Submerse yourself deep within basic knowledge about your filmmaking motivation, and equally as important to that, understand yourself. The key to success is a realistic foresight combined with an equally realistic understanding of what motivates us.
It’s fundamental to understand the dynamics, demands and the level of openness required from within a successful filmmakers working life – if you want to find work, be offered work and maintain regularity with your work as a filmmaker – self-employed or otherwise.
Like all artists, some of the work-retention, luck, and frequency can boil down to decent habits developed early in a career. Through understanding and observing those practises we thought it would make sense to share what we’ve seen as vital elements that propel people forward, instead of holding people back, in their working lives.
Here are five tips gleaned from collective experience of our most successful filmmakers, judges and peers.
1. A decent attitude towards feedback is key.
As a collective hub for filmmakers to send in their work with the hope of showcasing and in many cases with a huge desire to succeed, it surprises us time and time again when we receive films which don’t follow the basic principles of filmmaking.
The principles aren’t there as rules to be broken, they are there as fundamental/necessary elements which make your work watchable.
When we deliver the feedback like…
-“We can’t hear your dialogue”
-“Your actors don’t believe what they’re saying”
-“The scene isn’t lit correctly because we can’t see most elements of vital the action.”
-“Your camera crosses the line.”
-“Everything is in focus.”
-“Is that your grandmothers ironing in the background?”
We get very defensive replies similar to the following…
“My film is unconventional, it is different to the mainstream, it challenges the audience, it’s art, screw you…etc”
The above is certainly a more tame and dumbed down version of the replies we get when we point out a films failing. It is counter productive to have this attitude because yours (and your teams) film – is just a stepping stone and a part of your journey in finding and forging a career within an exceptionally competitive business.
Feedback like the above is key in your improvement as a filmmaker, the problem is, like with all creative endeavours — we feel as the creator that these pieces of work are our blood, our soul, our children – we understand that. But as an artist it is vital that the ego is maintained and your work is seen as progression, rather than a final product of your brilliance.
Your brilliance will never be realised by one film.
2. Don’t be precious.
You can cut multiple versions. It is fine to cut three different versions of your film. Send all three out to similar festivals and see how they do! Usually perfection is gained not when there is nothing more to add bit when there’s nothing left to take away.
The most common problem we have with most of the decent work we are sent is pace. Pace is key in moving from amateur to professional. It starts even before the script, and it ends in the editing room.
We all have our own internal rhythm, and when one writes drama, dialogue or plans their interviews, many filmmakers set their work to their own clock. This may either have a good effect or a bad effect.
The film could be fast and jumpy if you’re that type of person – “think Quintin Tarrentino”. Or it could have a very slow, sustained or even boring feel to it. The latter is great for documentaries, take Werner Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man’ or ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ for example. But for dramatic action you need to increase the tempo, regardless of your natural preference.
As you imagine scene’s and as you write dialogue and action sequences. Syd Field describes action vs dialogue in the quest to close up narrative dragging…
“Do not allow your characters to talk until the situation breaks and they absolutely have to…”
“Only enter a scene as close as possible to the end of the action…”
“Always leave a scene before it’s action and/or dialogue ends…”
As you shoot on the day(s), build it up. Give the entire crew a sense if haste, urgency and dynamism. This will really help in keeping the energy up between and inside takes. When actors don’t pick up on their cues, you have a black moment where inside the pausing heads, faces and bodies change. This is an editors nightmare – by keeping the energy dynamic you will find your shoot days to be very successful.
As you edit the work. We find that it always makes sense to have someone else cut your work. Filmmakers, especially in their early days get unnecessarily close to their projects. They fear ambiguity and they doubt their audience. This results in the obvious being played again and again. It’s a mistake which is easily rectified by taking away the ego, giving up the cut to someone else, or simply returning to your work in a years time.
Editing is an art form. A good editor is very sharp, they understand dialogue, scene structure, action, the value, and need, to earn dramatic sequences and they can decide very quickly on what is important and what isn’t. If you can get someone to cut your work – do it!
The social network is a great example of pace hitting the nail on the head. Linklaters film was genius because he managed to get the pace building great, he has a brilliant technique of combining the dramtic stakes, with the content of the characters actions, dialogue and the soundtrack – he even had the actors saying their lines fast. Partly down to having to squeeze an experimentally large script into an equally tight production slot – the result was a very well crafted pacey film, that looked great, and moved along effortlessly.
3. Building Momentum.
This is a subject deserving of it’s own post all together (coming soon).
Many directors, not all filmmakers, but many have only one film they want to make. This could be anything, a semi-biographical short, or an epic project which pays homage to their favourite book or movie – whatever and why-ever it is irrelevant but we see these all the time. We see a lot of these and it’s fine if that’s the case; however it can be a real shame if we see huge potential fall flat into either a distracting lifestyle, a lack of commitment, or even worse, a lack of self belief.
Momentum is something we can only build through a strong understanding as to why we do what we do – “creative honesty” – is something that allows us to move on from project to project, taking any unnecessary emotion out of the work, and moving on to the next phase.
Ask yourself honestly “…why am I here? What was the plan? Have I gotten distracted? Do I lack belief?”
It’s all down to personal preference, it all comes down to you, and you doing whatever it is that you want in order to be happy. Our only advice is that you remember that life is precious, you only get one, and if you feel at your core that you are a filmmaker – make films.
Fail and fail better.
A map of ones life is boring without failure. The twists and turns we take in everything, from family, relationships, work and our lifestyle, shapes us and allows for us to grow.
Accepting failure, understanding it, and building a solid coping mechanism, to allow your creative powers to flourish within it, is as powerful a key to success than luck itself. The best artists fail. Ask yourself honestly if you can too. We have met a lot of people who can’t handle making mistakes. Flat denial, holding on to a comment from an irrelevant source, hyper ego – we have has it all.
The fact is, mistakes are there to be made. Nothing can break you, nobody has died, so make another film and incorporate what you’ve learned into this next piece of progressive art.
Education can’t really be defined as actual learning. Many educational systems in Europe and the Americas rely heavily on the exam as a signal to mass learning done good. Anyone with any real sense of the outside world knows that exams aren’t 100% full proof in determining if a learner has learnt or not.
Everyone is different. Personally if I want to remember something I have do it repeatedly and assign the action to something loosely connected before it ever goes in. I guess this could be called “associational experience”? Heard it here first. — It’s how I learn and in many cases I would find it difficult to write it down so whatever process I’m doing could be examined, but I’d know exactly how to do the task, I’d have learnt it…education is very personal.
We all have to be honest and admit at some stage what level of understanding in a subject we possess and where we feel we are in the timeline of actually “getting it”.