By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire May 29, 2013 at 3:27PM
Alex Meillier ("Alias Ruby Blade"): I could point to a handful of instructors in particular who really had an influence on my trajectory as a documentary filmmaker, one of which was the legendary filmmaker George Stoney. Mostly though I think I learn a little more with each project I take on having worked in many different capacities in turns as a documentary cinematographer, editor, graphic designer and producer.
Meera Menon ("Farah Goes Bang"): I did go to film school, where I had the great privilege of meeting mentors that have really shaped how I approached this whole process. But I have many mentors outside of the film school experience as well. As much as I learned through school, I learn equally as much, if not more, from the people I work with- like the DP of this film (Paul Gleason), who taught me and everyone on set about how to make the artistic choices we made relative to the digital world in which we were shooting.
Kim Mordaunt ("The Rocket"): My mentors to date have been my art teacher at school, Kerry Woods, my father, Richard (a documentary film maker) and step-mother Diana (a painter) and also working collaborations with people like writer/director Howard Jackson who I worked with as an actor and film-maker. Hope to have more mentors to come.
Phil Morrison ("Almost Christmas"): No real direct, specific mentors. Jonathan Demme was someone whose movies made me feel like I would like to do that too.
Karl Mueller ("Mr. Jones"): The most important part of my film school experience—besides the people I met—was my involvement with the campus sketch comedy show, NSTV. I was the head writer, but because we got ridiculously ambitious about our sketches, I ended up shooting, directing, and editing sketches in all sorts of genres, along with everyone else. It was an insanely talented group of people. Some of them have gone on to become writer/producers for TV shows like “Dexter” and “Cougartown.” Another writer, Andrew Mason, went out and founded a little web startup called Groupon.
As far as mentors go, the WGA has a program where they hook up first-time directors with other writers who’ve already made the leap into directing. So I was lucky enough to sit down for an afternoon and pick the brain of Mr. Billy Ray.
Michael Noer ("Northwest"): Cinema Verite and watching Chris Marker movies
Mo Ogrodnik ("Deep Powder"): I originally wanted to be a journalist and when I was 19, I left college and went to Washington, DC where I found a job working for Jim Ridgeway. He was working on a documentary with Kevin Rafferty about the emergence of the New Right and the KKK and they asked me to get involved as an AC. I learned how to change magazines and lenses on an Aaton 16mm camera in a basement on MacDougal Street and then spent time traveling across the Mid-West with the crew shooting interviews and cross burnings. It was an eye-opening experience and I was blown away by how a camera could give you access to all these different worlds.
I went to Harvard and was a VES (Visual Environmental Studies) major and I predominantly focused on documentary filmmaking. After I graduated, I bounced around working as a freelancer on docs in NY and then worked for Michael Moore and National Geographic Television. Eventually, I started getting interested in narrative filmmaking and decided to go to Columbia for my MFA. It's a wonderful program that emphasizes storytelling and working with actors and I learned a tremendous amount from Lenore DeKoven and a screenwriting class I took with Paul Schrader. I've learned a tremendous amount from my students and colleagues at NYU. It's a culture of constantly making and reflecting and that is so special because once you get out into the world, the "making" can take such a long time. My biggest mentors lately are the people I made Deep Powder with. My collaborations with cast and crew members led to learning more about the craft of filmmaking. There's nothing better than being in the process of making and collaborating with other people. I love it.
Jessica Oreck ("Aatsinki"): I learned how to make films while making films. And while working at a video store. Watching movies and making movies – that’s the only way to do it. One of the biggest influences in my life is Sean Price Williams. I don’t know any one that thinks like him. And he’s brilliant with a camera.
Warwick Ross ("Red Obsession"): I always made short films at school and university and after getting my degree in Engineering, I couldn't wait to get into film full time. So I headed to Hollywood and the film school at USC. Where I was never enrolled but just ducked in and out of classes with the most inspiring lecturers. I did manage to get a reference from the professor at the end of that year and used it to get my first job, on "The Blue Lagoon"
"The Godfather" was one of the greatest inspirations for me - it has always reminded me that story is the most important element. When we had the chance to interview Francis Ford Coppola for "Red Obsession" it seemed like such serendipity.
Josh and Benny Safdie ("Lenny Cooke"): In a way we learned from our father. He always filmed us as kids and taught us the importance of the small moment. This is something we hold close to our hearts and something that has had a large effect on this film.
Deidre Schoo ("Flex is Kings"): I learned how to make a film by making a film. I went to school for documentary photography. I've been lucky to have great mentors and friends who've been very patient as they lived through and guided my learning process!
Rona Segal ("Six Acts"): I am not as Cinema royalty as [co-director] Jonathan... I take my pride in coming from no where. My best writing school was working as a journalist for 7 years.
Darren Stein ("G.B.F."): I would have to say my Dad was a mentor of sorts. He ran a small film lab in Hollywood founded by his parents in the 60s called Crest National. It began as a camera shop and grew into a 16mm lab which expanded to 35mm and then video in the late 70s and, later, digital. I also learned a lot through Tom Bodley who was a post production coordinator for the Samuel Goldwyn company when I was in high school. I got exposed to films like Sid and Nancy, Wild at Heart and Prick up Your Ears - all seminal movie going experiences of my teenage years. Also, the Z Channel, which was the very first cable station only available in certain parts of California, was like a year-round film festival which showed mostly independent and foreign films. Thankfully my parents weren't monitoring what I was watching too closely.
Eric Steel ("Kiss the Water"): Scott Rudin, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, Jane Rosenthal, Nora Ephron, Stanley Jaffe, Robert Benton. And my dad was the architect Charles Gwathmey -- he taught me how to build things and be completely committed to your vision.
Linda Bloodworth Thomason ("Bridegroom"): I discovered that many of the things I learned from television production could be transferred to film. My earliest mentors were the great Norman Lear, Larry Gelbart ("MASH," "Tootsie") and Jim Brooks ("Terms of Endearment," "Jerry Maguire"). I cannot tell you how much I learned from being around this brilliant trifecta of writing, directing and producing talent. As for directing documentaries, I had to learn from the ground up. Candidate Bill Clinton was my mentor simply because he believed in me, with very little justification. All the films I made for him were done without interference or focus groups. Nothing was done by committee. They were produced over a period of thirteen years, so I guess we now have the longest, ongoing relationship between a president and an artist. I am very proud and grateful that he allowed me such unbelievable artistic freedom.
Christina Voros ("The Director"): While at NYU I was lucky enough to work with Jay Anania, Carol Dysinger and Tony Janelli, tremendous mentors who have continued to be tremendous friends. But beyond the curriculum, a great part of my education came from the remarkable filmmakers I‘ve come to work with: Randy Wilkins, Marni Zelnick, Keith Davis, Jeff Pinilla and of course, James Franco. I met James in 2008 and since then we’ve collaborated on six shorts, three docs and four feature films. It's safe to say I’ve learned as much from our collaboration over the years as I have from my formal training in film school.
Jane Weinstock ("The Moment"): I first learned to make films by taking a filmmaking class in which I made a short film. I also worked on other people's films. After making a couple of shorts, I attended the Sundance Director's Lab, which was a fantastic learning experience. There I worked with Joan Tewkesbury, Sam Waterston and other filmmakers and actors.
Matt Wolf ("Teenage"): Kelly Reichardt was an important mentor to me. I also started out in the experimental film world, and that community really shaped me.
Marina Zenovich ("Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic"): Alex Gibney and Steven Soderbergh
Enid Zentelis ("Bottled Up"): Abraham Ravett; Sundance Institute
David Zieff ("McCorkey"): There was a weekly showing of a thing called "The 4:30 Movie" back in the day. It showed movie-of-the-week type B movies. It had a dynamic opening title sequence with cheesy overstated music behind a cool animation of a Hollywood cameraman being swooped on a dolly in silhouette. I was eight years old and I wanted to do that. I spent a lot of years working with, and learning from, brilliant documentary directors like Michael Moore, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and Dan Klores.
Craig Zisk ("The English Teacher"): I went to USC but was an English major. I was able to take film writing and criticism classes but not production courses. I started working as a PA while still in school, so my education really started hanging out on set between lunch runs and xeroxing. I had great mentors like Gary David Goldberg and Jon Avnet who taught me that the material was as important as the filmmaking. In recent years, I've been working a fair amount with Steven Spielberg on a few of his television series and feel that he really opened me up to a new level of directing. He encouraged me to be more inventive and not conform to the "norms" of television. It was quite freeing and really has affected my work for the better.
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