T. S. Eliot once said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” It’s as true in life as it is in creativity. Like in any great story, we only find out who we really are when we’re put to the test. The catch is, as filmmakers we often have to put ourselves to the test. Nobody else is going to do it for us.
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.
There is a point at which most creatives wonder if they’ll ever get where they’re going. Usually, it comes along after they’ve invested a number of years, a lot of effort, and a substantial amount of money. There doesn’t seem to be a way forward, and there doesn’t seem to be a way back. In story terms, you might call it a dark night of the soul. For Rachel Morrison, this point came about after she spent two and a half years directing photography for a reality show called The Hills.
At some point on the way to becoming who we want to be, we have to stop being who we were. Muhammad Ali had to stop being Cassius Clay. Rachel Morrison had to stop working on The Hills. And Katelin Arizmendi had to stop being a camera assistant. “I moved to L.A. and I decided I wasn’t going to introduce myself as a camera assistant ever again,” Katelin told us. “I only wanted to shoot.”
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?’”
How can you become a better filmmaker when there are so many aspects of filmmaking to improve? It’s easy to get overwhelmed. But here’s the thing: Filmmaking is inherently interdisciplinary. Every piece is related to everything else. Improving one part has a strange way of improving the whole. So when we asked some of our favorite cinematographers for their advice on taking their work to the next level, we realized that everything they were talking about could also be applied to a broader lifelong goal of becoming a better filmmaker. So whether or not you’re a cinematographer, here are some world-class opinions on how to get better.
We’ve talked to some incredible women on our blog: directors, DPs, acting coaches, animators, Oscar Nominees, creative directors, artists. They’ve shared illuminating, perspective-shattering advice that any filmmaker can take to heart. Today we’re celebrating some of the wise women we’ve talked to on our blog by pulling some of our favorite moments from their interviews. Reader beware: the topics are all over the place — from storytelling to panic attacks — but we think that speaks to the overwhelming amount of great advice we’ve received over the years. Enjoy.