Making your first feature can be daunting, we know. However, our TFF 2014 filmmakers were glad to share strategies for getting your movie made. Here are some tips from those who have been there, done that.
"I can really only speak to the first-time doc filmmaker, but my advice would be to go to as many festivals as you can and take any opportunity to meet people doing the kind of work you admire. Talk to them, ask questions, share your interests, develop relationships. I think the doc filmmaking community is a very welcoming and generous one. I’m indebted to many people who helped guide me along the way, and I try my best to do whatever I can to help others as well."
- Justin Weinstein, An Honest Liar
"Save your money and find a place to live that affords you the opportunity to take risks."
- Tyler Measom, An Honest Liar
"I think seeing your individuality as an asset rather than a liability is key. Not trusting that, will lead you down a rabbit hole of insecurity and mediocre work. Be kind to people. Give credit where credit is due. Be aware of your influences as well as your contemporaries. Competing with those around you will keep you a place of call and response which is a detriment to our art form. Understand that we collectively as filmmakers, have a responsibility to move the medium forward and to take ownership of it's progress...I think the only way that can happen is we believe in our individual pursuits, trust our instincts and allow ourselves to be unique. Ask questions! Share answers."
- Garrett Bradley, Below Dreams
"Talk to as many brilliant people who've been down the road before, soak up their advice (the good and the bad), and then forget it. I'm a big proponent of experiential learning, and I've seen so many brilliant talented people talk themselves out of doing creative endeavors because they overthought it. Even if someone hated the process of making a movie (and believe me, there are reasons to hate it), they learned that lesson for themselves. That's not your lesson. You have to make your own mistakes. And frankly, charting a course where you only make the "right" decisions is a great trajectory for a boring insulated life."
- Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber, Tomorrow We Disappear
"Well, it would be the blind leading the blind. I guess: know the history of the art, and study humanity."
- Angus MacLachlan, Goodbye to All That
"Shoot what scares you. If you’re not scared you’re not pushing yourself. Don’t play it safe – that’s boring."
- Alastair Orr, Indigenous
"Tell your story, as raw and honest as possible. Take great risks in your storytelling, style, and in expressing your vision."
- Ryan Piers WIlliams, X/Y
"Keep it cheap unless you are lucky enough to have bottomless pockets. If you have a great project & a unique voice… it will shine through (usually)... just make the damned thing with whatever resources you have available. Everything else will fall into place if you are tenacious (usually)."
- Andrew T. Betzer, Young Bodies Heal Quickly
"Just begin, you'll find everything will fall into place once you take the first step. And never stop, no matter what anyone says. Tenacity is the most important quality for a filmmaker to have, I think."
- Ivan Kavanagh, The Canal
"Write, re-write, and re-write your script; don’t compromise on your creative vision in production; open yourself up to discovering a whole new film in post; and never give up on getting your finished film out into the world."
- Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, Beneath the Harvest Sky
"Hustle to create your own opportunities. No matter how solid your plans, something with inevitably alter them. Stay flexible and honest. Good news is rarely an indication that there's nothing left to do. Don't get disappointed when your ambition rubs up against reality, your dreams are the fuel you need to stay motivated, and the sky should always be the limit. If you're young, your youth is your greatest resource, exploit it."
- Dan Sickles, Mala Mala
"Don’t come up with a cool idea for a movie. It’s not gonna work. React to something honestly and then use the medium to illustrate your reaction to whatever phenomena you are genuinely intrigued by. Making a movie is a challenge so you need to be completely obsessed like a nut in order to not give up when people are like What are you doing? or Why do you want money for that?"
- Antonio Santini, Mala Mala
"With the new high resolution cameras widely available, there is no excuse not to make a movie. Joe Swanberg didn't wait for money. Oren Peli didn't wait for money. You don't need a million dollars to make a movie. You just need good actors and a good story (which is probably harder to find)."
- Christopher Denham, Preservation
- Mike Fleiss, The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir
"1. Make sure you train yourself to have a marketable skill, and not necessarily in film. 2. Believe in yourself. Plenty of others may not. 3. Hang on to your sense of humor. You will need it!"
- Nancy Kates, Regarding Susan Sontag
"If you are going to try and make documentaries don't try and film absolutely everything. There seems to be an obsession with filming everything now. The first time you meet one of your characters leave the camera in the bag for as long as possible (unless he says he's only got 20 minutes in which case hand him a really expensive bottle of wine in the hope that he stays longer)."
- John Dower, Slaying the Badger
"Find a really great story and stick with it! It's hard and always will be, whether it's the narrative structure or the fundraising. Be resilient."
- Johanna Hamilton, 1971
"Listen to people but don't believe anything is impossible. Don't worry about the money or any of that. movies are in a special place now. Like music, we're not at the mercy of studios or whatever all the time. But on the flipside remember that if you're lucky to be able to get money to make your film to be grateful. That doesn't mean giving in on creativity. It means being responsible to putting every last bit of fight and belief into every single frame, sound and edit. It is over after you see it with an audience. Enjoy the trip. And although I may sound like I'm anti whatever I think listening to EVERYONE'S IDEAS is a good thing. At least for me. Then you make the decisions but I do respect all the processes."
- Dito Montiel, Boulevard
"Don't forget that you are the foremost expert on what you are creating; own it; at which point… be a little humble."
- Stephen Belber, Match
"Focus on your strengths. Figure out what element of filmmaking you are best at, and work on excelling at it. Compliment this by surrounding yourself with other artists who are great at what they do and you should have a winning team. A great team is what makes a great film."
- Nicholas Mross, The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin
"Be a doer. This industry is full of people who do nothing but talk about what they're going to make, and a tiny proportion of incredible people who actually go out and make it. And don't be disheartened if everything you produce doesn't turn out exactly as you planned it. Not every film you make will be brilliant, but the next one will be better... and the next one... and the next one..."
- Mike Brett, Next Goal Wins
"If you can find a good script and a little bit of money, you can direct a movie. With technology today, there is no excuse. MAKE STUFF NOW!"
- Andrew Disney, Intramural
"At the risk of sounding Nike-istic... just do it. But yeah, advice only goes so far. The experience (and your learning curve) is inherently individual."
- Jessica Yu, Misconception
"Don’t do it if you’re not sure it's something you have to do. Filmmaking and show business are not for the faint of heart and spirit. It's too hard and competitive to half step."
- Michael Rapaport, When the Garden Was Eden
"Figure out what you love and what you'd love to watch and focus on that idea-wise. Try and exploit your limitations as much as you can -- if you have an aggressive, tight schedule avoid a bunch of location moves so as much time as possible can be spent shooting."
- Leigh Janiak, Honeymoon
"Make your first film one that is of importance to you and make it at any cost, as little money as you think you can raise. Don't wait for the full budget you thought was needed, lower the budget to what you have and make it!"
- David Lascher, Sister
"Make sure you love and believe in your movie and are clear about what it is. If it is not a money making script or idea, and money is your goal, pick a different project. If it is a so-called difficult movie, be ready for the consequences, even if it is great. Don’t let reality get in the way of your dreams. Movies are impossible and yet they get made every day. The most talented people don’t (always) make the best movies. The most persistent and clear people do. Try to be both. Don’t let people tell you it can’t be done. If it can’t be done, they shouldn’t do it. You should."
- Keith Miller, Five Star
"Script, script, script."
- Midi Z., Ice Poison (Bing Du)
"Always make sure you are recording good sound. Wait an extra five seconds before calling cut. And smile and be thankful for every second you’re on set."
- Jesse Zwick, About Alex
"You can't make a film alone. Find a good team of people and learn to communicate what you want. Be open to everything but figure out what's not useful. Remember the feeling in the beginning when you were inspired to make the film, before you learned anything. Meditate in the morning. It's good for the brain. Feed your crew good food."
- Lloyd Handwerker, Famous Nathan
"Make your own work. Fail early, fail often. And make sure you are recording!"
- Kevin Gordon, True Son
"Go and buy a cheap camera and start shooting anything and everything you can. Learn to edit, learn to mix, learn to grade. Become comfortable with as many technical parts of the filmmaking process as you can, so that you can then focus on storytelling. And then – and this is the hardest thing because it requires a hefty dose of luck – try to surround yourself with producers, editors, composers etc who are far more experienced and far more talented than you are!"
- Ed Perkins, Garnet's Gold
"Run! Just kidding. I would say that you should never take no for an answer."
- Bert Marcus, Champs
"Having just made my first film, I would say I'm still pretty green and still have a lot to learn. At this point, my main advice would be to always be in the process of creation and to never give up. Failing is not only inevitable, it is 100% necessary. It's the only way you are going to learn. Always believe in your work and keep moving forward. It takes time…it's a marathon, not a sprint. If you really want to be a filmmaker, it requires a lifetime of development and may take decades before your talent is recognized. There is no single set path of success."
- Josef Kubota Wladyka, Manos Sucias
"Learn to shoot, so you can shoot your own films. Even if you don't, it will make you a better director."
- Jesse Moss, The Overnighters
"Do you know your message? I mean, that probably you know your story, but do you really know what you want to say. Because in fact, best long feature films rarely have more than 2-3 ideas, while young filmmakers tend to put into a film 5-6 ideas. In the end, it is too confusing. After my fourth film I understood, that it will be much better to focus on just one proposition in the film. Secondly, most probably you don't need all the high-end equipment you fancy."
- Ilmar Raag, I Won't Come Back
"I speak from experience (and past heartbreak) when I say: never wait to make your film if making it now, on any level, is an option. If you have a script you love and can scrape together the most meager of budgets, I can guarantee that the experience will be rewarding and teach you things and make you a filmmaker."
- Susanna Fogel, Life Partners
"It's difficult. Advice here doesn't help, everyone has their own experience. But if there is another way to express themselves it's better to avoid to be a filmmaker. I think every filmmaker needs to have something to tell."
- Tinatin Kajrishvili, Brides
"Start small! The difference between a short and a feature is like the difference between swimming 30 minutes in your pool and swimming the English channel. Become a really good story-teller in a low-pressure environment. Learn to understand budgets and most importantly, get a great producer! A great producer takes so much off your shoulders and lets you focus as much as you can on the creative process rather than the details of budgets, crew, etc."
- Sanjay Rawal, Food Chains
"Pick a subject that you are passionate about and try to do it as inexpensively as possible. By making it inexpensively you feel freer to experiment and fail. Surround yourself with the best talent you can on all fronts."
- Louie Psihoyos, 6
"Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Even if you are a veteran filmmaker.. don't be afraid to make mistakes."
- Brent Hodge, A Brony Tale
"Just go out there and try!"
- Tonislav Hristov, Love & Engineering