7 Pieces of Filmmaking Advice from Legendary Director Oliver Stone

"Every film is a privilege to make and should be treated as such."

After winning three Oscars and nearly half of a decade of filmmaking experience, Oliver Stone has become a fountain of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to making movies. In this video, BAFTA Guru sits down with the world-renowned director to talk about his work, his inspiration, and his philosophy on telling difficult stories. Check it out below, and continue on for our takeaways:

Work as a PA

Stone payed his dues working as a production assistant on all sorts of sets, including in porn, and any professional filmmaker will tell you that working as one is a great way to learn your way around set. Even if you're just wrangling wires or fetching beverages, you're still gaining important knowledge about the ins and outs of shooting a movie.

A good story can lead to bigger things

When Stone first enrolled at NYU's film program, his interest was in writing. He says that he wrote one script every year, because he believed that one day a good story would open doors for him in the film industry. This is a great lesson for all filmmakers: story is king. You can have the nicest camera, the greatest actors, and the most talented crew, but if you don't have a story to set all of these assets, you don't have much.

'Platoon' (1986)

Learn by watching

If you're not too fond of sitting on the bench, you might want to get fond of it. At the beginning of your film career, you might have to take a backseat (not working as the head honcho...director, DP, etc.) for a while working as a PA, a 1st or 2nd AC, or grip. Though they may not be positions you aspire to, Stone urges you to "learn by watching." These jobs can help you learn about the craft as well as set life without the pressure of having a ton of responsibility.

Expect resistance

Stone has made a career of talking about things people are uncomfortable with. From the Vietnam war with Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July to national security and pride with Snowden. If you're interested in telling challenging stories, expect resistance.

'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989)

It doesn't get easier

Unfortunately, the more you make films, the more experience you have doesn't make the whole process any easier. Even an A-list director like Stone runs into difficulty while trying to find financing for his projects, and he's not the only one. 

I can't ever tell any young filmmaker that it gets easier. You might think it gets easier but maybe you're not trying your hardest. So, every film is a privilege to make and should be treated as such.

Filmmaking is about finding yourself

Stone tells BAFTA Guru, "The biggest influence on my career is the...the experience of life, I suppose." This is a crucial element in being an artist and something many young filmmakers don't realize: if you want to create art and be inspired, living your life to the fullest, whatever that may look like for you, is one of the greatest things you can do. If that means travel, do it. If that means sitting at coffee shops and people watching for hours (that's me), do it. 

'Snowden' (2016)

The best advice you can give a director

Stone says:

The best advice you can give a director is be open to life and try to be self-conscious of it as it goes. Try to see what's unique about it, what's original in your dialog. Try to remember some of your dialog and try to remember how you reacted. Be generous but at the same time be critical of yourself. Sometimes we don't behave as well as we should. I think arrogance gets in the way of that.     

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Your Comment


Your personal version of "living life to the fullest" is people-watching in coffeeshops for hours?

January 1, 2017 at 8:16PM


Uh, yes.
It's called 'observing' people.
The way they are, way they act,
their behavior.
Actors people watch, writers do, filmmakers do,etc.
What do you do, read a 'how to' book?

January 2, 2017 at 9:05AM, Edited January 2, 9:05AM

martin woyzeck
Actor, writer, acting teacher/coach

Happy New Year NFS! Just want to say thank you for all the great articles and hard work!
Just an fyi...think you mean "century" not "decade" in the first paragraph. Pretty sure he has more than 4.5 years of experience :)

January 2, 2017 at 7:50AM

Kevin Davidson
Director / Cinematographer / Editor

What Kevin said. Century is the right word...

May 31, 2017 at 2:49AM


"Paid" not "payed."

January 2, 2017 at 8:49AM

Robert Schmeltzer

It's 'paid' not payed.

January 2, 2017 at 9:03AM, Edited January 2, 9:03AM

martin woyzeck
Actor, writer, acting teacher/coach

"After winning three Oscars and nearly half of a decade of filmmaking experience".

Damn, can you believe Oliver Stone has been making films for almost five years!

I think the word you were going for is "century."

January 2, 2017 at 5:33PM, Edited January 2, 5:33PM


heyyo i am new to this site i have read like 5 or 6 blogs and i really like em . i have been studying these and the point i keep finding again and again is self exploration so hope this helped

January 3, 2017 at 9:35AM, Edited January 3, 9:35AM

Akhilesh Shetty