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"Lessons From My First Feature" - Writer/Director Dui Jarrod Tells His Story; What's Yours?

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
April 25, 2012 1:47 PM
16 Comments
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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!

Dui Jarrod
Film: Lesson Before Love
Connect: @duijarrod & @lessonbeforelov
lessonbeforelove.com
facebook.com/lessonbeforelove

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16 Comments

  • Ray | April 28, 2012 3:27 PMReply

    I'm not a filmmaker but this spoke to me!

  • BONDGIRL | April 28, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    This was by far the best one yet. "Focus on Excellence" and "Nobody Cares" are the 2 I'm dealing with right now. Any aspiring actor, writer, filmmaker, or producer should print this post and tape it to their fridge.

  • Akimbo | April 26, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    This was a great one. "Nobody cares until you give them something to care about" is something that needs to be drilled into every artist/creator/entrepreneur's head. You can avoid a lot of hurt feelings & crushed egos this way.

  • other song | April 25, 2012 7:48 PMReply

    lots of 'real talk' in this post

  • Chscch | April 25, 2012 7:40 PMReply

    Addendum to "Our Leaders Our Followers": Often, "Let me know when it gets into Sundance" is not so much an ignorance of the odds getting in (because everybody knows it's almost impossible to get into Sundance without some kind of politic in your favor), but it's really a dismissal of your untested ability: if you DO eventually get into Sundance, it means you must have some kind of talent, and until that proof of validation, they don't want to have to support your broken street dreams.

  • MJT | April 25, 2012 8:03 PM

    I think the point he's trying to make is, Sundance isn't the end all, be all. Just because someone DOESN'T get into Sundance, doesn't mean they a telented filmmaker. And to add to the 'real talk', a lot the slots in that festival are predetermined.

  • Chscch | April 25, 2012 7:29 PMReply

    Rare to find near-perfection on the internet. This is it. And oh so truthful.

  • ShebaBaby | April 25, 2012 7:22 PMReply

    Smart guy. Honest advice. And I agree with him 200% on the writing part. I don't think folks really respect the craft as much as they should which is why there are so many bad scripts in Hollyweird and especially in Independent film. Everybody can write but not everybody is a screenwriter. It's an artform, no different than being a painter or a sculptor, and I think if folks really start to respect it as such we'd get a lot further in this business. Especially in black film. How are you gonna call yourself making a good or even great film when the blueprint (aka script) sucks?

  • Ali | April 25, 2012 4:27 PMReply

    I have to say the "Pay yourself" advice is one of the most real things I've ever seen in one of these posts. When you work and do something where no one will ever GIVE you anything, sometimes you have to give it to yourself. Look, I get the whole "starving artist" thing but there is a limit. Don't starve yourself for the sake of a dream that may not come true. Honestly, that will make it all the more hard. And, in a way, this goes along with all the other points. No one cares what you've sacrificed and your work may not be as good as you think it is, so was the starving worth it?

  • Darkan | April 25, 2012 4:24 PMReply

    Got to meet Dui at the Texas Black Film Festival. He is a very admirable hard working brother and very genuine. Proud of his achievements and also today's word of wisdom to the masses. Keep telling it as it T - I - TIS Dui!

  • CareyCarey | April 25, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    I wasn't going to read this post because I thought it was just another "How I Got Mine", and just another brotha from the panel discussion "group"... if you know what I mean. However, I saw a comment in the side panel that caught my eye. I believe it was the "WOOOOWEEEE!!!REAL TALK" comment. Anyway, I love real talk... I mean, REEEEEAAL Talk. And guess what, I've seldom seen it get much better than this. I am dead serious! This young man laid out lesson for life, not just filmmaking. When I read the following, I knew this man had been somewhere-->"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" ~ by Dui Jarrod . Wow! Isn't that the truth about life in general? When life's struggles seem to be at it's lowest point, there's no one on the other end of the line. They say they're going to be there... but. And check this. I knew Dui Jarrod was a grown as man when he said "NOBODY CARES: Cause people only care about how you make them feel". Damn-damn-damn, that should be a required reading class. Now, the brotha wasn't crying, he was simply saying things that's seldom spoken. I mean, Mr Jarrod pulled back the curtain and opened the blinds with "FIND FESTIVALS THAT FOCUSES ON THE FILMS, NOT PANEL DISCUSSIONS": some use indie films . Ouch! And Dui kept the pedal down... "EVERYBODY CAN’T WRITE" & "OUR LEADERS ARE FOLLOWERS". oooOOOWeeeeee... talk about it!!! Within those words I hear "Everybody with a title can't show you how to get out of your storm". Yes sir, it's officail, this post goes in my Top Ten File. The brotha was not afraid to say what's right.

  • CareyCarey | April 25, 2012 4:32 PM

    "you saw the "How I Got Mine" themes too" ~Nadine. Are you kidding me, only those who don't want to see them, do not see them. I have a saying "What they are speaks so loudly, I can't hear what they're saying. This post was reaal cool!

  • Nadine | April 25, 2012 4:21 PM

    Heh... you saw the "How I Got Mine" themes too. This post was cool.

  • al | April 25, 2012 3:54 PMReply

    Great post! You speak the truth.

  • Nadine | April 25, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    ALSO: BAM!!! "OUR LEADERS ARE FOLLOWERS." - Money.... Which is a part of my frustration when reading some of the comments from time to time. This EXPECTATION or sense of ENTITLEMENT to studio support. People, you're likely not gonna get it until you've already shown success OR you're not doing the right things, seriously. If you go into this beautiful process EXPECTING TO DO EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN, you WILL SUCCEED and every bit of support you get will simply be a bonus. I'm done. Again, very nice job Dui. Very proud...

  • Nadine | April 25, 2012 2:29 PMReply

    WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! #REALTALK FOR REAL!!!! I'm so happy with your post. Absolutely brilliant and heartfelt! Thank you for putting this truth out there DUI and S&A. GREAT POST! I understand it is hard for those coming up to understand that people really don't give a hoot about your film until its up on the screen, dammit. I've had to talk a lot of folks "off ledges" because they didn't feel that others were as invested in their project as they. PEEPS! They're not! Oh, LOVELY PIECE! I'm so happy with this... I WOULD ADD, that those interested or highly invested in your work, though, are likely only really interested in how they can personally benefit (not in a SHADY bad way, but in a competitive industry, hungry actor/actress kind of way) from your work so it's important to lay everything out on the table as a newbie/first-timer talking to your crew/production. If you think your project is going to take you 6 months, it's going to take you 2 years and let everyone involved know that you will need them to bear with you and be patient, because hungry people quickly become angry people and can stress out a production. Even those with nice budgets. Keep doing what you're doing. With insight like yours, you're going to attract the right folks... I can guarantee that.

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