'Everything is Worth It,' and Lots More Advice from SXSW Filmmakers
The festivities in Austin have come to a close, so we've combed through our extensive coverage of SXSW 2016 to share the best pieces of filmmaking advice we heard from festival directors, producers and panelists.
Director Adam Pinney:
Filmmaking is collaborative art, no matter if you are the writer/director, or the production assistant. You all are making a film together and all putting a great amount of effort into it, and at the end of the day, it’s everybody’s film, not just yours. Find people you love and trust and enjoy being around and help each other make movies. Do that forever.
Director Kaweh Modiri:
The most important thing is to know what you want and no matter how many people tell you it's not going to work — to just stick to your own thing because in the end, you can only judge your own work by the criteria you have for yourself — For me, it was always very important to know that I was going to judge myself on certain criteria — That helped me to keep my focus during the whole film, during all of the ups and downs that a film obviously has in the process.
Director Lisa Robinson:
My advice is to get really clear about what you're interested in, in film. I think that's really helpful. Don't try to make films that please some audience, or please some person. Just be clear on what you are interested in or what you like in other films, and then really focus on that in a specific way and a personal way. Make your work as unique as possible to you and to make sure you love it as much as possible. I really think that that kind of passion and connection translates to other people finding it interesting, because it comes from something that's like a window into somebody's else's world.
Creator Dan Schoenbrun:
There’s always something to be upset or disappointed or stressed about. And you can always hustle to get more press, get more people to see your movie, get more festival invitations or money or whatever. But I tried really hard to force myself to be in the moment at SXSW and not get too caught up in the stress of everything else. For me, and I hope for all of the filmmakers, this whole project has been about the joy of making something.
Producer Ira Glass:
I do think that producing is a horrible job. Movie producing is just ridiculous. Seriously, it takes forever. It's not like you're the actor; that's really fun. If you're the director, it's really fun, or if you're the script writer, writing is really fun. Producing is just trying to organize things that keep falling apart.
Director Mike Birbiglia:
I always say that the analogy of directing is being a camp counselor, or student counsel president, which I was, I don't want to brag. You know, you go like, "Okay. We're having the homecoming dance. You're on streamers, you're getting a DJ, you're going to be on clean-up committee, you're going to get pigs in a blanket." Then you convince everybody it's going to be so fun, and you know it won't. You secretly know it's not that fun. You got to just be like... I forget who said it, "the best actor on the set is the director."
Director Kris Avedisian:
I think setting really realistic expectations of what you can accomplish is important — being really honest with yourself.
Director Clay Tweel:
I'd say the piece of advice I would give is just be, from the get-go, be okay that [your movie] is going to change. Just understand that your original intention is 100% not going to be what the movie is. Accept that, and sketch something out and know that you're going to be re-sequencing; you're going to come up with an entirely new sub-plot.
Director Josh Locy:
Everything is hard, but it's all rewarding. Everything is worth it. You have to just find new ways to solve old problems, and you have to keep pushing. No one's going to make your movie for you. You're the only one who has that spark. It starts with a spark that turns into a flame. You're the only one that has it. You've got to push.
Director Jake Oelman:
The best stuff will come out of failure, so making mistakes is really the key. From a feature film standpoint, you just have to be extraordinarily resilient, extremely dedicated and you just have to love it. If you don't love it, you are screwed. It's too hard and so much work.
Producer Jerry Aronson:
I think what's most important is passion. If you really get this incredible feeling, "I have to tell this story," well then it's your fault if you don't. If you have to tell the story, then tell the story. When I work with people that I know on their docs, I don't charge them anything and if the film happens to make money, then I'll get something probably, but I'm not thinking about money while I'm doing it. I'm thinking about how important this story is to the world.
Director Bobby Miller:
Put your head down and do the work. Meaning, getting a film made can be a really long hard journey that’s frustrating and depressing and everything else. But, every time I got a setback I just came back at the script and worked on it some more. I figured I would turn this “luxury” of time into a positive. At least that’s what I was telling myself.
Director Laura Dunn:
Your life becomes more complicated. I made my first feature, I had one child. Now I have six, so you really have to love the work. I remember saying that to friends, that if I'm editing in the middle of the night with a newborn and all this other chaos in my life but I still like the work, I'm doing what I should do.
Director Clay Liford:
There’s this weird thought — and I had it too when I was younger — that if I over-prepare, I'm taking away my mojo. You think that you're going to lose something that makes you creatively unique [if you prepare], but I don't think that's the case at all. I think you're gaining the ability to have more creative freedom.
Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru
Director Joe Berlinger:
For documentaries, try have a nose for where the story is actually going. Of course, you need to prepare a list of questions, but don’t stick to your question list without listening. Listening is key. If you go into a situation with a preconceived idea of the story, you sometimes miss the story. Let the situation tell you where the film is going. You can’t tell the film where to go.
Midnight Special producer Sarah Green on finding an agent:
Agents are very tough to get to, but there are young agents at every agency. Don’t go for the big guns but the new guys, the ones who are just out of the mail room. Their job is to find you; they have to prove themselves as talent scouts. Networks are important, so stay in touch with them. Keep your connections.
The Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd on spotting talent:
That's another valuable lesson I learned during the early days that can't be more important or relevant to my career, which is spotting talent. Learn to recognize talent when you see it and forge creative partnerships.
Festival programmer Dan Brawley on not getting into a festival:
Thinking your film is bad because it didn't get in] is like leaving a grocery store and saying everything you didn't buy in there is shit. That's crazy, right? There's a lot of good stuff in there, but you can't buy it all, you can't eat it all. The worst thing that happens in my mind is when a filmmaker doesn't get accepted and they unleash a social media barrage saying it was the most important thing in their life and they can't believe they didn't get in. I'm thinking, "Why did you wait until now to tell us that?"
Drinking Buddies director Joe Swanberg on why it's better to have no money:
If you have "some money", everybody is going to want some of that "some money." If you have "no money", everybody knows it — and then they're just there to work. In a best case scenario — you sell a movie and then you're able to pay people afterwards better than you could've paid them if you had "some money."
Liz Cook, Documentary Film Outreach Lead, Kickstarter on crowdfunding:
Films on Kickstarter raise an average of $12,000. Documentaries average $20k. These are fractions of your overall budget. Maybe if it’s a short, it’s covering your budget, but not for features. [Crowdfunding] is not alternative funding, it’s additional. It might close the gap, whether it’s for post or a certain part of production or a piece of your distribution. It’s an opportunity to engage with your audience and get it out in the world, generate some buzz and awareness.
Erik Flannigan, Executive VP of Music & Multi-Platform Strategy at Viacom on being original:
You have to be as good, as original, as committed as the best stuff out there. We’ve stuck with Nathan For You for 4 seasons even though its audience was slow to build because there is no other show like it out there, and it grew [out of] word-of-mouth. You can do all the social media to promote a show, but at the end of the day, that original content has to be able to carry the water. You just can’t make passive TV anymore.
Demolition star Jake Gyllenhaal on the importance of story:
It has to have something to say beyond just, "This is an entertaining story." It has to have a resonance — I believe really deeply in the unconscious of a story — not just the [consciousness] of the story. So, it has to have something underneath.
Miles Ahead director/actor Don Cheadle on teamwork:
If you like the piece and you like the work then you should want it to work for everybody. And some of the best experiences that I've had in film are when you feel like the whole ensemble is working together — not that there's this one light and everybody else is kind of throwing alley-oops to that person.
No Film School's coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by SongFreedom.