Independent filmmakers aren't the type of people who take the easy way out. The TFF2014 filmmakers described to us what top three attributes they believe aspiring filmmakers must have to not only make a project happen, but to keep it going - especially when there are so many variables against you.
"The ability to work and play well with others, because it’s always a group effort. Tenacity in the pursuit of your goals, especially in the face of rejection or disappointment because you will inevitably need to overcome them to succeed. Boundless curiosity and an unflagging desire to learn new things and develop new skills."
- Justin Weinstein, An Honest Liar
"Fortitude. Gumption. And in today’s world, one must also have a keen business sense."
- Tyler Measom, An Honest Liar
"A sense of humor. Social Grace. A vision."
- Garrett Bradley, Below Dreams
"1. Humility/the ability to rewrite. The first rough cut is the documentary you think you wanted to make, and it's not coming together because it's not the documentary you shot. If you can break it, rewrite (ad infinitum), and still manage to love the process, you have a chance to make a great film. 2. Patience. This echoes the above. Unless you're filming an event that provides your film an inherent narrative backbone, documentaries take a crazy long time. Either characters need time to go through change, or your brilliant editor needs enough time to identify subtle nuances in the footage that hint at change. Patience is key. 3. Stupidity/Arrogance. At a certain point in life, you're going to convince yourself to make a documentary, maybe the dumbest thing any human being who enjoys life's greater comforts could ever do. To convince yourself of this means you probably believe you're going to create something really transcendent, that's never been done before. And about a year in, more than likely, you'll realize you were wrong. But who knows? Maybe you can pull out something truly great, and you can thank your arrogance for getting you into this beautiful mess. "
- Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber, Tomorrow We Disappear
"Tenacious belief and/or desire to continue the fight. Some encouragement. Luck."
- Angus MacLachlan, Goodbye to All That
"Tenacity - You've got to be prepared to fight for what you want. Patience - Things won’t happen when you want them to. Quick solutions aren’t always the right solution. Ingenuity - Things won’t happen the way you want them to. You have to adapt."
- Alastair Orr, Indigenous
"1. Always have a very clear direction of what you want, but stay open, and embrace the unpredictable moments. 2. Have passion for your story and the persistence to endure the challenges you will face to bring it to life. 3. Most importantly, create a well balanced life. Work hard, but remember to sleep, eat well, and exercise."
- Ryan Piers Williams, X/Y
"Tenacity, ability to live in total upheaval for large portions of time, ability to remember to say please and thank you a lot… sometimes it's all you have to give."
- Andrew T. Betzer, Young Bodies Heal Quickly
"Tenacity, patience and fearlessness."
- Ivan Kavanagh, The Canal
"1) Tenacity: In order for anyone to succeed as a filmmaker, they need to keep pushing forward in the face of rejection. 2) Passion: You have to love what you do. It is such a long and hard journey to the finish line with every film, that if you are not passionate about the story you are trying to tell, you very likely will not succeed. You have to love every detail of the story and every one of the characters in it. 3) The ability to tell a good story: Since the beginning of human existence, we have relied on stories to communicate with each other. Everyone loves a good story. Kids look forward to a great bedtime story. Adults crave a quality story that captures their attention, allows them to forget about their problems, and makes them feel something. If you can tell a good story that elicits a range of emotions within people, they will go home satisfied."
- Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, Beneath the Harvest Sky
"Depends on the person. The more different kind of filmmakers the better, no?"
- Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden, Ne Me Quitte Pas
"Integrity in problem solving, stubbornness, and empathy."
- Sean Gullette, Traitors
"The ideal documentarist is egoless, an empathetic listener, and invisible. How do you create an environment where the subject trusts you and your intentions? How do you protect them while collaborating on some version of the truth that is meaningful to someone in a different space and time? How do you put your needs aside and put yourself at the service of a stranger?"
- Antonio Santini, Mala Mala
"Listen to your actors. They are your best dramaturgs. The whole thing is theoretical until real people have to speak your words. Put your ego aside and collaborate. If you don't want to collaborate, go write a novel."
- Christopher Denham, Preservation
"Optimism, enthusiasm and tenacity."
- Mike Fleiss, The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir
"Resourcefulness, perseverance, optimism. Access to a decent massage therapist also helps a lot."
- Nancy Kates, Regarding Susan Sontag
"Persistence - don't take no for an answer. Treat your crew well. Learn how to afford good wine even on the lowest budget."
- John Dower, Slaying the Badger
"Tenacity, tough skin, and a healthy ego to cope with all the rejection!"
- Johanna Hamilton, 1971
"Oh man. Well, love for what you're doing. Hopefully an openness to rewrites, rethinking, and being open to change. That and like a million other things especially a belief in the IMPOSSIBLE. Because this shit is nuts... and hopefully, good people or at least a few around them."
- Dito Montiel, Boulevard
"The guts to stick with one's vision, the ability to listen to advice when it comes to executing that vision, a love of one's audience, a love of one's characters, a love of one's actors."
- Stephen Belber, Match
"1. A clear vision. 2. Patience. 3. Unlimited liability for everything in the film. If something isn't done right or if you run out of time or if the wardrobe doesn't work or if it starts raining and you don't have a contingency plan, that's on you."
- Jordan Rubin, Zombeavers
"In my opinion, three important qualities independent filmmakers should strive for are: having a clear vision of the film you want to make, always keeping yourself motivated, and doing your best to build strong relationships with the people you're working with."
- Nicholas Mross, The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin
"A complete refusal to give up, regardless of the obstacles in your way. We were very lucky that the subject of our movie was basically the triumph of the human spirit in the face of the most overwhelmingly adversity, so we were always able to draw inspiration from the team themselves whenever we thought about throwing in the towel during the long and extremely painful post-production process."
- Mike Brett, Next Goal Wins
"Entrepreneurial Spirit - Every indie film is essentially a new small company. I think filmmakers should embrace that film is an exciting space where art and commerce come together as one. Before my first feature, I had no idea how you set up a film. I didn’t know what a PPM was or how gap financing worked. (I’m still trying to wrap my head around distribution.) Disruptive Thinking - I know “disruption” has become an ad agency buzzword, but I still love the idea. As filmmakers, we should always be looking for the new idea that breaks conventional thinking. Makes for better films, better comedy. Love - End of the day, love is the only thing that will fuel you. So many ups and downs as an indie filmmaker. You’ve got to love your craft, love your crew, love your family. Idolizing success is a one-way ticket to heartbreak."
- Andrew Disney, Intramural
"1. An underdog complex. 2. A taste for delayed gratification. 3. Work partners that complete you."
- Jessica Yu, Misconception
"Patience. Passion. Determination and a 'Me against the world' attitude."
- Michael Rapaport, When the Garden Was Eden
"Adaptability. Persistence. Energy."
- Leigh Janiak, Honeymoon
"Perseverance. Resourcefulness. Adaptability to constantly changing situations."
- David Lascher, Sister
"Patience, endurance and focus."
- Keith Miller, Five Star
"Precise script, precise script, precise script."
- Midi Z., Ice Poison (Bing Du)
"A clear vision of what you want, flexibility when faced with last-minute hurdles, and a sense of humor for when the universe inevitably laughs at your attempts to control it."
- Jesse Zwick, About Alex
"Gracious, tenacious, modesty. All the cliches are true: tenacity/focus, graciousness - remembering to thank people who help you, modest/humble - it's just a film."
- Lloyd Handwerker, Famous Nathan
"Vision, intuition, and an ability to connect with others."
- Kevin Gordon, True Son
"Patience, patience, patience."
- Ed Perkins, Garnet's Gold
"Tenacity, patience, and courage."
- Bert Marcus, Champs
"A collaborative spirit, determination, and resilience."
- Josef Kubota Wladyka, Manos Sucias
"Intuition, perseverance in the face of rejection, and luck."
- Jesse Moss, The Overnighters
"The most important 1) Ability to recognize a good story. Somehow I think independent filmmaker gets punished even more, when he or she chooses a bad story. 2) You must have friends. They are your reality-check. You may have story that could turn the world upside-down, but if you don't have friends who share your passion, you'll never do the film. Usually you're delusional. 3) Readiness for innovation. For that you need to understand the reality. I see often people who say: 'The world is so unfair to my great ideas,' and they drop their idea when the world is not responding exactly like they hoped. But if you understand the reality and know the possible extent of the compromises without losing your integrity, then you open up yourself for new ideas. For innovation."
- Ilmar Raag, I Won't Come Back
"A strong point of view and an ability to articulate it. An appreciation for the specific expertise of each person on your crew (which inspires people to do their best, and make you look your best as a filmmaker in the process). The ability to be energized/stimulated by long hours and obsessive work."
- Susanna Fogel, Life Partners
"They must be themselves, there are no common qualities."
- Tinatin Kajrishvili, Brides
"I've worked in war zones and with Fortune 500 CEOs and nothing has been more difficult than making films! The three qualities in no particular order are: Flexibility - every project and every narrative takes on a life of its own and it's critical for a filmmaker to recognize when that happens and just go with it. Oneness - oneness and harmony amongst a crew is so critical. It allows the most creative atmosphere possible, in production and in post. Oneness doesn't mean acquiescence. It means the ability to really listen to people's ideas and thoughts. Oneness allows creative tension to be constructive. Enthusiasm (in times of seemingly insurmountable odds) - on a number of occasions during Food Chains we ran out of money but we never ran out of hope. We saw narratives disappear into thin air and hit a number of roadblocks. But somehow we never lost faith in the necessity of telling this story."
- Sanjay Rawal, Food Chains
"Independent filmmakers have to be relentlessly tenacious. Adversity should be like cat-nip. Adapt to the fear of failing—it's only by screwing up and learning from the failures that you can succeed. Communicate your vision to the crew continually. That way they will not look at their enormous workload as a burden but as an essential part of a collective dream that they can feel proud being a part of. Surround yourself with the best people you can. It's okay if people who you work with are much better than yourself—you learn from them."
- Louie Psihoyos, 6
"1. Learn to multi-task - you can't just be a director or just a camera guy. You have to learn to adapt and do whatever job it takes for that film to happen. Whether it’s shooting or grabbing coffees for people on set - every job matters. 2. Production value - you don't always have the budget you want and sometimes you don't have a budget at all, but it's not about the budget, it's about the production value you bring. If you have $10,000, find a way to make it look like a million bucks and if you have a million bucks well that better look like The Lord Of The Rings or I’m leaving the theatre. 3. Earn It - I think there is a stigma with indie filmmakers and that they are just indie and aren't real filmmakers. Times have changed. Some of the best films coming out now are from indie film ideas, so I think its important to give yourself the title. I am a real filmmaker. Now go out and spend the rest of your life earning that title."
- Brent Hodge, A Brony Tale
"Flexibility, flexibility, and stubborness."
- Tonislav Hristov, Love & Engineering