the middle of, your first project. But you too are overwhelmed by the amount of information available to you and are not sure how to make your first project happen.

Three Actionable Tips for Getting Your First Project Off the Ground

If what I describe above speaks to you, here are three tips for clearing through that fog.

  1. Own It

One of my favorite slogans is: “There is no version 2 without version 1.” Own the fact that you are a filmmaker (or whatever role you are!) and that this is your first project – the two are not mutually exclusive. Know that you are creative and capable and that this is your first time crafting your creativity. Do not underestimate your art or apologize for it and do not overestimate your knowledge. Know your gift and be open to learning how to craft it for an audience.

When we are making or working on our first project, it can be easy to put ourselves in a box of an artist trying to make a go of it. Get yourself out of that box. Own that you will make it happen, while also owning the fact that you are still learning.

  1. Allow Yourself to Be Bombarded with Information, then Prune

The resources that I find helpful may or may not be the resources that you find helpful. Only you can figure out whose voices and styles speak to you. So, when you are starting out, sign up for all the newsletters, join all the discussion groups, read all the blog posts, make lists of all the recommendations relevant to your work. Consider it part of your job as a first-timer to do research and allow yourself a certain number of hours a week to sift through all the articles, advice, and recommendations you received that week.

But here is the key: after two or three months, unsubscribe from the items that are redundant, not helpful, or just do not speak to you. You do not need to listen to everyone out there nor is it helpful to. You will want to cast a broad information net at first because that will help you understand the range of what exists and will give you the ability to recognize which information everyone agrees to vs. which information is up for debate. But once you have gotten a sense of the landscape, prune the unnecessary voices out.

  1. Pick a First Project That Allows You to Make Mistakes

There is a 100% chance that you will make multiple mistakes and missteps on your first project. Yay! This is not failure. This is both normal and required. Accept the mistakes, embrace the mistakes, and celebrate the mistakes! Mistakes are good, even great. All they mean is that you need to choose a project that allows you to make them. Do not make your first project for someone high up in the industry whom you want to impress. Do not pick a project with a strict deadline, unless other factors, like quality, can be compromised (or something like a 48-Hour Festival where everyone is being compared on equal footing given the time constraint). Do not collaborate with or work for someone who will judge you for making a mistake. Choose a project that will be great if you take the scenic route, because I guarantee that you will. And my goal is for you to enjoy that scenic route, not beat yourself up for taking it. So, pick a project that has breathing room for mistakes, and choose a team that will enjoy the scenery as much as you do.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I am in the middle of this journey too, so I am sharing what has been successful for me. If you have any topics you would like to see covered in future Industry Newbie posts, please let me know.