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Who Are the Mentors to the 2013 Tribeca Filmmakers?

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire May 29, 2013 at 3:27PM

At other festivals when we started to ask people what film school they went to (if any), we noticed that a lot of those who didn't go to film school wanted to talk about who their mentors were. When we asked Tribeca filmmakers who their inspirations and mentors were, they were eager to respond, whether they went to film school or not. Here are their answers:
TFF Drive-In
Tribeca Film Festival

At other festivals when we started to ask people what film school they went to (if any), we noticed that a lot of those who didn't go to film school wanted to talk about who their mentors were.  When we asked Tribeca filmmakers who their inspirations and mentors were, they were eager to respond, whether they went to film school or not.  Here are their answers:

Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek ("In God We Trust"): Making our mockumentary comedy, "Cook Off," was a crash course in film making and we came out the other side with a practical hands on education in film. Since we started making films in 2006, we have been lucky enough to work with a diverse group of incredible people like Gore Vidal, Wendi McClendon Covey, Christian Bale and Susanne Rostock and so many others. Each one of them in their own way have contributed to us as filmmakers.

Rachel Boynton ("Big Men"): I went to Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. I started in the broadcast department there, but ultimately I switched to print. The J-school did have a documentary concentration, but at the time you had only one semester to make a film. I felt like the turn around was so fast I wouldn’t have time to make the sort of film I wanted to make. So I focused on improving my writing.

When I left the J-school I got a job working as an AP for Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson, two hard-core vertité documentarians. They taught me a ton. Then I worked for Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker who were completely different from Michael and Shari but equally talented. Louis and Andy are really funny and they make even the most intellectual subject matter completely accessible.

I learned a lot from working for other people. And I spent a ridiculous amount of time watching movies.

"Lil Bub & Friendz"
TFF "Lil Bub & Friendz"

Andy Capper ("Lil Bub & Friendz"): Leo Leigh & Jake Burghart

Arvin Chen ("Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"): I've been extremely lucky enough to have had two great mentors in my life, Edward Yang and Wim Wenders. My first job in film was apprenticing with Edward in Taiwan after college, and Wim was the executive producer on my first feature. I learned a great deal about filmmaking from both of them, but more importantly, saw how two different types of directors with entirely different creative processes work, and how that affects the type of films they make. I think about them both all the time when struggling with my own projects.

Adam Ciralsky ("The Project"): I came to film from the fast-paced world of television news and was lucky enough to work with and learn from some incredible correspondents (Ed Bradley, Mike Wallace, Lesley Stahl, Brian Williams and Lisa Myers) and fantastic executives and producers (Don Hewitt, Steve Capus, David Gelber and Rich Bonin).

Scott Coffey ("Adult World"): David Lynch

Laurie Collyer ("Sunlight Jr"): Professor Mentors from [NYU] included: Boris Frumin, Sam Pollard, Carol Dysinger, Mick Casale. These days I teach at the New School and get notes and feedback from many of my students. All of my collaborators give me great notes, as well. I cannot write without using readers.

Sean Dunne ("Oxyana"): I studied cinema at Purchase College but never attended a proper film school. No one accepted me because I was 18 and had no idea what I was doing. After college I worked as a writer/producer at the history channel for about 4 years. Those experiences were my film school. I was given the opportunity to interview a lot of different people and learned how to tell a story through my time there.

Lance Edmands ("Bluebird"): Sundance Institute, Cinereach, San Francisco Film Society, Christine Vachon, Susan Shopmaker

Juliette Eisner ("Lil Bub & Friendz"): VICE hallway gossip; [co-director] Andy Capper

Rob Epstein ("Battle of amfAR"): Never went to film school, have always learned on the job. And I'm still learning on the job. That's part of the joy of it, as well as the torment. But I had great mentors all along the way, such as Peter Adair on Word Is Out and Richard Schmiechen on The Times of Harvey Milk.

"Stand Clear of the Closing Doors."
Tribeca Film Festival "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors."

Sam Fleischner ("Stand Clear of the Closing Doors"): Anthology Film Archives

Josh Fox ("Gasland Part II"):  I learned on the job from Jim McKay and Paul Mezey while making my first feature film, Memorial Day. I have been in the theater for most of my life, writing/devising/directing over 20 full length works for the stage with my company International WOW. I have had the benefit of amazing teachers and mentors including Debra Winger, Anne Bogart, Tadashi Suzuki, Edward Tayler, Morgan Jenness, Yoko Ono, Robert Woodruff, Charles M. Mee, Jr., Ellen Lauren and SITI Company, Kazuo Ohno, Joel Doerfler.

Jeffrey Friedman ("Battle of amfAR"): I learned by assisting some great editors, including Larry Silk on the Oscar-winning documentary Marjoe, Dede Allen on a short piece directed by Arthur Penn, and Thelma Schoonmaker on Raging Bull.

Claudio Giovannesi ("Alì Blue Eyes"): After graduating, I sneaked onto the sets of Matteo Garrone, the director of Gomorra, to see how he worked.

At any rate, I always think that taking a documentary approach is very useful for developing a fiction project. I always try to learn as much about the real-life setting that I want to talk about.

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".

"Broken Circle Breakdown"
"Broken Circle Breakdown"

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).

'The Kill Team'
'The Kill Team'

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.

'Farah Goes Bang'
'Farah Goes Bang'

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

Deep Powder

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.

"The English Teacher"
"The English Teacher"

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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This article is related to: Tribeca Film Festival, Festivals