Another installment for the What's Your Story? series I started a few months ago; another brave filmmaker steps up and shares his experience in this jungle we call the film biz; this time it's writer/director Dui Jarrod, whose feature film debut, Lesson Before Love, has been on the film festival circuit over the last year or so.
Here's what Dui has to give:
Your first feature will probably be one of the most rewarding, yet trying experiences of your life. Its that one moment, you feel will be your ticket to whatever your dreams. For some it is, for the rest of us, it is a another step along the path of your journey that, if done wrong, can take the dream right out of your soul completely.
Fortunately for myself, I didn’t come into the experience with an over achieving fantasy of grandeur. I sought the advice of other filmmakers through books, blogs and interviews, cause no one would answer my calls for advice.
However, with all of that, there were a few key lessons that I wish I’d knew. In an effort to help my fellow filmmakers embarking on their most important work, here is a little advice from a filmmaker not far removed from where you stand.
NOBODY CARES. I know this sounds really harsh, but it is the one true reality of making films that no one ever tells you. It doesn’t matter how much you care about your film or think it is the perfect story, people just don’t care until you make them care with an outstanding finished product. I honestly cannot tell you how many people I’ve wanted to convert to LESSON lovers, but none of them connected to what I was doing until they saw the film. That reality helped me let go of the emotional attachment I had to the film and focus on creating a brilliant film and solid screening opportunities. Cause people only care about how you make them feel.
WAIT. WAIT. WAIT...AND DO IT RIGHT. Admittedly, I had heard this from so many filmmakers prior to my feature and it was the one piece of advice I should’ve heeded too. If you don’t have the projected budget (and an extra 20%), you simply should not make your film. 99% of the headaches that I had in post was due from not having the necessary budget to do things the right way. I never understood the lag time so filmmakers have between their first and second projects, but I get it now- NO BUDGET BLUES!
PAY YOURSELF. You will sacrifice enough just in the process of creation. Don’t be stupid (like I was) and not take a payment in order to see the film come to life. Yeah, Halle Berry and others do, BUT they come to those decisions with a certain level of comfort that afford them that choice. And if you have that option, more power to you! But many don’t, and ultimately, if you do- most of the people that you are making that sacrifice for, will not even appreciate it. Having to edit your project on an empty stomach is not a good look (Trust me, I got the pics to prove it)
FOCUS ON EXCELLENCE. The impenetrable wall of the film industry can only be brought down one of two ways, relationships or excellence. I’m originally from Arkansas, so I knew relationships was completely out of the question, but excellence wasn’t. If you focus on the details of every part of your production and seek excellence, you will create an excellent product. And to be plain, excellence trumps relationships.
OUR LEADERS ARE FOLLOWERS. I never even considered this to be the case until I had a meeting (pre-production phase) with an exec who told me, “Let me know when it gets into Sundance.” WHAT?!? I was blown away that this person, who I’d looked up to, didn’t understand the odds of that ever happening, and what I’d have to pass up waiting on my “acceptance e-mail.” I quickly realized that most execs aren’t forward thinking excellence seekers. They are followers who lack the fortitude or knowledge to find you. BUT, at lot of people on their team are, find a lower level exec and connect with them. Not only are they more open to your work, but they also are more willing take a chance to advance themselves. Believe! (In my South London accent.)
EVERYBODY CAN’T WRITE. The writer/director label hit most films because it’s simply become popular. Films didn’t start out that way though. It takes a really knowledgable person to understand the craft to write (and read) a good screenplay. Just because you have Final Draft and read “The Screenwriter’s Bible” doesn’t mean you are a writer. It takes years and many, many scripts to find and refine your voice as a writer. None of us are as good as we think we are in our heads. At the very least, get a professional writer to provide you script coverage, it will help you so much more in the long run. Good writing covers a multitude of sins.
INVITE FRIENDS TO THE SCREENING, NOT TO SET. I know you love your friends, and I do too. But the worst place they can ever be (unless they are industry professionals) is on set of the most important thing you’ve ever done. Just because your girl can burn some hair, doesn’t mean she is capable of understanding character breakdowns, keeping photo books or why she can’t be on her cell phone when sound is speeding. I learned this very early on in my career and it has proving to be a recipe for disaster or success.
FIND FESTIVALS THAT FOCUSES ON THE FILMS, NOT PANEL DISCUSSIONS. At the risk of sounded jaded, I’m going to be a clear as possible. There are a lot of film festivals that use indie films as platforms for themselves. They could care less about you, or the product you’ve killed yourself to create. Panel discussions have become a useful tool to inform and connect us to the inner workings of the industry, and I appreciate them. But it hurts to see, standing room only in a panel discussion and four people watching a series of shorts. That should never be the case! Be as diligent about festival screenings of your film as you are about putting it together, and seek out film festivals that appreciate and promote the films. And they are out there. American Black Film Festival and New Voices in Black Cinema are GREAT examples of festivals that truly care about your film. #realtalk
Hopefully this unabashed advice finds you well. If it does, thank the film gods! They surely have rained some lessons and blessings on my directing soul! Godspeed!
Film: Lesson Before Love
Connect: @duijarrod & @lessonbeforelov