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13 Great Tips for First-Time Directors from LAFF Filmmakers

13 Great Tips for First-Time Directors from LAFF Filmmakers

Making your first film can be a daunting process, to say the least. Advice from filmmakers who have managed to make a film — and actually get into a film festival — can be instructive. With the 20th LA Film Festival now underway (until June 19), Indiewire sent out questionnaires to filmmakers with films screening at LAFF asking them a variety of questions including what advice they had for aspiring for first-time filmmakers. Here’s the best of what they had to say:

1. “Follow your vision.” — NC Heiken, “Sound of Redemption, The Frank Morgan Story”

2. “Adapt to the environment and the limitations and make them your strong
suit in shooting. Don’t be so rigid that you feel you have to make it a
certain way if all signs point to a better way of shooting a scene. Be
creative and adaptable.” — Eric Koretz, “Comet”

3. “If I had to say one thing, it’s this: it’s your story, it’s
your movie. Borrow from the greats, but don’t let anyone tell you how to
make or sell your movie. It’s your POV, and therefore will ultimately
be best told through your lens. For example, we had a ton of brilliant
editors work on this film, but it really became OUR film when we decided
to make edits in the movie ourselves; at that point, we learned first
hand what the film really could be, and it allowed us to be better
collaborators with all these amazing editors and their ideas.” – Ravi Patel, “Meet the Patels”

4. “If you are a director, learn the business side. This is freedom.” — Geeta Patel, “Meet the Patels”

5. “Make sure that you consider the look/design of your film as carefully as
you consider your script. The looks of your film should back up your
characters and story and change during the course of the film just as
your characters do.” — Tom Hammock, “The Well”

6. “Seek out relationships with people and organizations that can become
invested in your success. There are many opportunities for mentoring
both from individuals – some of whom you can work for/learn from – and
organizations that have programming set up for filmmakers – be it labs
for writing or rough cuts. Finding funds is undoubtedly the hardest
thing to get through those relationships, but there’s a lot of value
tied up in meeting people along your path who can help you reach your
goals be it in ways direct and indirect.” — Gabriel London, “The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest”

7. “I firmly believe that it’s all or nothing. If you are going to start a
feature documentary, you better be prepared to sacrifice a lot. And
there is no reason, no matter how hard it gets, to let the film go
before it’s what you’ve envisioned.” — Blair Dorosh-Walther, “Out of the Night”

8. “Don’t be afraid not to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for
advice or help from your cast and crew. The great fear is to appear as
if you don’t know what you’re doing but if you are confident in
yourself no-one will think less of you as a director. Confidence in
listening to people makes you come across as collaborative not clueless.
For me the greatest thing about being a first time director is that, if
you let them, people will do everything they can to help you. I’m not
sure that happens in a second film where everyone assumes you know what
you’re doing and are less forthcoming with their advice.” —

Amini, “The Two Faces of January”

9. “Work with some experienced crew members who can impart their knowledge
of filmmaking, producing, directing and working in a collaborative way.
This will make the whole process more enjoyable and probably lead to a
better film.” — Thomas Miller,
“Limited Partnership”

10. “I think my one advice for first-time filmmakers who are going into
production is: don’t try to cram everything into each day. Be reasonable
with your shoot schedule. There are a lot of unknowns on-set that you
couldn’t even begin to predict, and having that buffer will allow you to
shoot each scene more freely. And if you have time left on the
schedule, do another take. It won’t hurt to add it at the end.” — David Au, “Eat With Me”

11. “Don’t write a film because you think it is marketable or commercial.
Write what you want to write because you feel passionate about writing
it. ” —

Damian John
Los Ángeles”

12. “Find the time to do it well even if it means having less crew and
equipment. It’s easy these days to be seduced by the new hot camera or
whatever else but the real substance of any film doesn’t depend on the
technology you use or how many lights you have. It all comes down to
telling a great story and having as much time as you can afford gives
you the breathing room to concentrate on what matters.” — Chapin Hall, “Inner Demons”

13. “Don’t listen to anyone and make your film.” — Mike Ott, “Lake Los Angeles”

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