Don’t Quit Your Day Job


Strategies for Sustainable Filmmaking

I’m the latest “late bloomer” I know. By the time I got around to actually acting on my childhood dream of making movies, I was too old and too poor to quit my day job and go to film school, the typical route of many people in my situation.

Instead, I had to figure out a way to pursue my dream while working full-time at a job entirely unrelated to film. I did this by shooting a series of inexpensive but increasingly ambitious short films that I showed at film festivals. In doing so, I learned a lot about both the craft and business of independent filmmaking, and I met a ton of cool people who would become friends and collaborators.

I did this at the glacial pace of about one new short film per year, beginning in 2005. After several years of devoting my nights, weekends, and vacation time to filmmaking, my unrelated day job eventually became a full-time videography gig in 2010. And finally, I wrote and directed my first feature film in 2012.

Here’s what I learned about how to become a filmmaker:

  • You don’t have to go to film school.
  • You don’t have to buy expensive equipment.
  • You don’t have to have “connections.”
  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money.

Now don’t get me wrong, all of these things help. (In fact, if you are well-connected and have money to spend on movies, please call me so I can pitch you on my next project.) But they are not necessary to get started and keep going.

What is necessary, however, is a strategy that empowers you to start making movies now and, more importantly, keep making them and getting them seen. Because your first movie might only be so-so, but your fifth one might be pretty awesome. The trick is getting to your fifth film without destroying your bank account, your relationships, and your sanity.

It’s an approach I call sustainable filmmaking.

This is what I teach at my two hour workshop called, appropriately enough, DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB. Using my experience as a case study, I lead participants in a wide-ranging class that covers the creative process, equipment, marketing, film festivals, and funding.

You won’t become a filmmaker in two hours, but you will leave having a real sense of how you can become one. And, if I’ve done my job right, you’ll be fired-up to start shooting right away.



I typically give DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB as a two-hour workshop. It’s suitable for all ages and I’ve taught groups as small as ten and as large as sixty. The workshop is based on my experiences but oriented to the needs and interests of the attendees, so no two workshops are exactly alike.

If you’d like to host a workshop, contact me.



“An authentically self-taught independent filmmaker, J.P. Chan has thrown all his expertise into a nicely packaged DIY workshop for aspiring filmmakers of all skill levels. His presentation is accessible, honest and provides indispensable information from the point of view of a filmmaker who truly learned his craft by just jumping into it.”
– Rose Pergament, DisOrient Film Festival of Oregon

“J.P.’s workshop rocks! He makes it easy to understand the process and inspires the wannabe filmmaker to jump in. I haven’t encountered anyone else who has explained the process as honestly, clearly, and matter-of-factly.”
– Marvy Schuman, workshop participant

“Even with a large group of 50 people packed into a tiny space, everyone somehow became a tight knit group critiquing, analyzing, asking for advice, and loving the short films in J.P’s filmmaking workshop.”
– Avani Chaaya, , workshop participant

“J.P. gave such a great workshop about making movies that I am going to make my own!”
– Samara, workshop participant, Age 11