January 25, 2018
Sundance 2018

Struggling With Your Second Feature? Take Cues From 9 Sophomore Sundance Directors

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival was a mast year for second-time filmmakers, with some having spent years (even decades) working on a their follow-up films.

A plethora of problems can plague sophomore directors. If your first film is successful, you can become stymied by by the need to make a film as good as, or better than, the first, lest the world judge you to be a fluke. Alternately, If you called in all your favors to scrape together the first film, you may find yourself unable to do the same the second time around.

As you know, most No Film School writers are filmmakers. That’s the case for me, and I’ve been finding it difficult to get started on my second feature documentary. It’s not because of a psychological paralysis due to the astronomical success of my first film (I wish!). Rather, having spent six years on my first doc, I've felt crippled by the perception that I must be absolutely certain about the next story I want to tell, in case it takes another six years of my life to complete.

How did the second-time filmmakers at Sundance 2018 overcome the sophomore slump? No Film School asked these talented filmmakers for advice on conquering the sophomore slump, and their answers offer a refreshing perspective on both the challenges and strategies for getting the job done. 

Dark Money (Director: Kimberly Reed, U.S. Documentary Competition)

John Adams appears in Dark Money by Kimberly Reed, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Eric Phillips-Horst.

Kimberly Reed stormed onto the scene with her documentary Prodigal Sons, about her return to her Montana hometown as a transgendered woman looking to reconnect with her estranged brother. This year, in her sophomore documentary Dark Money, Kimberly returns to her home state to expose the funneling of anonymous funds into elections in the wake of Citizens United.

"After my first film Prodigal Sons garnered awards and national exposure, I waited around for that to generate offers and work. That didn’t happen, for one reason or another. When I saw the groundwork for Dark Money developing in 2012, instead of wasting any more time waiting for development funding, I just grabbed a camera and started shooting myself. I would have preferred to work with a crew, but I wouldn’t have had a film if I waited for 'the time to be right.' My advice is to do whatever it takes to start the project rolling, even if it means wearing a lot of hats."

An Evening With Beverly Luff Lynn (Director: Jim Hosking, NEXT)

Aubrey Plaza appears in An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn by Jim Hosking, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nanu Segal.

In his follow up to The Greasy Strangler, Jim Hosking creates an absurdist romantic comedy with the help of cast Emile Hirsch, Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement, and Craig Robinson in An Evening With Beverly Luff Lynn.

"I feel that my main learning is that I have to be a really annoying persistent pain in the arse to everybody I am working with as I keep pushing and pushing people beyond the point of decency. I am annoying and then profusely apologise and then I keep being really annoying."

Of Fathers and Sons (Director: Talal Derki, World Cinema Documentary Competition)

Osama appears in Of Fathers and Sons by Talal Derki, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Kahtan Hasson and Talal Derki.

In Of Fathers and Sons, Talal Derki poses as a pro-jihadist photojournalist to capture the chilling realities of the caliphate in a remote village in northern Syria.

"It’s always tricky when you have a successful first film. In the first film, you can make mistakes, make something personal, because you are unknown at that point. In the second film, after success, you have to count to 100 before taking any step. You have to be prepared with plan A, B, C, to make sure nothing will stop production, to always find a solution to advance the story. And you must find the angle to make the story special. You must find your own direction and your unique talent."

The producer for Of Fathers and Sons, Tobias Siebert, offered additional insight on making a sophomore film.

"My advice for your second film is to make a really good first film. If your first film is not really good, you won’t make a second film. My advice for the second film is to start as early as possible with development. It is perfect to come to the premiere of your first film with a treatment for your second film. So you can use your couple of minutes of fame with the first film to bring together the film for your second film."

Loveling (Director: Gustavo Pizzi, World Dramatic Competition)

Karine Teles and Otavio Muller appear in Loveling by Gustavo Pizzi, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Bianca Aun.

In Loveling, Gustavo Pizzi, along with the help of his writing partner and lead actress Karine Teles, creates a beautifully expressionist portrait of a family about to send off their 16-year-old for an opportunity to play handball in a country halfway across the world. 

"It's always hard to make a film. To make our first one, we had nothing, nothing, nothing. And, we made it. Then to make the second, we needed a really big budget compared to the first one. But for the second one, you couldn't come again to every person and ask for favors again. You can’t say, 'Oh, look! I don't have any money again...' So for the second film, we found a lot of partners. We needed more resources. We needed more support, partners, and foreign partners, for us. The International Labs. Cinemart. It was a long way. You have to be persistent."

Pity (Director: Babis Makridis, World Dramatic Competition)

Babis Makridis, director of Pity, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Margarita Nikitaki.

In Pity, Babis Makridis creates a pitch-dark comedy through a narcissistic protagonist wallowing in self-pity when his wife falls into a deep coma. 

"Making a film has always been and always will be a difficult process. I believe that the important thing is that you don't give up when things do not go as you expected. With your second film, you want to make something better, to evolve as a filmmaker. They only way for that is to learn from your mistakes."

Time Share (Tiempo Compartido) (Director: Sebastián Hofmann, World Dramatic Competition)

Luis Gerardo Mendez appears in Time Share (Tiempo Compartido) by Sebastián Hofmann, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matias Penachino.

In Tiempo Compartido, Sebastián Hofmann paints a visually piquant story of a couple who show up at Vistamar, hoping to find a simple solution to happiness through the corporate concoction of a mega-resort.

"Making a film is like climbing a mountain. If you don't want to see the view from the top, you can always stay home."

The Rider (Director: Chloé Zhao, Spotlight)

Brady Jandreau appears in The Rider by Chloe Zhao, an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Joshua James Richards.

In The Rider, Chloé Zhao reworks the classic visuals of the west into a naturalistic story of a rising rodeo star faced with injury and the return to a normal life.

"My second feature had a smaller budget and crew than my first one. If you have limitations, find a story you can tell within them, or even better, find a story that can thrive because of them."  

Foxtrot (Director: Samuel Maoz, Spotlight)

A film still from Foxtrot by Samuel Maoz, an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Giora Bejach.

In Samuel Maoz's second film, Foxtrot, he uses a plethora of creative visual strategies to tell the story of an Israeli couple who travel to the checkpoint where there son was killed in the line of duty.

"The first feature is usually more focused. The creator uploads the subject he was most anxious to express, and the budget, which is usually low, forces him to focus and set limits. In his second film, he wants to upload all the rest. All his ideas, thoughts, emotions, dreams, fantasies and perversions. It is his moment to show the world his rich and complex inner world. Make five movies in one. It is difficult to make a whole inner world accessible, and such motivation can drag you into a spin, loss of control and failure. Clear concept, relevant cinematic language, and especially — walking with your vision till the end, without trying to prove or impress but from a real inner drive — are the most healthy and effective motivation, the most refined fuel there is.

Set limits. Limitations are a blessing. And do not underestimate the audience. Challenge the audience, who are more sensitive, smarter and sophisticated than you think."


For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

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No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones and Blackmagic Design.      

Header image from Time Share (Tiempo Compartido) by Sebastián Hofmann, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matias Penachino.

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