Robert Redford's Advice to Young Filmmakers: 'Hit the Road & Have Some Real Life Experiences'

Robert Redford Advice to Young Filmmakers Sundance 2016

Sundance 2016 has officially begun, and earlier today Festival Director John Cooper, Executive Director Keri Putnam, and Robert Redford took part in the Day One press conference, talking about the fest and answering audience questions. During the Q&A, Redford was asked what kind of advice he had for younger filmmakers, and what he thought about film school.

Check out the video around 33:10, or read the answer below:

I guess film schools have become important, they didn't exist when I was starting out. Maybe SC, but now they've become more prominent, there are film schools all over the place. I'm not sure that that's [film school is] the answer as much as experience. As much as getting out in the world and seeing what's going on by firsthand experience. Make an adventure for yourself. Hit the road.

Don't go from school to school — to film school — and then make a movie — you can. But you're going to be relying on what you saw, you're going to be relying on the effects that that filmmaker did — you know whoever it is — they created this thing with a camera, they did this thing — "So I want to do that."

To me, what's more important if you want to tell a story, and you want to own the story you're telling, get out in the world, hit the road, and have some real life experience that's going to feed your mind. And then you'll come back and say, "I just went through this thing, I want to talk about that." 

It took me a while to realize that the country I grew up in was really about winning. Everything mattered. And I was told as a kid — because I was active in sports — and the word you got was it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game. I found that was a lie. That everything mattered. And I thought OK, I want that to be a subject of the work I do, that winning is everything. So I would say that that came from my own personal experience of getting out in the world. 

It seems like the main point is not that film school is bad or that you shouldn't go, but that life experience is important for storytelling. It's something that's been said by many filmmakers and actors before, that you really need to get out and see the world to know what kind of stories you're drawn to and what kind of stories you want to tell. The more life experience you have, the more you will likely be able to relate to all sorts of different stories, and you'll be able to bring something personal to every project. 

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance 2016 Blackmagic Design

No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.     

Your Comment


Pretty solid advice, you see so many kids that think they're filmmakers because they have a decent camera, so they make a film that starts with an alarm clock and some dude waking up and brushing his teeth. Or a slo-mo hipster walking around with washed out blacks and intercut shots of nature. The story comes first and I agree, it usually takes a bit of maturity/experience/heartache to find it, but in the meantime it doesn't hurt to cut your teeth and just shoot for the love of it -so long as you recognize your shit is shit and not "the shit".

January 21, 2016 at 10:55PM

Stephen Herron

Yeah I think this is really good advice. I haven't made a narrative film in 11 years. I've spent the last decade doing corporate video work, tv commercials and so on. Previous to that I shot short films and directed a feature when I was 24. But when I look back at those films now I see just how immature and inexperienced I really was in life which reflected in my filmmaking.

In that 11 year period since then I've had so much happen in my life. Marriage and divorce, my first kid, my dad passing away, my mom having a major stroke, my older brother passing away, all the experience I've had on the job actually doing a job that relates to what I set out to do to begin with. Not to mention just growing up in general. I look back and still see how much of a kid I was even in my late twenties. It's only now at 37 that I feel like I actually have something worthwhile to say and the means to articulate it. So I've been writing again.

Hollywood always wants to shove the young guy/gal in our face who made it in their early to mid twenties. The prodigies. Those people have a gift we may all be a little envious of. But I honestly respect the people who started later a little more. They had to work harder for it. They had to hon their skills and mature a bit to find their vision. People like Ridley Scott who basically did what I did until directing his first feature at 40.

I think that if you need to, take some time. Live life as Redford said. Don't listen to anyone who says you're too old, because it ain't over until your dead. So long as you're here you belong and have a voice. Even if it takes some time and experience to find it.

January 21, 2016 at 11:50PM, Edited January 21, 11:54PM

You voted '-1'.
Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker

So well said brother

January 22, 2016 at 9:42AM

Stephan Kielas
Film Student

Wonderfully said.

January 22, 2016 at 9:18PM

Grace Snell

This just made my day... #deeptalk Mr Mike.

January 23, 2016 at 1:04AM

Tosin Akintuyosi
Independent Film Maker

Every film is ultimately an exploration of the human condition, so life experiences really matter, sometimes life is even stranger than fiction - that's why it's quite rare to see young filmmakers make emotionally impactful films

January 22, 2016 at 2:25AM

Matt Nunn

Maybe socially winning is everything, but if you focus on just winning you're life will be pretty much full of emptiness, even if you succeed. I doubt this guy is a happy man with that kind of attitude. Now it's not a surprise why so many actors take drugs, drink tons of alcohol, if that's the mindset they have.

January 22, 2016 at 3:54AM

Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist

I would also say don't spend too much time around the Hollywood crowd. You'll start getting their politics in your opinions and movies. When actors and directors start talking about their personal views on life, politics, etc., most people start thinking, "please just shut up and act/direct", or, "who died and made you God".

I'm 53. I look back at my 20's and I remember how I thought I knew everything. So yeah, we have to have experience in life.

I've learned enough to see that talking about my politics only starts up arguments. It's the same with all of us. And arguments don't produce anything worthwhile. I had a really high opinion of Robert Redford because of Jeremiah Johnson, Ordinary People, and Horse Whisperer. But since a few years ago, when he starting giving his political views all the time, I hated how it affected what I thought of him. He just sounds like garden variety Hollywood. I thought he would be smarter than that. So I try to just block out and forget what he's been saying the past few years and just remember his movies I think so highly of.

January 23, 2016 at 7:21AM

Gene Nemetz
live streaming