25+ Things I Want To Know From New Filmmakers

by Ted Hope
July 6, 2011 3:00 AM
8 Comments
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When I moderate a panel, I get to ask some questions that aren't the kind I often get to ask in a regular meeting. The questions are as much, and maybe perhaps more so, for the audience. Still though, I am generally trying to get at something: the how and why of creativity at this time in the world.

I learned a lot from moderating the "New Faces Of Indie Film" panel at Lincoln Center on Saturday June 11, 2011. Yes, in the future when I am involved on a panel I will insist upon diversity, and yes, I will set a limit to the number of people on the panel. But I also learned from the answers folks gave. I didn't get to ask all of them, but had I, I had the list prepared. These are those questions.

Getting Started

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?


Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?


What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?


You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?


You are here at the Universe’s Grand Temple Of Cinephilia. You are here because of your work and how you do it. What are personal attributes that make for a good filmmaker, and what do you do to foster them?


When I wanted to devote my life to making movies, my first decision was NY or LA. How does where you live influence how and what you make, and how do you think NY currently effects your work and process?


The Love Of Cinema

What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?


What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?


When you get angry at a movie, what sets you off? Are there common qualities in cinema today that you dislike? Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?


We are all here presumably partially because we LOVE cinema. How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we -- as a community -- do to help others discover a similar pleasure?


The Process Of Creating

Generally speaking, when we want to learn about a film, we talk to the director. But those that make films, know how much they are really collaborations. What makes a fruitful collaboration? What do you do to enhance the collaborative process?


It is said that there are only six stories. Maybe twelve. It’s all been done before. And we have seen it all. What do you do to keep it fresh? Is there anything that you can do to subvert the process to keep it original?


We get noticed because of our successes – but we create them on the back of our failures. We learn best from the experiences where it doesn’t work. And yet we still only discuss the success, not the failure. What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?


I often say one of the best methods of producing is “engineering serendipity.” Have you encountered serendipity in your work and do you think there is anything that you can do to bring more of it into your creative process? Why or why not, and if so, what is it that you and your team can do?


Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?


“It all starts with the script.” Maybe not, but when do you know a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process of getting it there?


Several directors have told me that most of directing is actually casting. Regardless of whether that is true, some actors have “it” and sometimes they need something to make “it” pop. You’ve spotted that “it” and captured “it”. What is “it” and how do you find “it”?


I often wonder why anyone would want to direct. Why would you want to always have 100 decisions in front of you and have over 100 people waiting on your answer?


Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both the money you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind?


The Structure Of The Business

Is the film business fair? Why or why not? How do you make the apparatus work for you?


Is it the filmmaker’s responsibility to find and develop your audience? Why do you feel that way?How will you collaborate with your audience, and how won’t you?


What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?


Is it possible to sell out? What would that mean to you and would you like it to happen or not? What do you do to encourage the professional approach you want?


If I was asked what was the most important advice I could give a filmmaker starting out, it would be “Try to manage your life so that you will feel as good about the film industry in fifteen years as you do now.” In your experience, is that true, and what can filmmakers do to achieve that challenge?


What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?


The Changing Film World

When I got started, if your film got into Sundance, it meant people would see it in America, and maybe the world. I used to be confident that my partners and I could get two or more major distribution slots a year. Now that control and scarcity don’t define the Entertainment Economy, but superabundance & access do, how does that change things for creators? There are 45,000 films generated globally annually, and the largest consumption market in the world – the US – currently consumes only 1% of the output. Recognizing that, are you changing the way you work, changing what you create? How? Why? Or why not?


I am a big believer in the importance of social media in many aspects of the film process. Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?


When I got started there were two screens: the movie screen and the television screen. Now there are also computers, tablets, and phones. And screens are everywhere: the home, the bus stop, the elevator, the taxi cab. As a creator how does this effect the stories you tell and how you tell them?


If there is one or more thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?


Ethics of Creating

Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back or tell a particular story or not do something else? Why or why not?

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8 Comments

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  • amy | September 27, 2011 10:21 AMReply

    Ok thats a lot of questions to ask. Simply put - I make films because I love making them, I keep making films and hope that they get better. My favourite directors are park chan wook and Luc Besson. I think the best methods of film making are trail and error - http://amyclarkefilms.com/
    .

  • mahmoud al shbatat | August 8, 2011 12:24 PMReply

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  • Julio Ponce Palmieri | July 6, 2011 11:57 AMReply

    Hello MIke,
    Clearly you have misunderstood my statement about "climbing the ladder" as we both have different perceptions on the matter. Your impression seems to be working as a PA for years while mine seems to follow the "truly" independent way you describe.
    To clarify, in the last five years, I have known and recognized the level that I am and have made numerous films within my own means that have been played in film festivals while getting me some nominations and awards along the way. Also, I have gotten distribution with some of my films and that has slowly given me some recognition in places to enjoy press and publicity.
    I am in no means near Hollywood, but in status and literally, but I am climbing that type of ladder, where nowadays independent filmmakers can be their own bosses and be in charge of their own future.
    Hopefully I have clarified my previous statement on the other post.
    Cheers!

  • Mike | July 6, 2011 10:12 AMReply

    I think telling people to "climb the ladder" is completely antiquated thinking. If you want to be in Hollywood, then sure do that... but just know that you're going to be somebodies bitch for 15+ years and then you MIGHT have an opportunity to do what you want.

    But mostly likely you won't.

    You don't gain your own voice by following the conventions of other people, by fitting in or by pandering to an audience. The only way you can do it is by being true to yourself, by being truly authentic to what YOU think is important.

    You DO have a right to do it your way. You ARE entitled to have your own mind, your own thoughts and make your own choices.

    It's just this kind of conventional thinking and push towards conformity that is destroying "truly" independent film.

  • Julio Ponce Palmieri | July 6, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    Hello all,
    Usually I choose not to get involved in comments and discussions but today I will stray away from that and share my thoughts with you all. The main thing that shouldn't be ignored is the title of the blog which is: 25+ things I want to know from new filmmakers. Yes, emphasis on new filmmakers is the key. To discuss, Hollywood names and famous movies is unrealistic since NEW filmmakers must understand the level that they are in.

    I strongly believe that the key to success in any venture is to not skip any steps of that ladder that we must all climb. And sadly enough, it appears filmmakers lack that patience and want to catapult directly into Hollywood.

    A new filmmaker must understand that the name of the game is SHOWBUSINESS and one must be first successful at the show part in order to then be given the opportunity to get into the business part of it. But, again...understanding the level is key.

    That means having a full time job and possibly an additional part time job to be able to finance one's own films. In other words, hard work, dedication, discipline and determination are a must. It seems that the passionate hunger has now been replaced with a misguided feeling of self-entitlement that it is only created by unrealistic expectations.

    To summarize Ted Hope's questions, in my opinion, it all boils down to one thing: having a voice. Each filmmaker is unique and each has their own voice. The hows, whens, whys, whats and ifs are determined by the strong work ethic of the filmmaker and the passion that lives in each creative soul.

    And with those qualities driving the film, there is a better chance of achieving success in this very difficult industry. Of course, talent is another element and when the filmmaker has money then talent can be bought. So, as a new filmmaker if talent is not present, then another creative avenue must be found.

  • Matt | July 6, 2011 5:29 AMReply

    I agree with Joseph, if only to dispel any fantasies the large amount of students entering film programs every year may have.
    I have to wonder, if Cassavetes and Tarkovsky were around today could they still make films? I do think with there is a felt need for sincerity and truth in art in America. Hate it or not
    Passion of The Christ proves that there is hunger for some kind of transcendence, especially in times filled with a superabundance of cynically made entertainment. When you watch a Cassavetes or a Tarkovsky film, you watching something coming from an artist who has an ideal in his head and an axe to grind with the real world, and the results can be beautiful. In this new wave of indie films I honestly don't sense that kind of ideal, in some cases I only see well crafted narcissism.

  • Joseph | July 6, 2011 4:31 AMReply

    Hi Ted,

    Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Here are some questions alot of us would like to hear asked:

    *How do you make a living, (ie pay for rent, student loans, groceries, etc) ?
    *How did you make a living while making your film?
    *Did your parents support you financially?
    *How did you finance your film?
    *How come there are no black or brown people in your movies?

    On Twitter @tednope et al. frequently take you to task for ignoring these questions, yet you never address them. Why not?

    There's clearly a sense -- be it real or imagined -- that indie film is now the sandbox for a certain class of young and wealthy kids playing with their parents money. Seems time to address this head on.

Hope on social

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