How to build a name for yourself in the film industry

Three young filmmakers reveal how they grew their brands and platforms, from seeking mentorship through to harnessing new technology.
Director Meji Alabi instructs singer Wizkid on the set of his latest music video, while a woman in a short pink dress lies on a rug and another woman in a yellow top adjusts a glass.

"When I'm behind the camera, I feel empowered," says filmmaker, photographer and director Meji Alabi, pictured on set directing a music video for Nigerian singer and songwriter Wizkid. "I feel empowered to be able to help people tell their stories, to help artists reach the next level in their career, to make groundbreaking videos. And I want to pass that onto those rising up behind me." © KT Watson

How do you make a name for yourself in today's fast-moving and ever-competitive filmmaking world? Those breaking through have one thing in common – a fierce drive which has seen them make bold choices.

"You have to push and reach out to people," says filmmaker, photographer and director Meji Alabi, who has worked with artists including Tinie Tempah and WizKid, and whose production company JM Films produced the Nigerian segment of Beyonce's Black is King film. "Opportunities don't just come from nowhere, they come from you preparing and being in the right place at the right time."

Treading the path from self-shooter to high-profile director spearheading music videos for artists including Skepta, Wiley and Wretch 32, Ashleigh Jadee is a big believer in taking a leap of faith and believing in yourself. "A lot of people hold themselves back," she says. "I always say to people, you don't need the best things to get started. Just use what you have. The most important thing is just getting started. You'll figure the rest out."

That's something self-taught Dutch filmmaker Basha de Bruijn, whose work includes campaigns for major music festivals and charities, has also found. When she discovered her passion while working at a broadcasting station aged 18, she was told she was too young to direct. After skipping university and film school to learn on set, she shot her first international commercial aged just 22.

Here, Meji, Ashleigh and Basha share their top tips for building a name for yourself in the film world, from developing career-defining connections to making the most of ever-evolving technology.

Director Ashleigh Jadee writes in her notebook while seated at a desk in front of an open laptop. She is wearing a green camouflage fleece jacket and smiling at the screen.

Ashleigh Jadee, pictured, made the transition from videographer to director and is now looking to expand into different genres of film. "A piece of advice that I would give my younger self is to trust myself more," she says. "Put yourself out there and talk about yourself more – the confidence will come. I used to hide myself a lot, but networking is so important."

1. Discover people power

"Networking is everything," says Basha. "The film industry is really open to that – and to getting to know new people. You work on sets with so many different people, and that's what I really like about it."

Meji, who is self-taught, found the value of connections as his career progressed. "As time went on, I started realising that you have to know people, you have to talk to people. It's important that you connect with people on a human level, not only on a work level, and build relationships and just be a nice person. When you're like that, people gravitate towards you."

Collaboration can stem from connections you make both in person and online, says Ashleigh, and following up is key. "I think face-to-face is the number one networking tool. If you meet someone online, make sure that when you meet them in person you go and introduce yourself. Or if you meet someone in real life, make sure you message them afterwards to say, 'Hey, lovely to meet you!' They're both just as important."

2. Seek mentorship and pass it on

"Mentorship is so important, because not only does it guide you, it saves you so much time, because you're learning from someone who's already done what you want to do," says Ashleigh, who is now a mentor and life coach herself.

Coming from a non-traditional filmmaking background, Basha found mentors to be instrumental in guiding her career and now gives back to aspiring filmmakers rising up behind her, saying, "It's really important – it's how I got here."

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It's a sentiment echoed by Meji. "I'm always trying to give back to the person that I was when I was starting out," he says. "There's so much talent that isn't given the chance, just because they're young. The industry can feel daunting from the outside."

Ashleigh recommends seeking out someone you aspire to become. "Look at the person and figure out whether you would want to be in their position," she says. "Check out what they've done, to make sure they're able to offer you the advice you need."

Director Basha de Bruijn, wearing a baseball cap and jacket, reviews footage on a monitor while seated on a film set.

"I wanted to be a director after seeing how they worked but was told I couldn't because I was too young," says filmmaker Basha de Bruijn, who took a non-traditional route into the industry, as she didn't go to film school. "I think it has its advantages, because I have my own view of how to make films and I'm not moulded into a particular mindset." © Basha de Bruijn

On a sunny day, filmmaker Basha de Bruijn sits on the top step of a stepladder, while a man in a long black coat and sunglasses looks up at her.

Basha, pictured here with a friend, says mentorship has been instrumental in her career. "When I started to call myself a director, I began looking for someone who could shoot for me, so every time I came across something that was shot really nicely, I'd look up who worked on it. I'd then reach out to them to see if they wanted to grab a coffee, and I actually met an amazing mentor this way. She started teaching me about the technical side of the industry, and I learned so much from her." © Basha de Bruijn

3. Experiment to find your style

Developing a recognisable filmic style, from colour palettes through to editing techniques, can make your work synonymous with your brand. While honing a style can be important, Meji recommends playing around with your style as you develop it.

"Young filmmakers should experiment and see what they like," he says. "If there's something you're passionate about, then explore it and don't be shy about it. Seek out that creativity and then feel free to move on. You don't have to stay in the box."

A Canon EOS C70 camera mounted vertically to film a seated woman in portrait mode.

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Basha advises always letting your personality shine through in your work. "Filmic style has a lot to do with your personality," she says. "When you look at my work, the main thread that connects it all is human interest.

"The biggest thing is just getting going," she continues. "Don't be hard on yourself. I think for me, because I didn't go to film school, I wasn't afraid to make mistakes. Just start making films, and it doesn't matter if it's not as good as you want it to be – that's the only way to begin your journey."

Nigerian singer Wizkid, wearing a colourful shirt and sunglasses, smiles as he has his picture taken against a green curtain.

For Meji, new technology is part of the storytelling process. "Try to use the different tools technology constantly serves up for us," he advises. "New cameras and lenses and the different mechanisms we can use – they are all part of the story." © KT Watson

4. Harness the potential of new technology

Meji first picked up a camera – a Canon EOS 550D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D) – while studying accounting at university, and soon began shooting music videos for friends. After deciding to commit to filmmaking, he upgraded to a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV). "That camera really changed the game quality-wise," he says. "People were looking at me like, 'Wow, your videos are looking sharp'. And things really built up from there. As technology advances, our techniques advance – smaller cameras mean we can shoot in places we couldn't before, and there's higher quality and more durability."

Staying on top of technical developments can also fuel your creativity. "It's really important to adapt to what is out there," says Basha. "Some DoPs can get really stuck in what they know, and that's a shame because there's so much new technology, and things are moving forward so quickly, and that's so exciting."

Ashleigh's first Canon camera was a Canon EOS 60D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 90D). "At first I got it just for photography, and then once I found a film element – that was it," she remembers. "I was using it for events, weddings, music videos – pretty much everything I could shoot. I definitely think the direction that kit is going now is super helpful for young people, as it's more accessible."

Director Meji Alabi and singer Wizkid take a break on set. Meji is holding a Canon camera and wearing a blue mask. They are surrounded by crew members.

Meji takes a break on set with Wizkid. "I feel like aspiring filmmakers should just explore every angle of their creativity without restraint, because you only live once. There are as many opportunities as there have always been – you just have to look for them," he says. © Josh Snaps

A masked Meji Alabi holds a Canon camera on an outdoor set surrounded by his crew.

"Try not to doubt yourself," says Meji. "Often you write ideas, and it seems so good to you, and then you might be on set and have a moment of doubt. Stick to your guns. Especially as a director – it's your vision, so try not to be swayed. Take people's opinions into consideration, but still get your shots." © Josh Snaps

5. Develop a wide skillset

The fast-paced nature of content creation means tomorrow's directors, editors and photographers are adding more skills to their name, to break through the noise. Ashleigh, who shifted her focus from videography to directing, says she makes a habit of showing people that she can do different things. "I was assisting a director for about three years and he taught me production. While I was learning production, I was watching him direct as well, subconsciously. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I'd already learned on those shoots."

Meji has been delivering entire projects since the beginning of his career. "I encourage people to understand different aspects of filmmaking, because it makes you a better filmmaker," he says. "You don't have to be the best editor in the world, but if you understand the process of editing, you and your editor can collaborate better. Being multi-faceted is the way forward. Focus on your strengths, but it's good to have a wider general knowledge."

Basha has worked as a director, filmmaker and editor. "It's really helpful that I'm an editor, that I can write my own treatments and I have knowledge of music," she says. "It helps to create whatever you envision, in a way. And as a young or aspiring filmmaker, it's just really nice to have that knowledge."

Director Ashleigh Jadee points and winks at the camera. She is seated at a table and wearing a green camouflage fleece jacket and gold hoop earrings.

Ashleigh started mentoring during lockdown and loves having the opportunity to share her learnings with the next generation. "When I started to delegate, that's when I really started to grow. That's one thing that I always preach to my mentees," she says.

6. Make and share work consistently

With online platforms allowing you to publish everything from clips and highlight reels to entire feature films at the click of a button, it has never been easier to share your work and connect with filmmakers across the globe. "I think it's amazing to constantly be inspired by my peers, seeing the work they're doing from all around the world," says Meji. "It's incredible.

"I've had times of doubt and was at one point thinking about doing something else," he continues. "One of my friends said, 'Whatever you do, just don't stop shooting. Keep working, keep being consistent and it'll happen.' That's great advice. Continue being consistent with your work and giving everything to every job."

"Social media is a way to stay at the forefront of people's minds," adds Ashleigh, who has a community of 13.5k followers on Instagram. "So use it to promote your work and yourself – so that you stay relevant. It's a way to put yourself out there and to share skills, get work and get noticed."

Tessa Watkins

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