7 Filmmaking Interviews with Real-World Career Advice
PremiumBeat revisits seven informative interviews with filmmakers sharing their professional insights into the film and video industry.
In my experience, there are really only a couple of ways to actually learn how to succeed in the film and video industry:
- Go through the motions yourself and develop the tools on your own.
- Get solid, real-world advice from those who have learned by doing the above.
Take this article, for example. Yes, you can check camera reviews and read film theory all day long, but the best advice you might actually find online comes from those who’ve really been there and done that — and can cite specific examples and projects where they can share these tangible insights.
From a series of interviews conducted over the past few years, let’s take a look at some of the best interviews with industry professionals sharing real, honest-to-goodness advice on how to succeed in film and video production.
1. Advice on Film Writing
Let’s start where all films projects begin — the writing process. This is probably the single most important part of the process, but it’s very often the most neglected. As the well-established writer/director Christina Kallas talks about in her book on screenwriting, even getting started requires a great deal of expertise and thought:
I like starting the process of creating a film with an unresolved question. Something I have no answer to. But it nags me. I want to know. So, each script I write, each film I make, is for me a discovery. And that discovery is an emotional journey. In a strange way, it mirrors the potential emotional journey of the audience member. That is what emotional structure is.
From there, the process just gets more tangled and difficult along the way. But, ultimately, as you push through, it’s rewarding. You can read the rest of the interview on multi-protagonist screenplays, split-screen editing, and the ideology behind losing creative control in the full article here.
2. Advice on Cinematography
Like writing, cinematography is an art that requires a great deal of dedication (and years of practice) to master. In an interview with Gonzalo Amat about his time working as the DP on acclaimed TV series The Man in the High Castle, we get insights into the discipline and patience necessary for the job.
Be patient. This is like a marathon without a finish line. You never really “make it,” so make it more about the process than the result. Talent is not really the determining factor in getting jobs. I know a lot of talented filmmakers that don’t get breaks, so always make the best out of the opportunities that come up.
If you’re an aspiring DP, or just interested in cinematography, the rest of the interview is full of solid advice from Amat’s career and other projects. You can read the full interview here.
3. Advice on Directing Short Films
For many aspiring, up-and-coming filmmakers, the most obvious and practical way to get started is by shooting shorter, smaller-budget projects like short films or music videos. As is the case with filmmaker Ernie Gilbert, who shares some interesting anecdotes from his sci-fi short film “Nine Minutes.”
We ended up shooting the project on 35mm film with Panavision Anamorphic lenses and camera. The heat averaged to 116 degrees each day. It was just a challenge of constructing shade and making sure everybody had water. We were fighting the elements. A lot of learning lessons. We ended up shooting the final shot of the film, which is a 360-degree dolly that circles Constance as she gives her final monologue. It’s a six or seven-minute shot, and we ended up shooting that, both days, at sunset, right as the sun had dipped below the horizon, for the look we wanted.
Not only is working with 35mm a unique project (at least in today’s digital landscape), but it’s these exact situations when you find yourself in extreme conditions — working on complicated shots and sequences — that are the real learning opportunities. For more tips, check out the full article here.
4. Shooting Cinema Verité-Style Documentaries
By definition, the cinema verité style is the purist form of filmmaking. As such, it’s also one of the most difficult and chaotic styles to produce — as filmmakers must capture stories at their realist moments. For cinematographer Matt Porwoll, who shot the Sundance documentary Taken by the Tiger (a.k.a. Tigerland), it all comes down to being prepared for what you can’t expect:
As all verité films go, you never really know what you’re going to get until it starts to happen. We’re following a story that is active and present. […] We knew we had a fascinating character. We didn’t quite know what was going to unfold. And, as you hope with verité films, the second you get on the ground, things start to develop and you just want to jump in and follow it.
Shooting a film across two continents of wildlife, in its natural habitat, can be very tricky — not to mention getting said film into the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. It takes a certain type of cinematographer, with a good eye and great problem-solving skills, to reach these levels of success. Read the full interview for more insights here.
5. The Importance of Production Design
Known for her work on indies such as My Blueberry Nights and 2 Days in New York, as well as the Netflix breakout Jessica Jones, production designer Judy Rhee breaks down how the production designer role is not just important by itself but also in its collaboration with others. Here’s a good tidbit from her work with the teams on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul:
It was interesting to negotiate the timeline of Better Call Saul as a prequel, but keeping the visual thread of the world that had already been formed in Breaking Bad. The design arena for the show is a world you have to occupy and stay faithful to so it’s not disruptive or disharmonious to the story or characters. It may sound limiting, but there is still a lot that can be mined and interpreted, as we move through that world.
If you’d like more in-depth information about how the production design department partners with directors and filmmakers to build their cinematic worlds and environments, read the rest of the interview here.
6. On the Future of Creating Digital Content
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of the industry for many to learn is simply how fast everything is changing. New opportunities are opening up every day, but for many, if you’re stuck in the same old mindsets, you’re not going to be able to adapt. In this interview with digital filmmaker Gotham Chopra, we get some valuable information, not just about how the digital landscape is changing, but how you can be ready to evolve with it.
It’s a rapidly evolving medium. Long-form, short-form, mid-form, series, micro-docs, etc. I actually don’t really worry too much about format. I’m attracted to good stories and great characters. Usually, I find the story will tell you how long it wants to be.
As digital video platforms continue to grow, the industry is undoubtedly headed in this direction. Those filmmakers who stay current will find the most success. Read more on Chopra’s methods in the full article here.
7. Editing Viral Music Videos
And finally, while editing shouldn’t be considered last — or least important — on any project, it does come at the end of our list. Yet, in an interview with editor Ernie Gilbert, we get some terrific behind-the-scenes stories of how one of the biggest music videos of the last few years came together in Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” Gilbert even gives some insights into how he was able to break into the industry.
I got started by doing tour documentary work for a couple of bands back in 2007 and 2008. Projects that I filmed on the road, and then edited on the tour bus for early web content. Back then, the idea of having a videographer on tour with your band was pretty new, and it led to a lot of fun opportunities. YouTube was just getting going and it felt like the Wild West.
From there, Gilbert was able to find (and eventually build a relationship) with director Hiro Murai. They worked together on Donald Glover’s TV series Atlanta before he edited the “This is America” music video. You can read the whole interview here.
Cover image by FrameStockFootages.
For more interviews and filmmaking industry advice, check out these articles.