Throughout the course of our lives we have many teachers, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them are people – children, professors, parents, friends, even strangers. Some are situations. Some are concepts or ideas.
This past year of my life, film has been my greatest teacher. It has taught me more than I could have ever imagined in my first year as a film student. As an 18 year old, I have gone through alot in my life already. Adventurous and a bit cocky in my own experiences sometimes, I didn’t think there was that much for me to learn about movies (or making them) outside of the technical aspects that I was going to school for. But I was happily proven very, very wrong. Filmmaking is one of the most psychologically, socially, and physically involving tasks that anyone can hope to conquer. Here is what I have been taught so far:
Be comfortable with yourself
Filmmaking is not a craft for those who are not comfortable in their own skin. I realized this within the first few months of school. Having struggled with anxiety pretty much my entire life (and to this day), this was something that was hard for me to push through and accept. I am an introvert and not a naturally outgoing person.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been pushed out of my comfort zone so far. Whether it’s just talking with people, collaborating on an artistic vision, getting a group of rowdy 20-somethings in line on set as an AD, giving criticism, or even expressing my ideas, I have had to swallow back a lot of doubts, a lot of “can I really do this? Is this who I am?” thoughts and just do it. I have found that when I trust myself, that the words coming out of my mouth can actually express what I want them to express.
Be patient, be kind
You will get nowhere in the film industry if you are not an approachable, friendly human being. No one wants to work with a DP that sulks around on set. No one wants to work with the grip that has a major attitude problem. No one wants to work with a director that thinks they’re better than the rest of the crew simply because they get to say “action”.
Filmmaking is a collaborative process and everyone involved needs to be respectful and diligent of each other’s work, emotions, and lives. On the few small sets that I have been on, a crew is like a family. It can be dysfunctional at times, but ultimately, everyone has everyone else’s back.
Alternatively, take no shit
Putting aside all of the sappy aspects like “teamwork” and “creativity”, filmmaking is just one big fat competition. It starts from the very beginning – from getting into film school, to making the best student film, to battling for money and support for your little indie project, to proving that your script is better than the thousands of others that land on Hollywood’s doorstep each day. It never stops.
This is your art, yes, but this is also your living. In film you have to be tough. Do not let yourself be pushed aside. Take no shit. Don’t accept less than what you are owed. Fight. Make your mark.
Chase your dreams
Movies are the very marrow in my bones – what each and every one of my cells is made up of.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit too try-hard poetic, but it’s true. I do not want to imagine my life without movies. It has become my dream, my great grand goal to make them. It’s my calling. And God help me, I will chase that calling to the ends of the earth.
A lot of people seem to think I’ll be furiously typing up countless “FADE IN:”s at 3:30 in the morning because, during the day, I’ll have no time due to my 2-3 jobs I’m working at coffee shops, restaurants, and retail stores, 7 days a week, in order to scrape by on rent.
If that’s the way it’ll end up, then so be it. But I will not give up. Being a filmmaker requires the perfect mix of hard work and sheer luck. You’ve got to work hard, never let go of those grandiose visions in your head, and… also happen to be at just the right place at the right time so you can bump into that person: the one that’ll give you your break.
So chase down your dreams. Chase them down like they’re the last rabbit on this earth, and you are a starving hunter with the will to live.
Go the extra mile
Be the hard worker. Be the one that stands out for staying late and helping get work done. Be the PA that gets to set early, even if you feel completely irrelevant and think that no one will notice.
Because someone will notice. Somewhere down the line, someone will see the fire in your eyes – that burning passion that drives you into making the step to the front line.
Do not be average. Do not do the amount of work thousands of other young filmmakers can do. Even if it’s a small task, complete it like it’s the most important thing you’ve ever done in your life.
Someone will notice.
I have been on sets that have run smoothly.
I have been on sets that have not run smoothly.
I have found that the difference between two such sets has been only one factor:
On a set where everyone is talking to each other, the AD is doing their job and keeping everyone coordinated, the director is letting the rest of the crew know what they want, the talent is focused, and the DP keeps the grips and gaffers and ACs busy, shots are fired off one after the other. Wrap is on time. Everyone is in a pleasant mood.
But on a set where the AD is lazing about, the grips and gaffers have no idea how the DP wants the camera and lighting set up, the director can’t direct actors because they’re either missing or confused or simply not talking about what they need/want, then things go downhill really, really fast. The crew and cast are fueling bitter fires of resentment towards one another, wrap time is 2 hours late, and everyone thinks about quitting on the drive home.
Communication is key, and MUST be a two way street. Simply talking at someone rather than with them will prove no more productive than attempting to nail jello to a tree.