I had the chance today to participate in a group mentoring event for young filmmakers in Seattle’s NFFTY Film Festival for filmmakers 22 and under. It was such a pleasure to share my perspective on the filmmaking life with so many young filmmakers from around the world. I had taken part last year as well and jumped at the chance to take part again. It’s inspiring to see these filmmakers just starting out and doing exciting things. If you’re in Seattle, definitely check out NFFTY.
One thing I noticed this year and last is that a lot of the same questions kept coming up throughout the “speed networking” type event and I developed a bit of spiel to get through my advice in the few minutes allotted. So to those who I didn’t get a chance to speak with at the event today, or just to young filmmakers who weren’t taking part in NFFTY, here’s my best advice. (By the way, this advice is actually pretty good for filmmakers at any age. I have to remind myself of it sometimes.)
Create a team
You will accomplish more, faster as a filmmaker if you can find a group of people who have the same goals but different skills. It’s tough to get stuff done. A team helps keep you motivated and forces you to get things done. Your work is better. Create a team or teams and work together to achieve your dreams.
Keep making new work
Don’t stop. Don’t get discouraged. Filmmaking can be discouraging—you have to fight for everything. The best way to be excited is to be making something you’re excited about. Don’t discount the power of small projects—tuck them into the spaces in your schedule that can’t accommodate a big project.
Always finish your films
Being in the middle of a film can be rough. None of us are good judges of the quality of our films when we’re in the middle of them. Push through, remember what you were excited about in the beginning of the project and use that to keep you going. When it’s all done, you can always stick it in a drawer if it’s truly awful, but odds are, it will end up a lot better than you thought. But you can only really assess it when it’s finished. A filmmaker is someone who finishes films.
Don’t be in a hurry to jump into commercial work
A lot of young filmmakers ask me how to get into commercials. My advice is, Don’t do it. Not now anyway. There’s plenty of time to suck the corporate teat when you’re older. As a filmmaker in your teens or early 20s, you’ll never have such a low cost of living or such low consequences to being broke than right now. Use this time to build your work. Make challenging projects. Push the boundaries. Now is the time. (And yes, this really does work for filmmakers at any age!)
Network with your cohort more than with people who have “made it”
At this speed networking event the filmmakers were eager to get advice from the mentors. I can remember at my first festivals trying to get in the door with producers and directors who had active careers—often with the idea that I was going to network my way up. But looking back, the people who were at my own level—my cohort—were the most important people to build relationships with. Our careers have grown together. You don’t always realize this at the time, but I find it’s true. The other filmmakers you meet and work with along the way are the most important ones to be building relationships with.
Enjoy film festivals
A lot of the young filmmakers were trying to think past the festival to the next steps in their careers—with the film festival as a stepping stone to whatever’s next. Don’t be in such a hurry. Taking part in film festivals is some of the best times in a filmmaker’s life. You’re showing work, being inspired by others, and meeting new people to collaborate with. After the film festival, it’s back to the slog. Enjoy the heck out of it while you’re there.