Want To Make a Film? Take These Filmmakers’ Advice

Article Image
Photo Source: Unsplash courtesy Brands People

Backstage has partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival to showcase the work and advice of those working in film today. For the festival’s 20th anniversary, Backstage is highlighting 20 filmmakers chosen for the 2021 festival to share their process and experience casting on Backstage and making their films.

So you want to be a filmmaker, great! What next? You might be in film school or you might want to make a go of it on your own, or you just want to make films as a hobby, but take it from these 2021 Tribeca Film Festival honorees who drew from their own experiences to share advice for aspiring filmmakers, from how to take your next steps to planning for a yearslong career. 

What was most important to me was finding my own voice. This is a task in and of itself but a necessary step to creating moving and impactful work. The next step is finding your tribe. Finding other artists who understand and respect your way of telling stories is monumental. I believe artists need to be around other artists. They inspire you. They challenge you. They make you better at what you do. —Lin Que Ayoung, “Cracked”

Don’t give up. Failing is part of it. Approach each film like it’s the last project you’re going to make, but keep going and make another one. I’ve learned my biggest lessons through the mistakes I’ve made and it took a long time for me to learn that failure isn’t a negative, it’s actually how this is all supposed to work. —Jefferson Stein, “Burros”

Have fun! A lot of the film industry can be intimidating and hard to understand, but at the end of the day, the reason to make films is because you love it. If you make great content that is meaningful and authentic to you, chances are someone else will see that and enjoy it. Each film should reflect your point of view and style. Be as true to yourself in your work and don’t worry about making something you think others will want to watch. —Ria Tobaccowala, “Shadows”

I wish I learned earlier is to just make it. I know it seems impossible at times, but don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to make the film you want to make. Look at your resources in your friends and the equipment you have access to. With that in mind, write and know the first step is always the hardest but also can be the most fun. Every time you create something, I think you learn more about yourself through the process and what you need. A huge part of that is understanding your film’s needs with your crew. Sometimes you hire someone thinking they are the perfect fit and they end up not being, and other times you went with a friend of a friend you barely knew and they ended up being the strongest collaborator on set. The more you work and create, the more you understand your own workflow so in turn, you find the crew that feels best to you. Especially when working on an indie budget, your team is everything. I find the best thing that works for me is preparation, preparation, preparation. Having your core team in the very beginning to ask questions to and come up with numerous solutions for instead of being stuck with one in a moment of last-minute panic on set. Strong communication I think is an underrated skill that is one of the most important in executing your vision and helping your team support you in creating the film you set to make. Taking an extra minute to be thorough and patient with a crew member’s questions on set can make all the difference later. —Susan O’Brien, “RESIST: The Resistance Revival Chorus”

You are beginning a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and keep your eyes on the prize. —Daniel Sollinger, “Clean”

Follow the Mark Duplass model! Make a bunch of short films using whatever equipment you have. Experiment and hone your voice and when you're ready to tell your first feature-length story, take advantage of all the resources you have on hand versus waiting for a studio to say yes to your script. —Karan Soni, “7 Days”

“Don’t give up. Failing is part of it. Approach each film like it’s the last project you’re going to make, but keep going and make another one.”

Jefferson Stein

Writer-Director, “Burros”

Some of my favorite advice my professor gave me in college is, “We are oddballs who fell in love with films and life gets rough because of that. But, we should all remember why we loved films and why we started making films.” —Tsubasa Matsumoto, “Prelude”

This may sound cliché but we really believe the most important thing is to stay true to your unique vision and to cultivate your singular voice. Go out and make the thing that you always wanted to watch and try to make it as truthfully as you can. You don’t need the most money or the biggest names to tell a good story but you do need resolve. —Jennifer Morris, “If I’m Alive Next Week”

Behind the Tribeca Film Festival—What to Know

Work with people you know, trust, and enjoy being around as you'll likely have to spend a few weeks, months, and in some cases, years with them (in development, pre-production, post-production, the sale, and release of the film). You want to make sure you’re surrounded by at least a couple of people with whom you share a creative sensibility and can trust to have your best interests at hand, to be willing to work as tirelessly as you are to ensure that the work is as good as it can be. —Devereux Milburn (writer-director-editor), “Honeydew”

Just to do it. It’s hard to think of the pandemic as having a silver lining, but for us, it turned out to be the catalyst that pushed us to find a way other than theater to get to work and to express ourselves artistically. We were nervous because we hadn’t done anything like this, but we trusted ourselves and asked for help when we needed it, and we’re so glad we did. —Miles Blim, “Viral”

Movies can’t be made alone, and the most expensive thing on a shoot is other people’s time. A little bit of reciprocity goes a long way, so if you can be generous with your time toward others, they’ll be generous with their time toward you. Be kind to everyone. Nobody’s getting paid enough, and everybody’s underslept. The only thing you can do to offset that feeling is to create an environment that people enjoy. On a human level, it’s just the right thing to do, and on a selfish level, it makes your movie better. People who like you will do better work for you. Call people by their name, tell them you appreciate their work, try to remember a detail about something they did that you liked. It’s not always easy, so at the very least, just don’t be an asshole. One other thing: learn compositing. You don’t need to be a master, or even love it, but learn how to do it. Learning a program like Adobe After Effects has been the most fruitful skill for me as a filmmaker on a personal and professional level. I used Blender 3D for my movie. Incredibly powerful program, costs nothing, and there were a million online tutorials to teach me how to do what I needed to do in my movie. —Michael Goldberg, “Egg”  

How to make your indie film a reality.

Make sure you have the initiative to figure out your own plan on how to do it and then make sure you have the discipline to stick to that plan, no matter how long it takes. —Jon Huertas, “Two Jacked”

“Movies can’t be made alone, and the most expensive thing on a shoot is other people’s time. A little bit of reciprocity goes a long way, so if you can be generous with your time toward others, they’ll be generous with their time toward you. Be kind to everyone.”

Michael Goldberg

Writer-Director-Editor, “Egg”

If the question concerns their first feature, then my advice would be to make as many short films as you can. It won’t just teach you logistical and directorial skills, but it will make you refine and get specific about your signature as a filmmaker, particularly if you’re pursuing directing. It will make you focus. Also, you will have the opportunity to work with different people and get a feeling for which ones, or at least what type of collaborator, you enjoy working with. Filmmaking is so intrinsically grounded in collaboration, I can’t overstress the importance of finding YOUR people, ideally people you meet and get to work with early on in your career. Having a close-knit and supportive network of mentors and collaborators has been and continues to be among the most rewarding experiences of my career. —Stephanie Bollag, “Ester In Wonderland”

Painters paint, writers write, directors direct. Make your first film and then make your second and your third. Make as many films as you can and finish them. When you’re starting out you’ll have to wear many hats, so learn as much as you can about all aspects of filmmaking. It’s alright if the film isn’t perfect. It’s better to have a finished film than no film at all. Submit to smaller local festivals and work your way up. —Austin Hall and Zach Visvikis, “Molly Robber”

Keep an open mind and an open heart and walk through any door that opens for you! Remember, filmmaking is supposed to be fun; don’t let anyone knock you off your path with negativity. This job is a grind but if you keep going you will carve a path that works for you. The most important advice I’ve ever received is: Just don’t quit. —Elizabeth Phillipson-Weiner, “Gets Good Light”

I would say just make it. Don’t be a perfectionist about it. We made “Deceased Ones” with virtually zero dollars. The story, the concept, and the characters speak for themselves. It is not an expensive film with a sweeping budget or cool effects. It’s just a story that excites us and asks questions. So if you’re excited about a story, just make it. —Emily Kron, “Deceased Ones”

Never give up. Don’t let rejection pull you down, only let it make you want to work harder. Don’t be afraid to set high goals for yourself. Let it drive you. Let it inspire you. Never have doubt you won’t “make it” in this industry. Doubt is only removed by action. So, if you are not working at it tirelessly, then that’s where the doubt settles in and will succumb you and prevent you from being successful. Every single day do something to progress your career forward, such as writing an email or even watching and studying a movie. With every step backwards, take two steps forwards. Constantly strategize, constantly network, and constantly reassure yourself that anything is possible. —Scott Aharoni, “Leylak”

Want to hear more from the best creators in film, TV, and theater? Get it right here!