There is so much good advice out there, but almost none of it sticks. For every thousand pieces of advice you get, you might remember one or two. But what does stick is significant. You can learn a lot about someone from the advice they’ve retained. And you can learn a lot from them too. For the past few months, we’ve been asking filmmakers what advice has stuck with them. Their answers were as varied as their work. But we noticed something: When advice does stick with someone, it becomes not just advice they remember, but advice they give. It becomes their advice. In other words, the best good advice becomes part of who you are. Maybe something below will do the same for you.
Making a film is one thing. Making money on a film is something else. And nobody knows this better than Mia Bruno, producer of marketing and distribution for Seed&Spark, a new crowdfunding, direct to consumer platform that’s currently disrupting the more traditional, entrenched distribution models. “Most filmmakers want the same thing,” Mia told us. “They want to pay back their investors, and they want to make their next film. So the question is how do you do that?”
Wendy Cohen has dedicated her life to promoting films that make a difference. You might call them advocacy films or socially conscious films. Or it might just be easier to call them by their names: Food, Inc.; The Cove; Inequality for All; Rich Hill; Waiting for “Superman” — just to name a few.
What’s a more accurate term: passion project or obsession project? If you’re talking about Variable’s latest film, Rocket Wars, then obsession is definitely the right word to use. And not just for the filmmakers, but for the subjects of the film too.
The thought of a “path” can be a little bit misleading. Just the name implies that there’s a clearly marked way to go, or maybe even a route backward toward where we came from. We all know that’s not the case. Finding our way can be a confusing, wayward, and terrifying experience — more like navigating a maze than anything else.
Creativity and loneliness seem to go hand in hand. Some even believe loneliness is essential to creativity — not only as a by-product, but also a catalyst. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that people who were socially rejected early in their life tend to be the most creative. Rejection becomes their “fuel.” This explains why creative people are usually pretty weird. They are literally “out there.” On the fringe. Refusing to conform. Which can (a) make their work meaningful, and (b) make their work impossible.
I recently heard one of my favorite directors, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant), say that his biggest concern for young filmmakers coming up behind him is our outsized focus on results, our obsession with recognition, and our overwhelming need to be seen as a big deal. Basically, he’s worried about our egos getting in the way of making substantive work. For him, empathy is the central focus as he engages the process of making a film.
Creativity is full of paradoxes — not the least of which is the fact that having absolute creative freedom is often highly uncreative. It’s a phenomenon called “paralysis of choice.” The more options we have, the harder it is to choose anything. So we do nothing. When everything is an option, somehow we find ourselves optionless. Which is why almost every artistic medium develops its own limitations over time.
As David Foster Wallace famously put it: “Of course you end up becoming yourself.” Which probably just means that everything seems inevitable in retrospect. And maybe that’s why it’s not surprising that despite having so many things working against them, cinematographers Autumn Durald (Palo Alto, One & Two) and Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Cake) have built not only successful film careers, but also families. Which isn’t to say it was easy. Just that, when you hear them talk about it, it makes sense. “I guess on some level, [being a DP and a mother was] always a part of the plan,” Rachel Morrison says. “But I got to the point where I was like, ‘How the hell can you be a DP and a mother?’”
The hardest part of making a film isn’t the grueling days, the logistical Rubik’s Cube, or the 10,000 problems that arise over the course of production. The very hardest part is getting started in the first place. How do you go from having an idea to doing something about it? And then how do you keep doing something about it? The great garbage heap of abandoned ideas is both deep and wide. We’ve all contributed to it. But at some point, if we’re ever going to make the film we want to make, then we’re going to have to actually make it.