You want to be involved in film. Whether in front of the camera, or behind. But you don’t know where to start really. Where to meet like-minded people. People you can learn from, work with. Filmmakers, actors, writers, producers.
Let’s start this lecture by me telling you where NOT to start: These so-called “Film Mixers” or “Film Industry Conferences” or whatever their promoters are calling them today. They truly piss me off. They are nothing but a rip-off for these people who sincerely want to work in film. Their promoters take advantage of that desire, and what do they deliver in return? Absolutely nothing.
Look at the people running these things. Have you every heard or seen any of their films? (If you have, did you actually make it all the way through before shutting the damn thing off?) Have you seen films based on their scripts? Do their acting abilities make you jealous? Is there anything about their careers that makes you say: “Yes, that’s what I want for my life?” Most likely not. Most likely the people running and speaking at these meetups and mixers are not working full time in the film industry. Mostly likely they’re producing wedding videos, or doing something completely unrelated to film to pay their bills. Most likely they’re very similar to you, except that they’ve figured out a way to get you to pay $50 to listen to them speak.
Really, you are not going to find working filmmakers speaking at these things. You know why? We’re too busy making films. And we respect the process way too much to watch innocent people get ripped off. (It’s sort of like an agent or a producer’s rep who charges you for their services in advance. Or a producer who charges you to audition. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER pay fees in advance. It’s the biggest scam in the business.)
You want to learn about film? You want to rub elbows with filmmakers? You want to hand a filmmaker your business card? Then go to places where real filmmakers go: film festivals. And granted not every state has many films fests. My home state of Connecticut really has only one real fest at this point, and it’s the nationally sanctioned 48-hour Film Fest. But still, put that $50 instead into the team admission fee and actually make a film. Not only will you be “mixing” with filmmakers, you’ll have something to show for it at the end.
But most states have great film festivals. Big cities absolutely. If you’re in Boston, New York, Seattle, LA, San Francisco, or Chicago, for instance, there are a bunch. And most likely at these festivals you will find the director or producer or cast member from the film you just watched. So, right off, you know their work. You’ve just watched it. You know if they’re someone you might someday want to work with, or someone you’d actually want to learn from. (I’ve seen Godard do a Q&A after a screening at the NY Film Festival. It was like watching God speak.) And after the film, after the Q&A (ask a great question so the filmmaker remembers you), walk up to the filmmaker, offer to buy them a beer, or ask them for their email address, or just shake their hand and tell them you loved their film. (That alone is more “mixing with a filmmaker” than you’ll get at any “mixer.”) Talk them up. They are there to schmooze, just as you are. And they are in a position you want to one day be in. Find out how they got there. Pick their brain. Trust me, filmmakers love talking about making their film. Get a few beers in them, and you’ll have a lecture that will beat anything you’ll get in film school.
Or if a filmmaker lives in your area, reach out. We all have websites. We all have “email us” buttons. There are a bunch of film students who reach out to me every year. I’ll usually meet them for coffee in downtown New Haven, and answer their questions for an hour or so. In a few cases this has led to me bringing them onto my film projects.
(Just don’t do what someone did a few months back. They wanted to learn about making documentaries. I agreed to meet them down town. After sitting in the coffee shop for 30 minutes, I finally left. When I got to my car there was an email from them telling me they’d over slept and could they come down now or reschedule. The answer was no. You don’t oversleep if something is important. And my time is worth a lot more than that. Remember the filmmaker is doing YOU the favor. Not the other way around.)
Also, never be afraid to ask. There really are no stupid questions. Sarah Hajtol designed the FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) poster, then the COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS poster and its amazing website. But she then told me she wanted to learn to shoot. I handed her a camera, and she shot all of the B-Camera for COLOR ME OBSESSED, and has gone on to be my go-to camera person for documentaries, shooting what is truly the most amazing footage in my Archers of Loaf concert film, as well as the majority of the footage for both EVERY EVERYTHING: THE MUSIC, LIFE & TIMES OF GRANT HART (which premieres in the US in October) and A DOG NAMED GUCCI, my animal rights doc currently in production. During the production of COLOR ME OBSESSED she also asked about editing, and went on to not only design our kick-ass title sequence, but be my assistant editor on the film.
Or if there are no filmmakers in your town (and I’m sure there are), answer an ad on CraigsList or Mandy.com or whatever site in your area which hosts posts from filmmakers looking for Production Assistants. Work on a film as a PA. You might not get paid, but you’ll get fed, and not waste $50. And you’ll actually see how a film is made, and meet people who are actually making them. (But please first read my post on how to behave as a PA on a film set.)
Or watch audition notices in places like BackStage or Casting.com. Go on as many auditions as you can. Really, what better way to meet filmmakers, and other actors. Even if you are trying out for the same part, the majority of you are in the same boat, you’re not going to get it. If you want to work crew, check those same notices and tell the filmmakers about your passion for film, and how you want to learn. Guess what, passion trumps almost anything in art. You’ll be on set, working on a film, surrounded by people who are doing what you want to do. (Not people who are talking about doing what you want to do. There are those who talk, and those who do.)
What I’m trying to say (aside from saving you $50) is to “mix” with people who actually make films. Films you respect. Otherwise you’re paying good money to meet with people who are more or less no different than you…because the people you’re actually “mixing” with are the other people who paid $50 and are sitting next to you in the lecture hall. It might make for interesting conversation, but it certainly won’t advance your career.
(Found this a few days after I posted this blog. Seems to fit.)