I get this question a lot because of graduating from San Francisco State University with a BA in Film, directing six feature films and surviving as a freelancer.
The most important thing is to always keep your shingle hanging out and saying: "I am a freelance director." Never say, "Ah I gave that up." Even if you have other jobs, never tear up your business cards.
Keep contact with all active filmmakers from college. Work on their films. It's a business of showing up. Show up to shoots, in any capacity. Show up enough and do a good job, and be an ambassador of good will, and you have a good chance on being invited to work on other films.
And remember, be courteous and respectful to everyone. The extra or stunt man of today's shoot could be the producer of tomorrow's shoot. It happened to me.
One of my swords women fighters from Weapons of Death hired me to do a travelogue in Phuket, Thailand. Here's a 90 second trailer to see the swordswomen: http://bit.ly/ihULsS
And actress Barbara Leigh who I hired for a role in Rock Star Rising hired me to direct her new audio-book The King, McQueen, and the Love Machine.
My life changed when I realized that I was not only in the feature film business, but also in the COMUNICATION business.
In the 40s and 50s, United States train companies thought they were only in the train business. They did not invest in trucks and airplanes and were left behind. The train companies should have thought, "We are in the transportation business", and expanded to trucks, buses, and airplanes.
So be a soundman, an extra, an actor, a novelist, a speaker, a film teacher, (but don't get stuck in a dead end job). Be those as freelance, but not a stunt man, it's too dangerous. Yes, you will direct, but be in the Communication Business.
Also you must start to develop your own projects that you feel passionate about. You never know when someone with money will ask you if you have a project. You should be able to instantly give him or her a script and budget and location plan and schedule.
To get a feature film made, one producer said it the best: "You have to stand on a mountain top all alone and yell the name of your movie into the wind for years." I found this to be true . However, I got lucky with my 3rd feature film and raised the money in six weeks. But that was the only time it happened so fast. However, it could happen that fast for you. You never know in the 'crap-shoot' of making movies.
You never know who will hire you or finance your next feature film. Because I was in the karate circles in San Francisco, I met martial arts champion Ron Marchini who hired me to direct my 2nd feature; Death Machines. It was pick up for distribution by Crown International and opened in 50 theaters in Los Angeles alone, and gave me the credit to continue to my next feature. All that good, came from meeting various martial artists until I met Ron, who was brave enough to finance and star in the movie.
I found that the best, and maybe the only way, to get your feature film made is to do every bit of pre-production that you can, without actually making the movie, or spending too much money.
This would include: script, budget, location list, crew list, letters of intent from star actors (who could impress investors, even character actors), all legal papers, investment percentage points that the investors will get for a given amount of money, so that you can say it exactly when you suddenly meet an investor who is interested. And you will meet them, not only in venture capital offices, but is some unusual places where they hang out. Just remember; Business is where you find it.
Arthur P. Jacops, got Planet of the Apes financed by paying for colorful drawings of special scenes from the script that he could show studio heads and investors.
And though it's good to have various scripts and projects that you're interested in, it's best to have one project that is most important to you. So much so, that it wouldn't matter if it were your only movie, just as long as you make it. You would even sell your Porsche to make it. As Fess Parker said, "To be in the entertainment business, you have to be in a state of unreality." (To others, that translates as 'crazy'.)
To keep your mind focused on your project, continue watching your favorite films over on DVD. Keep reading books by directors and watching DVD bonus programs and listening to commentary tracks. This is an incredible teaching device that will help program your subconscious to keep you on the right track.
If you are truly in it for the long run, then join and actively maintain social web sites such as http://www.filmcommunity.com They have a great artist 'photo show' application on your main page where you can display your writing and films.
Another important web site for your future and for possible quick results is http://www.linkedin.com That site is 100% business, with many serious clubs for scriptwriters, directors, and movie finance. Use the drop down window to search for 'groups'. Input the words, 'movies, 'financing', 'screenplay', and so on. It's a free site, no need to upgrade.
All the fortune 500 companies and Hollywood studios are there. You know, all that 'non artist' but 100% necessary business. You do not post photos or your art, just one little photo of yourself with on your profile page, but you can connect with serious business people.
Not as fun as Facebook, but totally necessary if you want to build for the long run, because to be a long run artist takes continued business links.
So get on that site and build contacts for the future. But always remember, it's not Facebook, so put on your business hat when you go there.
To repeat, work on everyone's film. Yes, some will not appreciate your help, some will not pay you what they promised, but others will. You must have some kind of short film or video to show someone when you get an opportunity. I've directed six features (did post on many more) and still want to do more. That's why I did Rock Star Rising as an audio-book with famous actors.
Maybe a producer who is a fan of those actors will see it and ask for a script, which I have waiting. But more than that, I'm still taking action on it, by getting it to producers via my agent.
Beware, age 26. That's when all my movie friends gave up. Four years after college. Their wives, girlfriends, or even parents said, "Well, you gave it a shot, now you have to get a real job." Yes, get freelance jobs. I always worked and at night I screened my first feature to buyers and future investors. Always work, but work freelance to be available for other film jobs.
Most of all, repeating, stay in touch with every active filmmaker in your group and the ones you meet on the internet. And make a contribution, whether it's passing on your used DVDs, helping to write a project, or participate in the financing. You have to ask, ask the right people, have something to give, and keep asking other people.
If you're interested in directing for the creative expression and lifestyle, or to do that one great story you have in your heart, you'll stay in it. However if you only have the dream of fame fortune and money, it's hard to stay motivated and will you'll seek other paths for that.
And the best part is that you can't even imagine the surprises that come when you follow your dreams. I have too many personal examples to list here, but it's amazing what comes and how it comes. And when you're getting paid for what you love to do, you'll know that the price of perseverance was well worth it.
Also on this site: Best DVD Director Commentaries: http://bit.ly/Vs07Ce
Francis Ford Coppola's Advice on Your Dream: urlm.in/pbkh