Editor’s Note: Domenica Cameron-Scorsese’s first feature film, “Almost Paris,” will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday. It tells the story of a former Wall Street banker who must return home in order to get back on his feet following the mortgage lending crisis. Cameron-Scorsese is no stranger to the Tribeca Film Festival, having previously screened her shorts “Spanish Boots” and “Roots in Water” there. Indiewire checked in the veteran actress, theater and film director, to find out what making her first feature was like and quickly discovered her journey to Sunday night’s screening contained an important lesson that all up-and-coming filmmakers needed to hear.
If there’s one piece of advice I have for aspiring filmmakers it’s this: Make something. The act of making something is more important than all of the reasons combined not to make something. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.
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In 2000, I made “A Little God” for $8 (the cost of DV tapes) purely because my friend Dan Poliner said, “I’ll show up with a camera on Tuesday.” The film was well received, but more importantly, it led me to making more shorts, growing as a filmmaker and building a career. That is until the next logical step was for me to make a feature, and that’s where the problems began.
Like every filmmaker, the pressure I put on my first feature was tremendous. It was how I was going to define myself as director. This would not only introduce people to how I see the world, but how I, as a director, use the language of cinema to create a world. After studying the great auteurs and dissecting their masterpieces, this expectation for my first feature led me to turn that critical scalpel back on myself before I shot a single frame.
When I read playwright Richard Nelson’s “New England,” I knew I had found “the one.” I’d read and written countless scripts, but this is the one that had a movie playing in my head. I could see it and instinctively knew my way inside the material. I fell in love with the story of a family forced to come together through crisis, who redefines their relationship. Richard’s beautiful script felt so familiar and immediate. We were able to attach an award-winning cast, who were equally drawn to this story, along with the packaging department of a major agency.
That was 2007. “New England” still hasn’t been made. I was unable to mentally move past the idea there was possibly another film that I could make as my first feature. I re-drew the business plan, imagined it as ultra low budget feature, I even made a short of another of Richard’s plays in an effort to sell the feature (“Roots in Water” played at Tribeca 2010). I spent nine years exhausting every possibility and could never fully give myself to another project.
There’s nothing new about my story. In fact, I grew up with two parents who modeled a kind of optimistic tenacity when it came to their passion projects. My mother Julia Cameron (“The Artist’s Way”) starts every day writing her morning pages and then finding ways to move her work forward. My father, Martin Scorsese, devotes years of his life to make his most personal films. Still, in my own right, I had to navigate the leap from a $21,000 short to a feature with a $3-to-7 million price tag, which proved a barrier too great, but one I couldn’t seem to stop from trying to bridge.
Last year, I was approached by Wally Marzano-Lesnevich and Michael Sorvino to see if I was interested in directing “Almost Paris.” The script – a very complex financial story told in personal terms – was not the type of material I’d ever considered directing. After reading it, I realized the story aligned with the familial themes that were near and dear to me. I saw at its core a story with heart, humor and hope. I found my way into the movie.
This script was their “New England,” Wally spent several years working on it and putting together a movie that showcased his and Mike’s acting talent. As soon as I began collaborating with them, I was quickly reminded that directing is about so much more than simply the translation of a personal story. Every choice and challenge you face as a director is a creative one and you leave a piece of yourself in the movie with each decision you make in interpreting the script. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with Mike and Wally because it gave me the freedom to be a director in the same spirit as when my friend Dan came over with his DV camera and we made our first short.
I think it’s important to remember the one universal thing about all the filmmakers we love: They made stuff. They didn’t let the reasons not to make something get in their way of taking the risk of failing. Watching “Taxi Driver” last night at the 40th anniversary screening, I was reminded that my dad had to sit on Paul Schrader’s script for years before being given the resources to making something as deeply personal as the story of Travis Bickle, but in those years, every film he made helped make “Taxi Driver.”
Filmmakers don’t come out of the womb fully formed, and in this digital age where filmmakers are able to sketch (we can make movies with our phones!), I implore young filmmakers to learn by doing: Practice, make more, experiment, take risks, take pictures, make collages, find ways to focus on different skills that are required to tell your story, make mistakes, try again – keep going! Instead of endlessly trying to find ways around the reasons you can’t make your “New England,” knock down those reasons.
In other words, make something.
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