Common Sense Crowd Sourcing for Filmmakers…or…a KickStarter campaign that Actually Works! – Part 2


If you’re a filmmaker your pitch video had better damn well knock my socks off.  If it looks like crap, guess what, I’ll assume your film will as well.  If the sound is bad, I can only assume the sound on your feature will suck.  If it’s badly edited…well, you get the idea.

Show us why we should back your project.  Show us some brilliance.  Show us something that makes us laugh or breaks our heart.  If you’re uncomfortable in front of the camera, give us a trailer, or be self-deprecating and make fun of your nervousness.   Entertain us.

And show us your passion.  Why does this film need to be made?  Why are you the person to make it?  In a good pitch video you’re selling yourself as much as you are selling the idea.  They go hand-in-hand.  Your personality, your passion, your talent, your film.

If this is your second go at crowdsourcing, after a failed first campaign, perhaps make fun of your horrible first pitch video.  Laughs go a long way and the writing of your pitch video should represent the writing in your film.

Likewise the way its shot.  All you need is a window, sunlight, and a DSLR to get a gorgeous image.  I’ve done it countless times.  If you can’t, you shouldn’t be making a film.  Again, show us why you should be.  Show us an image that takes our breath away.

If you decide to go with a trailer, don’t give us a collection of title cards.  Tease us, again with brilliance.  You’re asking us to support your film, so you need to prove to us why we should.  There are hundreds of other films right now on KickStarter, why should yours get my hard earned support dollars?

And to my musician friends, I don’t want to watch your pitch video, hear you talk for four minutes, and then…nothing.  You’re a musician, stop talking, start playing.  I want to hear the music I’ll be backing.  Sure tell me why you need to make this record, but then give me a taste.

Search out the most funded campaigns and examine their videos.  See the passion and the talent on display.  Then look at film campaigns that raised little or even no backing (yes, there are some out there with not one backer), see everything wrong.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

This should all be a no brainer, but you’d be shocked at how many horrible pitch videos there are our there.

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Common Sense Crowd Sourcing for Filmmakers…or…a KickStarter campaign that Actually Works! – Part 1

The world of independent filmmaking has changed.  No longer can a Sundance hopeful raise a few hundred thousand dollars from family, friends, their dentist, shoot for eighteen days with a crew of twenty, and hope to actually pay everyone back and actually see a check on the back end.  Those days are over.  DVD sales are down.  And the chance of your film receiving a theatrical release is about as good as you winning PowerBall.  Add to that the fact that almost everyone with a DSLR suddenly thinks they are filmmakers.  And it truly seems hopeless.

Unfortunately most of those DSLR-packing Spielberg-wannabes lack the skills involved to actually tell a story with that expensive Canon, let alone make it look good.  And most of the films that do get made will never be seen beyond a small circle of family, friends, students of their video production class, and of course the cast and crew involved.

The new model of independent filmmaking calls for much lower budgets and much smaller crews.  What used to cost $250 thousand should now be made for one tenth that budget.  The crew of twenty, cut down to four or five, or less.  A great film can still be made.  But it’s a lot more work.

And the fundraising.  Back when I began making films in the 80s, indie filmmakers would look for angel investors.  Supporters of the arts who had the cash to spare, and were looking more to help create something special, instead of for that quick profit.  Not our angels are online.  They are mostly strangers who believe in our ability, our story, or perhaps they just like our smile.  It doesn’t matter.  And instead of writing checks with five or six zeros to the left of the decimal point, they’re pitching in $25 or $50 at a shot through the various crowd-sourcing sites, KickStarter, IndieGoGo, or one of the upstarts.  They will provide you with the thousands needed to turn that story idea into reality.  And aside from their chosen rewards, a DVD, digital download, signed poster, producer credit in the film, you won’t ever have to pay them pack. And what profits you now make from selling your film will actually go into your pocket.

What a concept.  Making money off independent filmmaking.  It can be done, if you have the talent, the perseverance, and the personality.  And if you actually create a smart crowdsourcing campaign.

I’ve run twenty-five successful campaigns on KickStarter…so far.  Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to post some helpful hints on how I do it.  And I’ll begin today with tip #1.


I check for new film projects on KickStarter every couple of days.  I want to not only know what the competition is, but see if there are any films I personally want to back.  Right off the bat, the biggest turn off, and one that will now stop me in my tracks from backing a project, is that the creator of the campaign has backed no other KickStarter campaigns.  Basically they want you to give them your money, but they are above having ever helped any other people in the same position.  It’s a case of spoiled-teenager gimme-gimme-gimme.  And they give nothing in return.  HUGE turnoff.  Makes you look like a jerk.  So, before you set up your campaign, learn everything about the site, study other campaigns, and give some love to a few that strike a chord in your filmmaking heart.  It’s good karma.  And good karma is something every filmmaker can never get enough of.

More in a few days…

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The Best of 2013

It was a very good year.  A great year even.  Hell, The Replacements played their first shows in 22 years.  And from a rock & roll point of view, that should make it the best year in, well, 22 years.  That they took to the stage with the energy of an atomic bomb on pharmaceutical speed playing so many songs from that brilliant first album is perhaps just a bonus, though I prefer to think of it as fate.  That the rock gods were looking down and thought we needed a reminder of the chaos, the sputtering genius, the sheer power that rock could provide.  And they all looked at one another, and shrugged, the answer obvious, time for the Mats to play a few shows.

It was a year in which their first album, SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH, suddenly became this old fan’s favorite Replacements record.  Can’t explain it really.  Perhaps the seeds were planted when I started work on COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS, but those seeds sprouted and bloomed this year.   I love that record.  Played it more than any other this year.  Realized there wasn’t a bad track on it.  That is contained some of the most brilliant licks, sarcastic jabs, and all-out fuck-you rock & roll EVER recorded.  And ok, it’s 32 years after the fact, but better late than never.

But it was also a year in which other old punks blinded us with their brilliance.   Superchunk and Grant Hart put out two wildly different records in I HATE MUSIC and THE ARGUMENT, but both were vast in scope and timelessness, as if both artists had been holding back for all these years, and for some reason felt it were time to unleash the monsters they had munching on their souls.  These are the sort of albums that make you cry the first time you hear them.  They did me.  They are faith renewing.  Faith in the power of music to make your mind dance.

The young woman behind my favorite album from 2012 (and it still remains at the top of that list), Katie Crutchfield, returned with a very strong follow up in CERULEAN SALT.  And though it seemed to widen her fan base, it didn’t resonate with me the way AMERICAN WEEKEND did last year.  But to compare it to that masterpiece is selling the album short.  It’s a great record.  (NOTE: if any of you were turned off by the worst video of the year in COAST TO COAST, proof that still photographers rarely can make the jump to shooting images that move, Ms. Crutchfield more than made up for it in the video for MISERY OVER DISPUTE.)

David Bowie returned with a record that in parts took me back to being a 13-year-old and hearing ZIGGY STARDUST for the first time.  Was it a perfect record, no.  But a number of its songs were perfect, noisy in the way that only Tony Visconti could create in 1972.  And coming from Bowie with Visconti behind the boards, that’s enough.

Aubery Debauchery also returned after too many years with a mature (in the best sense of that word) collection of songs that seemed almost harshly reflective on her past.  She bared her soul and in turn broke my heart.  I love this woman’s voice.

With all the great alt-country female artists making waves this year, none shined brighter than Amanda Shires.  Her album was not a collection of a few “hits” and a lot of filler, but instead well-thought out record with one song being stronger than the next.  And the same can be said of Lorde.  Unlike the other pop queens, her album shined from the first note to the last.  ROYALS is not even the best track.

It was one of those years.  Great ALBUMS.  Not just random collections of songs.  Listen to ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE from Laura Marling or the rapturous return to form from Throwing Muses in PURGATORY / PARADISE (it was certainly a Milton inspired year) to the dangerous sexual anarchy of Sky Ferreira.  (And ok, while Miley Cyrus’ latest certainly doesn’t fall into the best album category, WRECKING BALL was the single that stuck in my head more than any other, and never once did I mind.  It’s a brilliant ballad.  Beautifully performed, and nicely under-produced for a “hit.”)

New rock was also alive in Potty Mouth and Speedy Ortiz.  Electric folk was injected with new life in Jake Bugg.  And some of the greatest musicians of recent memory came together to help a fallen guitar legend in SONG FOR SLIM.

And, oh yeah, The Replacements put out a 5-song EP for that same reason.  And they covered EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES from the old musical GYPSY.  And really now, does it get any better than that?

My Best Albums of 2013 (in alphabetical order):


CERULEAN SALT – Waxahatchee

DEATH OF A DREAM – Aubery Debauchery & The Broken Bones


HELL BENT – Potty Mouth

I HATE MUSIC – Superchunk

JAKE BUGG – Jake Bugg


MAJOR ARCANA – Speedy Ortiz

THE NEXT DAY – David Bowie

NIGHT TIME, MY TIME – Sky Ferreira

ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE – Laura Marling



SONGS FOR SLIM – Various Artists


SONGS FOR SLIM – The Replacements




69 – Ida Maria

MASTER HUNTER  – Laura Marling


Critics who kiss Kanye West’s ass (learn there is a difference between a brilliant artist who takes chances, and a self-indulgent egomaniac who thinks he can fart into a can and it will sell a million copies because it carries his name).


NEBRASKA – a simple story with breathtaking performances told in resplendent black and white.  A masterpiece.


FRANCES HA – a heart-breaking portrait of Greta Gerwig as a confused young woman.  A beautiful, subtle performance.  (And though it’s also in black and white, after watching the embarrassingly pretentious DVD extra about the film’s look, I might suggest that Sam Levy and company watch NEBRASKA so they can learn what black and white should really look like.)


BLACKFISH – a must-watch film about a different sort of animal abuse.  And it’s having an impact.  Kudos to every musician who’s cancelled shows at Sea World.


STARLET – the poster child for what a great indie film should be.  Drew Hemingway is a revelation.  And the many extras are all worth watching.


Unfortunately it was the year of shark jumping.  Lots and lot of shark jumping.


HYPERBOLE AND A HALF – Allie Brosh – if Kurt Vonnegut was a 20-something woman living in Bend, Oregon today this would have been his first book.  And I can’t give it higher praise than that.


TELL ME SOMETHING: ADVICE FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS – a collection of short clippets of advise from the world’s greatest documentarians.  Think of it as Chicken Soup for the Filmmaker’s Soul.  But work reading by any and every artist, if only for Errol Morris’ wise words of wisdom: “When you go to people for advice, expect the worst.”

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The 100 Films Every Film Lover Should See, and Every Filmmaker Must See

This post came about in response to some horrid bucket list of film that everyone should see that was circulating on Facebook a few weeks back.  It was mostly commercial garbage.  And in many case movies that weren’t even worth wasting time on.

I felt the need to come up with a real list for film lovers and film makers.

I gave myself some initial rules: only one film per director, no animation (that’s a whole separate list), no films costing a hundred million dollars or more (no film needs to cost that much, it’s supposed to be a story, not a theme park amusement ride), nothing crazy obvious (Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Godfather, Night of the Living Dead, something from the Coen Brothers – because if you haven’t seen those films, then you shouldn’t even be reading this).

The hardest was the first of those rules.  How to pick only one film from Hitchcock (and if my choice surprises you, it’s only because I’m surprised by how few people today have ever seen it), one from Chaplin, one from Woody Allen.  But the hardest was picking between Kurosawa’s Rashomon and The Seven Samurai.  The latter redefined a genre, while the former redefined story-telling.  You can probably guess my choice.

I tried to run the gamut from early silent masterpieces right up to a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece from 2012, with a little bit of everything in between.  The strongest year seemed to be 1962 with 5 titles on this list.  In second place was 1984 with 4.  And all of the films are easily available on DVD.

I’m not saying these are the greatest films ever made, and I’m sure there are some I’ve missed that really should be here.  I’m sure I’ll think of great alternatives 30 seconds after hitting “publish.”  But these are certainly all in contention.  And they will give you an amazing overview of the medium. They will allow you to understand what film can do, how a story can be told a hundred different ways, and how film is the greatest of all art forms.

These are films to me that made a difference, to the medium, to story-telling, to me.  They made me sit on the edge of my seat and go wow.  Sometimes I’d tear up not at anything sad, but by their sheer power and brilliance.

And if you’re a filmmaker, or you want to be a filmmaker, then you really should see these films, you should see as many films as you can, whenever you can.  You should be over-dosing on film, as if it were a drug.  You really should intimately know what came before you (pre-Tarantino, that is).

Here now, my bucket list of must-see films, in order of release:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

2. The Phantom Carriage (1921)

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

3. Greed (1924)

4. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

5. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

6. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

7. Pandora’s Box (1929)

Pandora's Box (1929)

Pandora’s Box (1929)

8. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

9. City Lights (1931)

10. M (1931)

11. Trouble in Paradise (1932)

12. Duck Soup (1933)

13. The Grand Illusion (1937)

14. Stagecoach (1939)

15. His Girl Friday (1940)

16. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

17. Children of Paradise (1945)

18. Detour (1945)

19. Beauty and the Beast (1946)

20. Gilda (1946)

21. The Bicycle Thieves (1948)

22. The Third Man (1949)

23. Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

24. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

25. High Noon (1952)

26. Singing in the Rain (1952)

27. Tokyo Story (1953)

28. Diabolique (1955)

29. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

30. On the Bowery (1956)

On the Bowery (1956)

On the Bowery (1956)

31. The Seventh Seal (1957)

32. The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

33. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

34. Some Like It Hot (1959)

35. Breathless (1960)

36. Psycho (1960)

37. Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

38. Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

39. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

40. The Exterminating Angel (1962)

41. La Jetee (1962)

42. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

43. 8 ½ (1963)

44. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

45. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

46. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

47. Blow Up (1966)

48. Salesman (1968)

49. Duel (1971)

50. The French Connection (1971)

51. Harold and Maude (1971)

52. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

53. Beware of a Holy Whore (1972)

Beware of a Holy Whore (1972)

Beware of a Holy Whore (1972)

54. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

55. Day For Night (1973)

56. Nashville (1973)

57. The Conversation (1974)

58. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

59. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

60. Network (1976)

61. My Dinner with Andre (1981)

62. Burden of Dreams (1982)

63. Zelig (1983)

64. Paris, Texas (1984)

Paris, Texas (1984)

Paris, Texas (1984)

65. Stop Making Sense (1984)

66. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

67. This is Spinal Tap (1984)

68. Betty Blue (1986)

69. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

70. The Decalogue (1988)

71. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

72. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1989)

73. Roger and Me (1989)

74. Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989)

75. El Mariachi (1992)

76. Clerks (1994)

77. Exotica (1994)

78. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

79. Before Sunrise (1995)

80. Trainspotting (1996)

81. The Celebration (1998)

82. Happiness (1998)

83. Run Lola Run (1998)

84. Audition (1999)

85. The Girl on the Bridge (1999)

The Girl on the Bridge (1999)

The Girl on the Bridge (1999)

86. Battle Royale (2000)

87. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

88. Amelie (2001)

89. Mulholland Drive (2001)

90. Personal Velocity (2002)

91. Lost in Translation (2003)

92. Swimming Pool (2003)

93. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)

94. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

95. Once (2006)

96. Let the Right One In (2008)

97. Dogtooth (2009)

98. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

99. Turn Me On, Dammit! (2011)

100. Starlet (2012)

Starlet (2012)

Starlet (2012)

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I Spit on the Hipster Barista’s Grave, or How Light Roasts are the Vampire Weekend of Coffee

I drink one cup of coffee a day.  In the morning.  Never make it at home, instead I always take a drive or a walk to the best coffee shop within a ten mile radius.  I like a good dark roast, or at least a medium dark.  I want that first sip to be a slap in the face.  I want that first sip to make me it’s bitch.  But not in any nasty gritty way.  In the way a beautiful woman grabs the back of your head, pulls you to her and kisses you with such a force that it melts you into nothingness.  The ties she binds you with are made of brown silk that glide down your throat, setting off marvelous alarms of joy in every nerve ending of your being.

That cup of coffee should be blessedly hot, almost like the feelings it evokes. Rich with delight, smooth, with no hint of bitterness.  It should be like morning sex, sleepy but still a little rough, leaving you with a smile on your face for the rest of the day.

And I know coffee aficionados hate this word, but it should also be “strong.”

The pour-over method of making coffee.  An insult to the bean.

The pour-over method of making coffee. An insult to the bean.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post: my complete and utter disdain for light roasts and coffee made via the pour-over.

We’re told that with light roasts you can better taste the flavor of the coffee.  BULLSHIT.  Drinking a light roast coffee is like drinking Bud Light.  And if you somehow feel that Bud Light is a great tasting beer, then I truly feel sorry for you.  (Not as sorry as I feel for the people in Chicago who believe they have good pizza, but that’s a whole other story.)  I’ve tried light roast coffees in Portland (supposedly the mecca of coffee…it’s SO not), in LA, in Chicago, in NYC, in way too many places to remember (usually because the only other choice was no coffee at all), and in every case my reaction was the same.  After a few sips the cup was dumped into the nearest trash bin.  No coffee was the preferable alternative.

Light roast coffee (especially those made from pour overs) taste as if someone took a barely hot cup of hot water and spit a mouthful of day old coffee brewed from Folgers Crystals into it, along with the juice of some berry that should never be put anywhere near a cup of coffee, unless it’s baked into a muffin or scone.

And let me side track here.  Coffee should not have a linger taste of berries.  Not blue, black, or straw.  No fucking berries in my Joe.  I don’t want to taste the dirt it was grown in.  I don’t want hints of some flower.  I don’t want spices.  And I certainly never want an artificial flavor of any sort.

The only lingering notes I want from my cup of coffee is COFFEE.  And perhaps a little more coffee after that.

I truly feel this light roast trend is another hipster concoction.  Let’s face it, if you ever listen to what at hipsters call rock and roll, you realize its music that’s been castrated with a butter knife.  Instead of three guys playing guitar, bass and drums, making glorious noise, they add in ridiculous instruments that have no place in rock and roll, or they play the ukulele instead of a guitar.  And they’ve done the same fucking thing to coffee, watering it down, and cultivating beans with extra flavors that are so unnecessary, and so downright foolish it’s truly an embarrassment to the word.  Just as hipster rock (you know the bands: Vampire Weekend, Foster the People, Fun Period, to name a few) is vapid and gutless (and also an embarrassment to the word), so is their light roast coffee.  Instead of that wonderful buzz of great morning sex, it’s like brushing your teeth with someone else’s toothbrush using blueberry flavored toothpaste and warm brown rusty water.

Perhaps hipsters like that.  (They do drink PBR to be ironic, and anyone who drinks a beer to be ironic instead of how that beer actually tastes is truly pathetic, or an idiot, or both.  Note: PBR is a fine beer choice for anyone over 70.  At that age you can drink whatever you want.  You’ve earned it.)  And it’s fine if they do.  It certainly wouldn’t surprise me, listen to the music they play, the beards they wear.  But don’t ever call it coffee.

And one final note to the smirking bearded hipsters wearing too-tight plaid shirts: the next time I walk into your shop at 7 AM asking for a dark roast don’t try to lecture me about how a light roast is the only way to experience the full flavor of the bean.  Because seriously, I haven’t had my coffee yet, and I might just punch you in the face.

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How not to be a filmmaking douche bag – part 4

Don’t drop names.  Ever.  Don’t act like you’re only interested in making films that get into Sundance or Cannes when none of your films have, and mostly likely never will.  Even if you have had a film play Sundance or Cannes, be humble about it.  Because I pretty much guarantee the average person, hell, the average filmmaker, has never seen your film.

Don’t talk about who you know, who you’ve worked with, what festivals your film has played, what actors or actresses you’ve bedded down, what overpriced gear you’ve man-handled, unless someone specifically asks.  Because if you just bring it up out of nowhere, you come across like a major douche.  Especially if you’re criticizing some other filmmaker for the festival they just got accepted into, or the budget camera they proudly own, or their cute girlfriend/boyfriend who isn’t a household name.

Are there exceptions, sure.  Your name is Woody Allen, or Steven Soderbergh, or…well, you get the picture.  But if you’re just making your first film, or perhaps have a short or two under your belt…even if you have an indie feature or two under your belt, shut the fuck up, go work on your next script, and add something worthwhile to your imdb credits, all the while thanking the filmmaking gods there isn’t a douchebag category on that site.

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It Ain’t the Gear, It’s the Storytelling…

A recent argument with some pretentious idiot on Amazon inspired this post.

The person in question went on about how a certain piece of gear was not suitable for any serious film at the Cannes Film Festival.

Yes, I know.  A completely moronic statement.

But the response to it is one I want to make sure I drive home here.

Filmmakers reading this, it is NOT about the gear.

A million dollars of the finest cameras, lens, mics, lights, etc. and so on will not make you a better filmmaker, will not be an open door into any film fest or distribution deal, in fact it will not even guarantee you’ll make a better film than someone armed with an iphone.   In fact it doesn’t even guarantee your film will see the light of day.

Really.  Not an opinion.  FACT.

And if you disagree, please, go get a job at Starbucks now (you’ll be working there soon enough) and spare us your monumental bores.

Filmmaking is about storytelling.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a great looking film, or a great sounding film.  But the best looking film, the best sounding film in the world means NOTHING if the storytelling is mediocre.

And any filmmaker who knows what they’re doing can make a technically perfect film with minimal gear.  The DSLR/$200 mic and Zoom recorder package can make a better film that the million dollar package IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

Are you following me here: IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

If you somehow believe using a microphone that cost $10,000 is going to make a difference in getting your film shown, you’re sadly mistaken.  In fact, there are probably a dozen people who’ll see your film that might even notice the mostly unnoticeable difference.  And if you’re making your film to impress those twelve people, again, Starbucks awaits.

If you have a budget of any sort, put it into more shooting days, spend more time developing the script, or perhaps hire a name actor who might help you with distribution.  Certainly if the choice is between spending $25k on a camera rental package and no names, versus shooting on a DSLR and being able to afford a recognizable face for a few days of shooting, GO WITH THE NAME.  That might actually help you sell your film and get it into festivals.  That you shot on a RED, or recorded the sound with a Neumann mic will not.

Now, if you’ve got the money, and the RED or Alexa or 35mm film is the look you want for your film.  If it’s an aesthetic choice, then by all means, go for it.  But never for a second think that it’s going to get your film more attention.  A compelling and captivating story however will.

(Think about it this way, would you prefer to read a brilliant novel that was originally written with a #2 pencil on scraps of paper, or a boring, long-winded book originally written on the finest Macbook Pro Apple makes using the most expensive writing software ever developed?)

And I’m not saying go and shoot on your iPhone.  (I wrote this blog piece on what gear to go after.)  I’m saying better gear does not make you a better filmmaker.  Better storytelling, that’s really is the key.

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