Micro-budget filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. You end up wearing multiple hats, taking on debt, asking friends to work for free, and toiling away on a project — likely for years — without seeing much (or any) monetary return on your investment. Not to mention it’s highly unlikely you’ll attach a star of any kind at this level, so getting press or festival attention for even a great film can be challenging.
Whether it’s documentaries, mockumentaries, feature films, or wildly popular television shows, you can probably find it somewhere on Alex Buono’s résumé. Although he’s primarily known as a cinematographer, he’s also a successful writer, director, producer, and workshop instructor. Oh, and he’s been nominated for an Academy Award.
If you we were to list all the reasons why you should listen to Lenore DeKoven’s advice about becoming a better director, it would take a long, long time. So we’ll just list a few: Lenore has worked as a director and producer in theater, film, and television. She has taught at UCLA, NYU, and Columbia, and has been a member of Columbia University’s Graduate Film division for more than 20 years. And on top of all that, she wrote a book, Changing Direction, that has been recommended by everyone from Ang Lee to our good friend Salomon Ligthelm.
Lately we’ve been asking filmmakers why they make films. The question is usually pretty awkward, since most filmmakers haven’t really thought about it. They make films because they are compelled to make films. But when you ask, and when you press past the long silence that follows, there is often a surprising and beautiful answer waiting for you. For Leonardo Dalessandri — the visionary Italian filmmaker behind Watchtower of Turkey — his reason is simple.
There is so much good advice out there, but almost none of it sticks. For every thousand pieces of advice you get, you might remember one or two. But what does stick is significant. You can learn a lot about someone from the advice they’ve retained. And you can learn a lot from them too. For the past few months, we’ve been asking filmmakers what advice has stuck with them. Their answers were as varied as their work. But we noticed something: When advice does stick with someone, it becomes not just advice they remember, but advice they give. It becomes their advice. In other words, the best good advice becomes part of who you are. Maybe something below will do the same for you.
How far are you willing to go for your films? Are you willing to break the law? Get arrested? Spend 18 hours hiding from helicopters to get a single shot of a dam exploding? For Ben Knight, one of the filmmakers behind the recent (and excellent) documentary DamNation, the answer is yes.
Like any good story, our careers often make sense only in retrospect. In the moment, the way forward is anything but obvious. It’s only when you look back that you can see how one thing led to another: how you were preparing for your next big move all along, without even realizing it. That’s how things worked for director Rob Chiu who’s now directed commercials for brands like McLaren, Lexus, and Toyota — just to name a few.
Matthew Porterfield, a 39-year-old filmmaker from Baltimore, Maryland, has written and directed four feature films, including Hamilton, Putty Hill, I Used to Be Darker, and the soon-to-be-released Sollers Point. His work has been screened at acclaimed festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, and the Berlinale. And in 2010 he was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. It’s an impressive CV for any filmmaker, let alone one who claims, for the most part, to lack ambition.
Tom Levinge’s comedic short, Mister Biscuits, is silly. It suspends reality by putting humans in the roles of beloved pets. There’s the occasional poop gag. And it’s unapologetically a “dog movie,” whereby the power of one’s pet’s affections is strong enough to help the protagonist recover, repair, and move on with their life — despite undergoing some pretty significant hardships. And yet, that’s exactly what makes this piece such a fantastic filmmaking achievement. It’s recognizable but inventive. It’s impossible, but it’s honest.
Dylan Allen’s The Privates manages to tackle sci-fi, indie-rock, group dynamics, and merge them into one brilliantly thoughtful short film. The ideas in the ensemble comedy transcend filmmaking: waiting for your big break, struggling through creative differences, grappling with the drive to create something so great it melts faces. But despite all of those highly recognizable elements, the film has a wit and through-line that is totally original. That’s probably due in large part to the work Allen put into making every single role in his cast of characters strong enough to stand out from the background noise.