I’m Sean and I’m a filmmaker (“Hi, Sean”). I love film. I love watching film and I’m absolutely the happiest and most confident when I’m on a film set. Unless I’m making an omelette. I make a damn good omelette.
A bit about me. My grandparents fled from Eastern Europe before, during and after the war. My father was born in Brazil. My mother was born in France. They met in Israel. I was born in Canada. My biggest fear as a boy in 1980s suburban Toronto was Nazi stormtroopers. I went to art school to make interactive robot art that chased people around galleries. By the time I graduated art school I was making films. A few years later I founded an award-winning boutique design and animation studio. Years later I left my company while it was a rising success. I survived an airplane crash in New Zealand. I filmed my airplane crash. I missed filming elephants at a market in India because the cameras were three hours late. I lost a Juno to Drake. I’ve done many things though it often feels as if I haven’t achieved anything at all. Everything in my life has made me the filmmaker I am today. I’m only beginning to understand that.
It’s really difficult to narrow down advice for aspiring filmmakers. A filmmaker’s job description is very broad job and can include a psychologist’s insight, a poet’s heart, a technical scientist’s mind, the calm patience of a monk, the humour of a Bill Murray™, the quick response of an athlete and the clarity of a traffic signal. Conversely, a filmmaker can encompass none of those things and still be a success. I know filmmakers from all backgrounds and temperament. Every filmmaker took a different path to get where they are. Every filmmaker feels like they’re still on their journey. This is empowering. Anyone can be a filmmaker. Being a good and true filmmaker is the hard part.
Let’s assume you want to be a filmmaker who tells stories or communicatessomething. Here are four simple things to keep in mind. These are things you already know. If you practice these ideas fully, you’ll attract like minded collaborators. Collaborating with individuals who are all after the same goal is invaluable. It’s the fucking best.
It’s probably the easiest thing to say and the hardest to do. Being honest with yourself is difficult enough. Being honest in your work exposes you to the world. It’s a brave move but it’s the most important thing there is. Understanding deeply and truly what it is you want to say, to whom and why is not easy. Knowing your strengths & weaknesses and likes & dislikes is key. Sometimes making a film is the process towards discovering and revealing that honesty. Try to do work from an honest place. That’s not to say that every film should be a personal story. Die Hard is as honest a film as Barton Fink. It’s about communicating something from a truthful place within (to others and yourself). You should have a reason for doing every project and honestly connect with that reason. That reason could be that you’re trying to recreate a feeling you had when you were six, that you really want to shoot with a crane because it’s a totally new shot or you really need the money to pay rent. As long as you recognize the honest reason and acknowledge it, that’s a great place to start.
GIVE A SHIT
If you’re starting from an honest place, it’s easier to give a shit. Care about each project you work on. Care about each shot you work on. Care about every part of every shot. The framing. The wardrobe. The lighting. The acting. How it fits into the whole. Care about it all. If you’re starting from an honest place there’s always a way in to caring.
Being honest and giving a shit means you’ll want to work hard. The harder you work, the better your work will be. Do the time. Rewrite that script. Do it again. Prep as much as possible. But…!
One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my friend Jean. Years ago she said “Sean, you always work hard, but you don’t always work smart”. She was right. It’s important to step back from your hard work. To see the forest AND the trees. Perhaps you’ll realize that you’re not in a forest at all. Work hard but don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing that you neglect to look at the project from multiple angles and from fresh perspectives. Lift your head up and look around every now and then.
Make stuff. Make stuff that matters. Make stuff that doesn’t. Care about all of it. Talk and planning are good but we learn by doing. We get better through practice. It’s part of the hard work. We often forget how easy it is to borrow a camera and ask friends to help make something. Technology is accessible and people are interested in helping people who are honest, give a shit and work hard. Making stuff means that you get to see results, good and bad. Learn from success and failure. Then go make more stuff.
These are basic goals, but they are a good place to start and great things to remind yourself of often. Of course you should also watch films, read, eat, look at art, listen to music, listen to people, fall in love, get angry and see new places. But that’s another column for another blog. In that one I’ll write about storytelling and making eggs. Now get outta here and go work hard as you make honest stuff that you give a shit about.