Clark Gregg ("Trust Me"): I didn't go to film school, but somehow stumbled into an acting class at NYU taught by William H. Macy and David Mamet. When my class graduated we formed the Atlantic Theater Company together and did many, many plays, so I got to act and direct a lot of great writing. When I started to work in films, I spent years bugging the camera operators and cinematographers with questions. Bob Zemeckis made my first script, "What Lies Beneath," and generously kept me around throughout the shoot and let me observe his meticulous and story-focused process. Joss Whedon is a writer/director whose work I admire (despite his decision to kill Agent Coulson) He was enormously helpful and supportive with "Trust Me." When I directed my first feature, "Choke," I felt surprisingly prepared and completely clueless, often within the same moment. When I think about, I suppose I've created a kind of Continuing Ed film school for myself by making small films with a small group of very talented and generous friends.
Steph Green ("Run & Jump"): After college, I worked as Spike Jonze's assistant while he was planning "Where the Wild Things Are", so he was a great mentor, as was Alan Poul, a producer and director I worked for at HBO while he worked on "Six Feet Under" and "Big Love".
Felix van Groeningen ("The Broken Circle Breakdown"): [KASK] was a pretty crappy school, but I had some great great teachers. It's also the place where I met Dirk Impens, my long lasting producing friend.
While in film school I also made a theatre play with some friends, and with a bunch of teenager non-actors.The play performed for over 3 years and we toured all over Europe. I feel I learned how to 'direct', how to really 'work' with people during that time. I feel that a lot of the people I worked with, were and are still mentors.
Jonathan Gurfinkel ("Six Acts"): I didn't even finish high school.. My father is a well-known cinematographer, so I was practically raised on his sets. I did everything, from Best boy grip to camera operator, knowing from a very early age I will eventually become a director. That's one job where I get to tell my father what to do.
Zachary Henzerling ("Cutie and the Boxer"): I studied philosophy, which doesn’t lead to much in terms of actual jobs. I mostly learned about making films through watching them—so my mentors were Tarkovsky, Pennebaker, and the Maysles. What’s great about verite documentary filmmaking is that you end up learning a lot very quickly, because you’re forced to. You’re put in situations where you have to act quickly and make the most of what you have. Everything happens on the fly and it’s a continual process of trial and error. I’m also drawn to it because you have so much control. To some extent, you can control the action or the tone of the scene by what you decide to shoot - one character as opposed to another, feet as opposed to faces. There isn’t a crew of people forcing you to shoot something in a certain way, so you can be a bit looser or experimental with things.
Caradog James ("The Machine"): I learnt how to make films as a stills photographer on movie sets and by making short films. Gaston Kabore wasn't a mentor but I will always be grateful that he let me watch him work.
Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa ("Powerless"): We learnt as we went along, something new everyday. Neither of us studied filmmaking, but as historians we are attuned to the art of the narrative and the power of storytelling.
And then the people that you work with bring a lot of ideas to the table. We had a superb crew of young enthusiasts and well-regarded professionals. Some of them bought into our vision and made it their own, and some challenged us to be better.
Chiemi Karasawa ("Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me"): I moved to NYC [after school] and worked as an assistant to a Producer, and then trained to be a Script Supervisor. As such, I worked alongside directors and DP's for more than 15 years, and learned a lot through the working relationships and friendships with filmmakers (Jim Jarmusch, Larry Clarke, Harris Savides, Ellen Kuras, Emir Kusturica, Spike Jonze and Martin Scorsese).
Dan Krauss ("The Kill Team"): [The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism's documentary film program is] led by preeminent filmmaker and cinematographer Jon Else, who was – and continues to be – my mentor. Another key mentor in my life is Deborah Hoffmann, an acclaimed director and editor, who was an instructor during my time at Berkeley, and is now one of my closest creative collaborators – and more important, a dear friend.
Jacob Kornbluth ("Inequality for All"): I learned filmmaking through doing it. I didn’t go to film school and the closest thing I had to a mentor was my brother, Josh, who was a theater actor. What I learned from him was that telling stories that matter to you could be invigorating. I also learned from him that storytelling could be a job, which was a revelation to someone with my working class / non-artistic background. I didn’t plan any of it, but now that it has happened I wouldn’t change any of the journey that led me here. It has formed who I am as a filmmaker.
I know that lots of filmmakers have a linear path and dreamed of this since they were kids, I just wasn’t one of them. Working in film didn’t really occur to me until I was in my 20’s, and it has taken me longer than most to realize that it is the only job for me and something I genuinely love to do.
Jenée LaMarque ("The Pretty One"): Rick Barot, Anna Deveare Smith, Frank Pierson, Michael Urban, and Anna Thomas.
Adam Lough ("The Motivation"): I taught myself how to make films 3 years before I went to NYU at the age of 15. There was a local cable access station near my house and I used their equipment. Back then there was no such thing as Final Cut Pro. I learned how to edit using a tape-to-tape cutting system. And at NYU I shot 16mm and cut on a reel-to-reel Steenbeck. Now kids have so much great equipment and huge platforms to release their work like Vimeo. They have no excuse for not realizing their dreams. If you're a wannabe filmmaker reading this - you have no excuse! Go do it!
Hilla Medalia ("Dancing in Jaffa"): My mentor in school was Jan Thompson who really pushed me to make my first film "To Die in Jerusalem" and is still helping me with everything I do.
When I did "To Die in Jerusalem," HBO introduced me to filmmaker Dan Setton ("In The Name of God" and most recently "State 194"), they wanted him to advise on the project. Since then, Dan has been my mentor and guide in all aspects of my work. On "Dancing in Jaffa," whenever we came across a seemingly unsolvable issue with the film, he always managed to show us the way.