You know what? As important as this question is, and as dedicated as I am to making sure we all learn the practical things that will allow us to both earn a living & build a new system that allows for artists to sustain a career in the arts, I also think that if we try too hard to answer that question, we will never commit ourselves to the art, craft, and pursuit.
We need to run full speed into this love of film, but particularly to do it with all of our heart. If we are also not lazy about it, and if we are studious in our endeavors, forever trying to improve our craft & our knowledge, while also maintaining a sense of wonder and pleasure, then perhaps we can truly become artists. That is the first step -- the becoming -- and only after we land in that dangerous swamp, can we address the second step of knowing the waters & environment. Once through those trials, and only once there, can we set about the third step: building our home.
Let's say you did that first step and made the leap. Let's say you then have remained vigilant in your practice and you are an eternal student of both film and the system. You watch movies, talk movies. You read novels and study art. You read up on the technology and train yourself to use it. You refuse to accept that the way it is is a given and you consider change. You keep your house in order and don't live beyond your means. You are thankful for the good fortune you've enjoyed, and don't blame others for your struggles. Well, then, you are ready for that next important step: survival and sustainability.
The Tribeca Film Institute held a panel at The New School trying to address "How To Make A Living As A Filmmaker" and thankfully it's up on YouTube. It's a long panel and could benefit from a bit of meta-tagging and some chaptering, but it is worth a ride, and if you are starting out a focused one.
What are the lessons it offers? Lots, but among them: be self-reliant; be generous; recognize that it is a long run; find another way to make money beyond filmmaking (teaching, shooting commercials, speaking gigs); build your audience and database.
I'd like to write a post on the practical things we need to do survive these days. I am going to start taking notes, but I would love your suggestions.