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Here are 7 filmmaking questions you’ve asked, answered by the filmmakers on our Ask Us Anything panel—a select sampling of what you’ll hear at the event to help you on your filmmaking journey.
1. What’s harder: getting started or being able to keep going?
I think getting started is the hardest part. As artists we can put so much pressure on ourselves to produce amazing work all the time.
Filmmaking is a practice in my opinion. It’s better to take the pressure off and just produce as much as possible. You will get better in time. If I waited until everything was perfect and ideal, I would never make anything.
There is an inevitable transition that occurs when you move from the beginning stages of a project—when everything is new and shiny and exciting and the possibilities (and outcomes) are endless—to the long, difficult middle. The middle is where, most likely, no one cares at all that you’re working on X project. The middle is where the money starts getting thin, the supporters start wavering, the reality of what you’re making is not living up to the idea you had when you began. It’s the middle that is the work, long before you begin to see the faintest light at the end of the tunnel.
I think the way forward is in community.
With people who can come along and simply say, “I know it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Keep it up.” Hearing those words, on a consistent basis, is the key to being able to keep going.
2. When inspiration is waning, when you feel creatively sapped, what do you do? How do you stay fresh?
Personally, I’ve focused intently on creating, even when I don’t feel like it. There’s a great book from 99U called Manage Your Day-to-Day that has really helped drive that message home. In it, they explore the fact that successful, professional creatives in every field get there through simply utilizing a personal routine that helps them create on a daily basis. It’s about triggers that tell your mind, “lets make something”.
Controlling those triggers helps you create consistently, rather than needing to thrive off of a burst of inspiration. With that mindset in mind, I still use specific music, a nice coffee break, or simply time with my family as a re-charge when I’m feeling drained. Our studio is a workplace that really gives way to collaboration and quality time.
If I’m trying to write a script, then I’ll go listen to music. If I’m trying to edit a film, I’ll go to the museum. If I’m trying to prepare to DP a narrative, I’ll read Texas Monthly. I find that looking outside your particular medium, really forcing your brain to make connections, is the most helpful thing for unclogging my idea generation.
In my very humble opinion, the single best thing you can to do to help with inspiration is to get outside and exercise. It could literally just be a 30-45 minute walk. But, no question, getting the blood flowing does wonders for creativity.
Walk away. Distance yourself. Try something new. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”—the same is true here. If you don’t find yourself drawn back in…then perhaps you should go [do] something else. If like me, you find yourself drawn by this strange magnetic power [to] the filmmaking business…well then you know you’re @#@#!
No sane person who wants a white picket-fenced house would choose to do what we do once you’ve seen behind the curtain.
Staying fresh requires discipline—you have to be a relentless learner. The best way for me to get out of a creative funk is to go do something new—shoot something I haven’t shot before, use a new piece of gear, try a new workflow.
You have to take risks to grow.
3. How much do you think commerce affects your art? Or: How much do you have to compromise as a filmmaker because of financial restrictions or business?
Commerce is inextricably woven with art in any commercial directing endeavor. You have to find a careful balance between the two and serve both the creative needs of the piece along with the commercial needs of the client—that’s what they’re hiring you for after all…one without the other doesn’t get anyone very far.
Case in point: Nike doesn’t sell shoes, they sell sport and athleticism. Too often clients are transfixed [by] their latest slogan or newest product, but it’s your role as a director to help them take a step back and see the larger picture. Sometimes on the contrary you actually want to help them focus on something that’s a bit more simple, pure, and hopefully something that has a hook that will connect with your intended audience.
It should be said that when push comes to shove, you’re not making an independent film, you’re being hired to execute something for a commercial client—never lose sight of that fact.
One of my favorite sayings is that from the time you finish a script, everything from that point on is compromise. The same can be said about financial restrictions. They are part and parcel of every project you work on. The trick is making the most of what you do have, not what you don’t have—because that will get you nowhere.
The goal is to try to not compromise on the storytelling aspects, but to let creature comforts and expensive locations go (for example). To think out of the box.
You need to accept that filmmaking is as much about your ideas and skill as a storyteller as it is about managing your resources and business.
Ultimately, lack of money = original solutions and out of the box thinking, which seems to be the true key to some of the best content out there.
Not sure you can call us artists. Is video art? Not sure. Video has always been an outlet to try to corral the calamity of creation…to find the hocus pocus and try to get it in focus.
Strangely, it seems like commerce is slowly coming around to telling these more subtle advertising stories that seem to mask the message behind something that is actually worth watching.
Social causes, bold branded content, or the infinite wisdom of a chainsaw juggler that saves rain forests…if it’s interesting, it’s all fair game aboard the Mayflower that is sailing into the new world of commercial content on the internet. It’s an exciting time to be at sea, pilgrim.
4. What is the one mistake most filmmakers make, regardless of experience?
They forget to charge their batteries.
Assuming they have nothing more to learn. We should always be students of the craft. When you get too comfortable with what you know and how you create, your stories can start to lose life.
One of the biggest mistakes we all make is that we get so focused on our tech we forget about the people, we forget about the experience. If you look at an interview as an example, the experience you create for the interviewer will lead to a much stronger result versus any lens or camera choice you could make.
The act of observation fundamentally changes something—it’s a rule in physics as much as it’s a rule in psychology. In psych, they call it the “Observer Effect”: where the act of observation will change behavior.
As filmmakers, we live in the art of observation, and therefore we will change behavior. The mistake so many of us make is not take the time to think through how we will change behavior.
It can be something as simple as leaving the camera in the car and instead showing up with a warm hug and taking a moment to genuinely share why it is you want to tell their story. Those few moments can fundamentally change how you are seen—from filmmaker into friend—and that shift can lead to a much deeper connection both with and without the camera.
5. Why do you think there are so few women in filmmaking?
Until recently I never gave much thought about being a female filmmaker, I always just thought of myself as a filmmaker. Learning how to tell a story, finding your own voice, and crafting a unique perspective were the challenges I encountered coming into the field 5 years ago. To me those hurdles weren’t gender-specific, they were just hurdles.
So have I encountered a fair share of challenges since embarking on my filmmaking journey? Of course. There’s nothing more difficult than listening to sexist comments on set or working with people who come in with predetermined notions of what you can or cannot do. Perception is a powerful thing: “There aren’t many female directors, so women must not know how to direct”; “There aren’t very many female DPs, so women must not know know how to relate story to camera, lights, and tech”; “Women should stick with makeup or art direction.”
It’s not an easy landscape to navigate but so much of it is your frame of mind. If you let yourself believe that you aren’t capable then you certainly won’t be.
So much of good storytelling and better filmmaking is in belief, in attitude, in having the confidence that you have a story worth telling, and a voice that deserves to be heard.
Ask Us Anything is an opportunity to recognize the shared struggles of your peers, not to feel better or worse than them, but to totally understand that we’re all in this together.
For me personally I see a ton of opportunities in the filmmaking world for women. Overall we communicate well, multitasking is in our DNA, and we empathize with others—all of which is core to key filmmaking roles like directing and producing. Sure, tech and camera is often seen as a challenge for women looking to take on a DP role, but if we can care for a child and be a good listener (neither of which comes with an instruction manual) we can sure as hell figure out how to rig a Red Epic on the MoVi M10 with wireless follow focus.
And today with all the industry education, availability of gear, and communication platforms for storytellers to connect, there are huge opportunities for women to expand their horizons and take on more leading roles in film.
Case in point, I just came off of a commercial production where everyone—all the talent, the clients, the director, DP, gaffer, grip, and PA—were all women. The kicker? Our very talented make-up artist was the only guy on set. And to me it’s so incredibly encouraging to collaborate with more women and to be a part of a larger community of filmmakers (male and female) that fosters an environment for all of us to learn and grow together.
I think there are a couple reasons that really contribute to this. One, it’s self-perpetuating—there are a ton of guys in filmmaking and so that acts as a psychological barrier for females to enter, as well as a hurdle for them to get key positions.
And…the second big hurdle: For so many people, they see filmmaking as a tech-centric art form. We look at a video that moves us and we wonder about the cameras, lenses, apertures, and tools used to create it.
There are gender differences in personality and interests—now keep in mind that means that on average, there are differences, not that individual men or women aren’t capable of being high or low on any of these. Women are generally more sensitive and often more interested in careers that involve in working with people and interaction. Men, on the other hand, are often more dominant and more often interested in careers that involve working with things.
So, if you look at filmmaking from a tech standpoint, we could definitely see why guys might be more attracted to it than females. If, however, you see filmmaking as more of a relational art form, as [Stillmotion does], then I believe there is a massive opportunity for females to really take over leadership roles in the industry and tell stories in incredibly powerful ways.
6. How do you know when your story’s finished, when to walk away?
We probably aren’t the best to ask about that because that is the hardest part…to walk away…but it certainly can be the most rewarding part: when you’ve chopped and tweaked and rubber-banded something into absolute oblivion, and you can finally watch through it and think to yourself, “I don’t hate that.” What a feeling! It really is a process of feeling something out and smoothing the edges—like Demi & Swayze at the potting wheel—until its digital skeleton becomes inhabited by some sort of friendly ghost. Boo.
I think Da Vinci already nailed this one:
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
This is very much my experience with story.
I don’t know if I’ve ever actually come to a place where a story I was working on would be considered 100% finished in my mind. If time and budget allotted, I would just tweak and tweak and tweak for all of eternity. You can ask Joey, or anyone else [at Film Lab Creative] for that matter. When a project is “complete”, and everyone is smiling as we go to click “upload”, I’ll be the guy that yells, “Wait!”, because there’s some minor idea or change that came to my mind as I mulled it over for the 1,000th time.
In the end though, you have to deal with the realities of deadlines and budget.
7. We all hear so often about the lack of original stories in the world. That we’ve all “seen it before”. How do you stay fresh in the face of an idea like that?
I think filmmakers that bring a unique vision to story is what draws me in. Not necessarily camera angles, but more how they tell their story. As an art form I appreciate the few who say, “The hell with ‘how it’s supposed to be done’!”, and they bring something fresh and new. Michel Gondry is a good example.
The stories that we tell each other are how we try and make sense of our existence.
We struggle with what it means to be alive and to be human and to be in relationships and work and be parents and have responsibilities. Sure, the nuances ebb and flow depending on the place and time, but so much of what we tell each other we’ve been telling each other for thousands and thousands of years. The Odyssey? It’s a story about how even grand adventure can’t take away our desire to be known and to have a home. Even the stories in the Bible are substantially normal, universal. One brother wants what the other brother has and he kills him for it.
Jealousy, anger, love, hate, grief. These are the fundamentals of any story. Of course it’s all been told, it’s all been seen. And we need to hear it over and over again.
So no, “we’ve seen it all before” is presupposing that that is a bad thing. The job of the storyteller is to take the normal things, the everyday things, the adventure, the pain, and the elation, and assemble them in just such a fashion that the audience, wherever/whenever they may be, feels something. That they would sit up straight, as if the storyteller was speaking directly to them, the viewer. That it would be such an honest telling, it could break through all the barriers we put up.
As a storyteller, that is the grand adventure. Using the things at our disposal to make stories to gut punch.
There is a chance that during the Ask Us Anything Event, you may hear a question you know the answer to. But still: we need to hear it over and over again.