All the Incredible Advice We Got from This Year's Sundance Creatives

Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The end of Sundance doesn't mean the end of learning. Let's look at what we can take away from these amazing filmmakers.

Sundance 2022 has been as incredible as ever, with the fest pulling off another last-minute online platform and incredible Q&As, panels, and virtual experiences. We at No Film School have enjoyed so many films, and we hope you have too. Even if you didn't catch all the movies this year, be sure to look through our coverage and enjoy some great conversations with writers, directors, cinematographers, and producers.

In addition to our interview coverage, we have some amazing input from dozens of filmmakers who responded to questions via email just before the fest. One of the questions we always ask is what advice these creatives have for the wonderful up-and-coming filmmakers who read No Film School. We heard back from the likes of Eva Longoria Bastón, Phyllis Nagy, Andrew Semans, Cooper Raiff, Oliver Hermanus, and many, many more.

Please take some time to get some insight, encouragement, and direction from these amazing filmmakers. And if you get the chance, check out their work! Let us know what you see and what you learn.

'Brian and Charles'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Jim Archer, Director, Brian and Charles

“It's the age-old obvious one. But make stuff. Brian and Charles comes from a short of the same name that we made for barely nothing, just the price of fuel and an Airbnb. So, try and do as much yourself, and make stuff until something sticks.”

Phyllis Nagy, Director, Call Jane

“Know the difference between what you want and what you need to make the best possible version of your film. They are often not the same.”

James P. Gannon, Director, DP, Producer, Deathwoods Deathtrap

“Just to keep making stuff, and make stuff you like and not make movies for other people.”

Constanza Castro and Doménica Castro, Directors, Producers, Writers, We Are Here 

“Don’t let anything get in the way of you creating, including yourself. The most important thing is to ‘do.’ Don’t stop to doubt. Trust the process, your capabilities, and your story. If it’s coming from a place of truth and authenticity, you will find a way to express it because you simply won’t be able to keep your voice quiet when you know it has to be shared. Do it! Make every experience an opportunity a step towards the goals and career you want!”

'The Exiles'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ben Klein and Violet Columbus, Directors/Producers, The Exiles 

“If you think that a story is important, stick with it.”

Samir Karahoda, Director/DP, Displaced 

“In [these] days, it's not more important with what you shoot, but [what] you tell and how!”

Hanna Bergholm, Director, Hatching

“Dream big and contact your own idols, asking them to make the film with you. In the end, we all want to make great films together.”

Jarkko T. Laine, DP, Hatching

“Steven Spielberg has been told to have said, ‘The most difficult thing about directing is to get out of the car (in the morning).’ And even if he didn't say so, I could say the same as a cinematographer. Stay cool, get out of the car, and face the day like it would be your last in the show and your last in the entire business.”

Krystin ver Linden, Director, Alice

“If you want to be a filmmaker, I'd say become a writer first. Writing screenplays force you to intimately know your characters, their motivation.”

'Girl Picture'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Jarmo Kiuru, DP, Girl Picture (Tytöt Tytöt Tytöt)

“I think it's just like Christopher Doyle said: ‘Art is what artists make, so the process is to become an artist,’ to become yourself and be able to make the work as personal as possible. The learning never stops and that's both the greatest and the most terrifying part of this work. The techniques and the craft will be there through trial and error and repeat.”

Julian Higgins, Director/Writer/Producer, God's Country

“You have to become curious about yourself. These days, anyone can compose a pretty-looking image with the 4K cameras in their pockets. That's not what this is about. Art is a process of self-discovery. What is the raw material of your life that matters deeply to you, that challenges you, that you feel unresolved about, that makes you uncertain or outraged or ecstatic? Take that raw material and process it in your work. The work is the mechanism that allows you to deepen your sense of self. And the more specific and vulnerable and personal you're willing to be, the more you're giving viewers a chance to deeply identify with what you express.”

Thiago Macêdo Correia, Producer, Mars One

“Follow your instincts and try to understand the reason why you are doing this. To always come back to the core of the idea will show you the light when facing problems.”

Eva Longoria Bastón, Director, La Guerra Civil

“My advice to any filmmaker is to believe that you are ready when the moment comes. We are often afraid that we don’t know enough in that moment, we aren’t ready. In reality we are always ready for that opportunity. Say yes to it, and believe in your own talent and potential. You only learn by doing, so go out and just do it already.”

'La Guerra Civil'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Michael Polish, Director/Writer/Producer/Creator, Bring on the Dancing Horses

“If you’re not making your movie, you’re not making your movie.”

Nina Menkes, Producer/Director, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

“This is a very difficult field, and it really takes an incredible amount of strength, perseverance, razor-sharp focus, total determination, and relentless conviction (not to mention talent) to make even one film. If you think you will practically lay down and die if you can't make your film—then that's a good sign. If your commitment is below 1,000,000,000,000%, I would suggest finding another way to express yourself.”

Shana Hagan, ASC, DP, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

“Don't give up! Find your voice. Find your story. And then find a way to get this to the screen!! Dreams don't have deadlines!”

Cecily Rhett, Editor/Creative Producer, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

“Let a leaf be a leaf. If something has inherent beauty or meaning, let it be what it is. Do not try to make it be a bigger leaf, a more fantastic leaf, the everything leaf. A leaf, in itself, veined with life, maybe small, and naturally asymmetrical is worthy. And the same is true of you.”

'Culture Beat'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Andre Hyland, Co-director/Producer/Writer/Actor, Culture Beat

“Here’s some I often give myself. Don’t wait for others to help you get started making your film, just get started and others will want to help you. Every frame is like a gallery and you’re the curator. So just make choices and get on with it. Nothing is overwhelming if you just take it one step at a time.”

Dania Bdeir, Writer/Director, Warsha

“My main advice is get started as soon as you have the bug. Get started in any way you can: make films with your phone, family members and friends. Edit them. Experiment. Try things. The only way to learn to be a good filmmaker is by doing it and learning from mistakes and that process never stops. Each film is a preparation for your next.

The other main advice is to have a few people that you trust and use them for feedback on scripts and edits. Never underestimate the importance of fresh eyes. But it needs to be select people that you trust and respect creatively and that understand your vision and the film you're trying to make. That is invaluable and it's one of the best things that I got out of NYU.”

'A House Made of Splinters'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Simon Lereng Wilmont, Director/DP, A House Made of Splinters

“It maybe sounds a little simple, but that does not make it less true or important—but spend as much time as possible just hanging with your subjects, and make films about people you genuinely like. Since you're gonna be spending so much time with them, the more you like them, the more enjoyable that time (and work) will be.”

Bradley Rust Gray, Director, blood

“Your job is to bring out the best in those around you. Everyone is there to help make the best film possible. Never forget that you're not alone, and you're probably the least important person on set when things are sailing.”

Josée Deshaies, DP, Babysitter

“For aspiring filmmakers (I think Monia [Chokri] will agree as I more or less stole it from her): Work and train like Olympic athletes, but don’t forget to be free.”

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, Co-Directors, Something in the Dirt

“Ideas and characters that people will absolutely love cost nearly nothing. You can write movies that you can finance out of your own bank account, and immediately start making it. You really can. And if you do, there will be no waiting around in hopes someone will recognize your potential and give you money. You don't have to have anyone allow you to make the film—you just greenlit yourself.

But even more importantly, don't make movies to impress people you perceive as ‘above’ you in hopes they'll work with you someday. Make movies with your friends. Then do it again, and again. The rest will follow.”

Joe Hunting, Director/Producer/Editor/DP/Writer, We Met in Virtual Reality

“Firstly, I am 22 years old and still have a lot to learn, and I’m excited to continue learning! My advice is don’t be afraid to learn as you go and ask the naïve questions, follow your curiosity and forge an honest relationship with your subjects/crew surrounding the project.”

'Hallelujah'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Duran Jones, Producer, Hallelujah

“Believe in yourself, but understand that you cannot do it alone.”

Andrew Semans, Writer/Director, Resurrection

“Try to be at once very tenacious and very patient.”

Ondi Timoner, Director, Producer, Editor, DP, Last Flight Home

“Make whatever is most important to you and what you think will help the world. Don't let fear and doubt get in your way, and then be prepared to work harder than you ever can imagine if you want it to be great!”

Harris Doran, Director, Writer, Producer, Editor, F^¢K '€M R!GHT B@¢K

“Learn everything you can from every book, video, and person. If you haven't reached your goals yet, then keep learning. Keep challenging yourself to grow until you reach your goals.”

Cooper Raiff, Director/Writer/Producer/Actor, Cha Cha Real Smooth

“Don't try to make something good. Make something that means a lot to you.”

Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes, Co-directors, The American Dream And Other Fairy Tales

“Though it sounds corny, the answer is don’t give up. Every film has obstacles and challenges, and it’s important to push through them.”

'The Cathedral'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ricky D'Ambrose, Director/Writer/Editor, The Cathedral

“It's a good thing—maybe even preferable, among the dwindling options we have for living and working—to be slow and steady, and to cherish being alone. Solitude has its own volition. At the same time, friends, comrades, kindred spirits, collaborators—call them whatever you'd like, but they ought to be cultivated. Be serious about the things you care about, say 'thank you,' don’t be humorless. And know that rejections are formative.”

Hans Charles, DP, We Need To Talk About Cosby

“This journey is a marathon, not a sprint. There is no one person who will make or break your career. No amount of money is equal to being nice to people along your journey. Remember, if it takes ten people to replace you, they will find ten people to replace you. Most of the people you look up to, have someone they look up to, we all have someone who has what we want. This job is so much more fun if you're willing to laugh along the way.”

Katie King, Executive Producer/Showrunner, We Need To Talk About Cosby

“If you believe in an idea or story and are passionate about making it happen, don't let other people or outside forces discourage you. We faced a lot of obstacles while making this series, and there were times all of us wanted to give up. But at the end of the day, we felt an obligation to the women who bravely told their stories to us, and we believed the story we were telling—and the way our director approached the story—was important and needed to be heard.”

'2nd Chance'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Adam Stone, DP, 2nd Chance

“No matter your age or experience in film, do what makes you happy. Do what fills your cup. Whether it's an audience of one or thousands.”

Reid Davenport, Director/DP, I Didn't See You There

“I'd say patience is necessary. It's really hard to make a film that you go out and seek. The film really has to come to you. I think you have a much better chance of making a film that you will be proud of, if the film comes to you.”

Gustav Möller, Director, The Dark Heart

“Make the film you want to watch. Not the one you think others do.”

Riley Stearns, Writer/Director, Dual

“My advice is always the same and it's simple and you've heard it before but it doesn't make it any less true—just make something. You don't need a full crew and Techno Dollies and professional actors. All you need is a camera phone and an idea. Start small. Start with shorts. Shorts will lead to a feature and that feature will lead to the next one. You'll learn something new every time you make something and those lessons you learn firsthand are crucial in shaping who you are as a filmmaker.”

'Living'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Oliver Hermanus, Director, Living

“The advice I found most helpful as an aspiring filmmaker was that you need to value and own your time—pursuing a career as a filmmaker means getting up early, sitting at your desk, writing your screenplays, editing them, reworking them, reaching out to people, and making it happen. Your dreams do not work office hours.”

Anisia Uzeyman, Co-director/DP, Neptune Frost

“Channeling Wong Kar Waï: ‘Great films are born of the words one must say in order to accomplish anything bold in life: Yes, let’s try!’ They’ll say it’s impossible, know it’s possible.”

Saul Williams, Co-director/Writer/Composer, Neptune Frost

“Push back. World build. Find enthusiastic collaborators. Create a timeline. Don’t accept ‘that’s impossible.’”

'The Territory'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Alex Pritz, Director/Producer/DP, The Territory

“Move slowly at first, and protect your relationships above all else. Once the film gets moving in production, it will be more difficult to slow down and have those big, but important conversations. Resist that. Constantly make space for people to raise questions and doubts about the process, so that when you need to respond quickly to something, you're sure that everybody [has a] common goal.”

Bianca Stigter, Writer/Director, Three Minutes - A Lengthening

“Go for it! Be bold.”

Jamie Dack, Writer/Director/Producer, Palm Trees and Power Lines

“This might sound obvious, however, I think people can forget it, but the best advice I have at this stage is to never give up. If you know you want to be a filmmaker, you have to refuse to have it any other way. I think this mentality really comes into play when people start passing on your project, whether it be labs, grants, financiers, production companies, and even festivals once your film is complete. It’s likely going to happen multiple times and you have to develop the ability to let it roll off your back. Don’t let it get you down. I personally try to use every rejection as motivation to help me move my career or a particular project further along, and I think that's a great technique to positively shift the things you can’t control.”

John Patton Ford, Writer/Director, Emily the Criminal

“One thing we did do—that might be worth mentioning—is shoot in real locations. We rarely had total control of any exterior space. There are scenes on a busy sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles, in a flea market, on a beach, you name it, and we never blocked anything off. People were constantly walking into the shot, and we embraced the chaos. People often didn't know Aubrey [Plaza] was an actor. One woman even stopped and asked her for directions during a take. We wanted the kinetic energy of real life, and we got it.”

'The Panola Project'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Jeremy S. Levine, Director, The Panola Project

“I think it's really important for aspiring filmmakers to explore who they are and how their experiences have shaped the stories that they want to tell.

Rachael and I shot this film by ourselves with no budget. We have some longer-term feature projects and it takes so long to put all of the pieces in place—with pitches and grant writing and securing partners. We started this film because we felt a need to make something that spoke to the moment and I think it goes to show you that sometimes the best course of action is just to take that first step and not wait for support—as that process can be a slog! Institutional support is important of course! Once we had a cut, we were thrilled to partner with The New Yorker to finish the film and release it to the world.”

Abi Corbin, Director/Co-writer, 892

“Don’t work out of a place of fear. It’s easy to do so when you are early in your career and surrounded by people with more power. Stay true to your voice and find a way to make it true within the parameters you have.”

'Utama'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Alejandro Loayza Grisi, Writer/Director, Utama

“I think a good story is the one you want to tell from the heart outwards, so I would recommend to always use that. Always start from the heart and then go to the head and not the other way around. In that sense the most important thing is to trust your instinct, if you know it's an important story, do whatever it takes to tell it. If you trust your story, you have to persevere and keep going until you get it. Filmmaking is an art of perseverance, so keep it up until you achieve it.

Another tip is to look for the perfect partner, the producer, who understands you well and has the same movie in mind. Who will keep your feet on the ground and help you channel and make the project you have in mind come [true]. The producer is your number one collaborator. In that sense, I think filmmaking is a collaborative art like no other, so don't be afraid to share, because every time you talk about the film with someone your project is growing. You have to be clear about where you're going so you don't get sidetracked by outside voices, but you have to listen to absolutely everyone with the same openness and predisposition.

My other advice is a very common advice: work, work, and work.”

Carlota Pereda, Writer/Director, Piggy

“Make mistakes. Try things. Perfection is boring.”

Chloe Okuno, Director, Watcher

“Be patient and don't be afraid to work on multiple projects at one time. It will increase your odds of one of them moving forward to production.”

'Descendant'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Margaret Brown, Director/Producer/Co-writer, Descendant 

“Find a team of like-minded creative people who make you laugh and make you feel safe enough to take risks.”

Paula Eiselt, Co-director, Aftershock

“People don't have to like you. I spent a lot of my time wanting to be liked, and really that is just a hurdle that pulls you back, and it doesn’t matter. You just have to be you.”

Charlotte Hornsby, DP, Master

“I would say to edit your own footage. That really helped me understand the shot variety I needed. This was especially true of making docs, but also music videos. I edited my own footage for a long time, and it really affected the way I craft shots and the shots that I prioritized. You're always going to be tight on time and you have to advocate for the shots, together with the director, you guys advocate for the shots that you need for the story.

Having a really good understanding on your own of when you can do a oner, and when the content of the scene is such that you really want to get edit possibilities, when you really want to be able to control the pace in the edit.”

'Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.'Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Adanne Ebo, Producer, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.

“It's cliche, but this really is a 'who you know' business. Make connections and put your work in front of as many people as possible. Maximize your chances that the right person will see it, connect with it, and hopefully help you make it.”

Adamma Ebo, Writer/Director, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

“I would say, make sure to prioritize rest. [...] I'm of the personal belief that the creative will suffer if you're tired. I can't ascribe to the grind philosophy of life. Nothing, nothing phenomenal, comes from people just dragging themselves through everything.”     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment