31 Questions for New Filmmakers

About a month ago, Ted Hope posted 25+ Things He Wanted to Know from New Filmmakers.  I’m going to share my answers to these 31 questions, but in sections…

The first set of questions relate to ‘Getting Started’.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized thatfilmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and yourliving?
I was studying abroad at CambridgeUniversity in England… and there was all of this life outside of the bubble ofthe North East around me.  It was thefirst time I realized that there was more out there in the world than just theworld of finance, being a cop or teacher – which is what you do on LongIsland.  And at Villanova Universityeveryone was pretty much clones of each other. I fit in socially, but I knew I just didn’t fit in for some reason.  And I was bursting at the seams to do this –reading voraciously everything I can get my hands on film related.  When I came back I dropped out of Villanovaand started to pursue film.
Is it harder to get started or to keep going?  What wasthe particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
For me, the initial act of gettingstarted was by far the hardest thing I had to do.  In many ways I made this decision alone.  I actually went back to Villanova the nextsemester – after three days I was completely miserable and wanted nothing to dowith being there.  It felt like the wholescene passed me by.  So I walked to thebursar’s office and told them I would like to withdraw.  I remember being white as a ghost and I musthave been shaking – cause the woman behind the counter knew something waswrong.  Me doing that and not telling myparents was the no turning back moment of my life.  It was right then that I decided I was goingto choose happiness over money.  Over thefallout my decision would create.  Keepin mind, I was a pretty high ranked finance/accounting student at one of thebetter north east schools in the country – which is a feeder for WallStreet.  Fresh off studying economics atCambridge.  My parents weren’t too happy.
Once I made that decision, I jumpedin pretty full force.  It was prettyliberating.  Going to school and actuallycaring about learning – not caring about what grade you got.  It turned a light bulb on for me.  I did really well from the start, all the waythrough USC’s Peter Stark Program. So it wasn’t a huge struggle.  The struggle happened as I was producingBattle for Terra and then left Snoot Entertainment.  Because you realize quickly – making money atthis is very hard.  It’s been a realgrind.  But I made a decision that day Ileft Villanova – I was going to choose this over money.  So my choices have been dictated by that(much to my parent’s dismay).  It makesmy life much harder – but if I wanted to make money I would have worked on WallStreet.  I’m not in this for that ormeeting with stars, etc… There are stories I want to share and my goal is toshare them exactly how I see them in my head.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have alife creating film?
Make sure this is truly what youwant.  Because real filmmaking isn’tglamorous.  Writing is a lonely art.  Editing is a lonely practice.  Being on set is laborious and the days arelong and taxing.  You’re not curingcancer, but it can be stressful.  Askyourself – are you doing this because you absolutely love film/tv/storytelling– or are you interested in meeting famous people or being famous yourself?  If the answer is the latter – go get richdoing something else and then invest in movies. We need you too.
What was the most important lesson you had to learn that hashad a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
That you can’t control everything.  Once you understand that film is acollaborative medium and let go – you can focus on what you can control. 
It happened at a screening of ashort I directed.  It was okay, but itwasn’t exactly what I wanted.  And it wasthere that I thought – I need to stop hiring my friends.
You are a collaborator.  How have you discovered membersof your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?
This is way too broad of aquestion.  As a filmmaker you have manymembers of your team, and thus many different avenues to them. 
A few of my collaborators have comethrough school (USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program), or through functions atthe school.  A large majority of mycollaborators have come through the internet. Seems weird to even type – but I found my artists on all my booksonline.  And they are scattered aroundthe globe.  Mark Newbauer from Mike thePike (The Skin Trade, White Space and the company financing my next 3 graphicnovels) found my email online and just shot me an email.  I met Ken Locsmandi and the team at Filmworksthe following way – Dane Smith, a Producer on Battle for Terra, knew I waslooking to direct something… he set me up with a DP for one of the short filmshe produced, Kev Robertson.  Kev had justDP’s a feature directed by this guy Rufus. I met Rufus at Kev’s house randomly. He emailed me and I went to meet him and a partner of his on a projectcalled Island of Diablo Madre.  Thatpartner was Ken.  We met and startedtalking about fighting, etc… and kept in touch and then our relationship grewfrom there.  Since then I just producedWhite Space which he directed.  Theproduction designer on that film is someone I hope to use on everything I everdo, Jessee Clarkson.  He responded to anad I posted on Mandy.com.  It turned outhe worked out for a company that shares space with Filmworks/FX called New DealStudios – and they gave him the thumbs up. 
You are here at the Universe’s Grand Temple OfCinephilia.  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 doto foster them?
The first is perserverance.  You are going to be told no a lot.  You are going to be rejected a lot.  People, lots of them, are going to pass onyour scripts/work.  You can let that getyou down, or you can keep getting better. The best revenge is success. 
The other two are somewhatconflicting – an iron will and open mindedness. You need to believe that what you are doing is right.  Correction, you need to know that what youare doing is right (difference is – go in educated.  Always be the smartest person in theroom).  Someone like James Camerondoesn’t break or bend.  But with that,you need to accept that film is a collaborative medium.  Here’s where it gets tricky – how does any ofwhat I said make sense?  The first partis surrounding yourself with people who are good at their job.  Even on low budget films – they are out there.  Don’t hire friends.  Hire good people.  Hire knowledgeable people.  Hire people who are better than you at theirposition.  You’re the producer/director –you should know how to talk about lighting, production design, wardrobe – youshould know exactly what you want – but you need people to carry that out.  And sometimes, often times if they are good –they will have great ideas in terms of adding or enhancing your originalidea.  I just had a talk with Jesseeabout production design for my next project – he pitched me something awesomethat completely changed the way I saw the script, not even just thatscene.  He also pitched me something Ididn’t buy because it didn’t fit with what I was trying to accomplish.  I explained to him why and he acceptedthat.  Which I guess makes for a numberfour – be able to express yourself.  Ifyou disagree with someone or something, explain why.  If you’re an asshole, you better be the nextcoming of Orson Welles or you will have a shitty career.
When I wanted to devote my life to making movies, my firstdecision was NY or LA.  How does where you live influence how and what youmake, and how do you think NY currently effects your work and process?
Funny this is a question for Ted,because I have faced this decision my entire film career.  Being from NY, my entire family is from NY sothat is my home.  It will always be myhome.  Obviously there is a lot moregoing on in LA in terms of movers and shakers – but you can definitely do thisfrom NY.  I have to be honest, Ipersonally feel more creative in NY.  InLA, everyone is in entertainment – all of your experiences are based aroundentertainment or people involved in entertainment.  You aren’t experiencing unique/differentpeople, doing different things.  I drawfrom the real world and being in NY just opens that world up.  Being outside of LA also keeps you a bit moregrounded.  No one is blowing your headup, and you’re surrounded by non-industry people.  Industry people tend to think what they’redoing is the greatest and most important thing in the world.  Let’s be real – we are doing movies/tv.  We aren’t curing a disease or saving lives,etc… It’s a big universe and we are small specs in it. 

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