Making your first feature is tough. Here's what you need to keep in mind.
The 2018 IFP Gotham Awards took place last night at Cipriani Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. Now in its 28th year, the Gotham Awards are one of the preeminent (and first) film awards shows of the season, often serving as a strong prognosticator of what's to come over the next several months of film honoring. With an eye toward the independent, the nominees are made up of both new, recently discovered talent and seasoned, multi-decade-spanning film pros.
Throughout our year-round coverage of the most exciting projects in independent film reaching moviegoers worldwide, No Film School had spoken with many of last night's winners throughout the past twelve months. Below are links to our interviews with the winners as well as direct quotes about their respective journies.
Winner: The Rider
Chloé Zhao, director; Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Mollye Asher, Chloé Zhao, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)
Chloé Zhao: "With my first feature, we just about made money back because it was so low budget. For this one, I have production company myself. As a female filmmaker, I like to have control over my film. My own company invested in the film financially. I also got a huge commercial production company involved. Their bread and butter is big-budget video and commercials, but they are expanding into features. They did Diary of a Teenage Girl. They have the ability—the leverage—to take risks.
We have got to be creative about where the money comes from in indie film. I don't blame independent production companies for not giving me money because they can barely keep their heads above water. They barely can sell their films. It's so hard to make money in indie film. So I thought, let me knock on some different doors. There are commercial companies who want to branch out and do interesting films.
We can barely survive right now. We need outside help. We're not a sustainable industry. I think it's important to be flexible and willing to cooperate with people that are not in the center of the film world."
RaMell Ross, director; RaMell Ross, Joslyn Barnes, Su Kim, producers (The Cinema Guild)
RaMell Ross: "I think I'm interested in pursuing other films. One thing I learned was that you can only do things during certain times. What allowed me to make this film was this painful frustration with "struggle narratives" and the ways in which African-Americans are typically represented and my searching for new ways to make meaning and say what we all know, which is that there are...well, there's way more to a black person than the idea of being black. If a person's couched in that, then they're lost in the silhouette of blackness. It was such an interesting period of my life and of Quincy and Daniel's lives. That can never be repeated. I have some film ideas that move this strategic formulism forward, but I'm a really slow maker and, as you can tell, I like to spend a lot of time doing stuff. I'm not sure how to really articulate it or know exactly what's gonna come, but I'm developing some stuff. It's so strange to make this film. I had no idea any of this was going to happen and it was very much a "project," like a labor of love that gained momentum."
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Winner: Bo Burnham for Eighth Grade (A24)
Burnham: "You're not in control. And you actually don't even know what it looks like. You know, I anticipated making this movie would be impossible. It was very, very hard. But Elsie Fisher was the surprise. I mean, I didn't think someone could do [the role of Kayla]. When I was writing the movie, my girlfriend, who is a writer-director, was reading [the script], and she was saying, "I don't think you're gonna be able to find a kid that can do this. You're asking them to do way too many things at once. It's just gonna feel like them pretending to be this."
So Elsie was the surprise. And once she was in place, it was really so much less stressful. I mean, it was insanely stressful every day, but I would run around and attend to the production, freaking out, pulling my hair out, and then I'd get back and look at the monitor and see Elsie and be like, "Oh, right, this is all I'm doing. The endeavor of this movie is actually way simpler than I think it is—99% of my job is attending to this performance and just being a fan of it."
As fun as [doing press] is and as exciting as it is to have the movie out, it'll never be as great as it was to make it.
IFP Audience Award
Winner: Won't You Be My Neighbor
Morgan Neville: "Over the past few years, access to documentaries has changed. People, given the choice of non-fiction storytelling or fiction storytelling, will choose non-fiction just as much as fiction. So, I think it's both a question of audience and access.
And on the other hand, just filmmaking just getting better and better. Now, we're in this very interesting era of long-form non-fiction storytelling, whether it's Wormwood or OJ or Wild Wild Country, or these other multi-hour documentaries. There are so many different ways of doing really innovative long-form and short-form non-fiction storytelling. We still have more to learn.
Narrative filmmaking feels like it's in a rut. Documentary storytelling is just starting to explore the boundaries of what it can do. Real life is so much more messy than movie life. That there were things that happened in real life that if you were to script them, people would say, "Oh, that would never happen." So, that idea that you're allowed to lean into the messiness and the unpredictability of storytelling because the real world is incredibly unpredictable... that, to me, is really exciting. I think it's an amazing time right now to be doing documentary."
Winner: First Reformed, Paul Schrader (A24)
Winner: Ethan Hawke in First Reformed (A24)
Winner: Toni Collette in Hereditary (A24)
Fisher: "Well, I was already a fan of Bo's comedy and stuff. And, fun story, in my actual eighth-grade year—I love that Bo's embarrassed by this now—if you're Student of the Month, they had you fill out this form and put it on a wall. "What are your interests? What kind of music do you listen to? Who are your role models?" I put Bo as my role model."
Bo Burnham: "And she said, "I think he's a great writer," which is incredible, 'cause I only considered myself a writer, but one else considered me a writer. So she got it."
Fisher: "I got it!"
Breakthrough Series – Long Form
Winner: Killing Eve, Sally Woodward Gentle, Lee Morris, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, executive producers (BBC America)
Breakthrough Series – Short Form
Chanelle Aponte Pearson: "The intention for creating this show in the very beginning for Rae and Yaani was to make a show where they saw themselves, where they saw their friends, their children, their family on screen, and they wanted to make it accessible. I think it was both a financial reality and then also a reality of distribution. What distribution channels, what financial channels do we even have access to? We have access to the Internet, and we have access to community resources. I think that really drove the intentions for this format."