19 Filmmaker Resolutions
This week I figured what better thing to post about than New Year’s Resolutions. We all know the thing about New Years Resolutions. They last about a month and then you’re back to not going to gym or back to masturbating at work or whatever the thing is. It’s hard to keep ‘em going. But what the hell, right? Every year, you gotta get back on that horse and try again. So in the spirit of keeping to my filmmaker theme, I thought it would be cool to come up with nineteen New Year’s Resolutions for the writer/director filmmaker. Two thousand and nineteen resolutions seemed a little much. So nineteen. In random order.
19. Watch a movie once a month without the sound and take notes on what stands out.
I’m not sure about this one. I was running out of ideas by the time I got to nineteen. But the point would be to watch a movie, any movie, once a month without the sound on and write what strikes you. Maybe it’s a shot that was blocked a certain way that really stood out. Or perhaps it was the production design. Write it down and go over what you wrote down. Then research the movie and find out anything you can on how that movie was made.
18. Research one project every week, or everyday from one of the trades (Variety, Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, etc.)
I think this one is a good one. For me, I’m terrible at consistently reading the trades. So if you have that problem like I do, then this might a good way to help yourself get into the habit of picking up the trades and finding out what projects are out there and keeping yourself current. It also forces you to focus on a specific project every week (or everyday) and hopefully learn who is involved in those projects and expand your knowledge of people in the industry.
17. Read a filmmaker book once a month.
You could read any book that pertains to filmmaking that you want and I’m sure it will be helpful. But in this case, I’m mostly suggesting reading up on different filmmakers. I think it’s really interesting to read about other filmmakers, their different styles, and also their journeys. I always find it fascinating learning how people got to where they are. Everyone has a different story with different obstacles. It can be very inspiring.
16. Watch a classic movie in a theatre once a month.
Depending on where you live, this might not be realistic. I live in Los Angeles and we have theatres that play classic movies all over the city. So this would be pretty easy for someone like me who lives in a big city. If you don’t have access to a theatre that shows old classic movies, then just stream them at home. I think the experience of watching old classic movies in the theatre is a much more engaging experience but I think you can still get a lot as a filmmaker from just watching old classic movies, even if it’s in your living room. Maybe even later jot down some observations about the movie and keep a journal of it.
15. Write one page every day (of anything).
Just write. It can be journalling. It can be a short scene. It can be a piece of dialogue that pops into your head that will eventually be part of a scene. Write anything. Getting into the habit of writing everyday is important if you have any desire to create your own content. It can be daunting to start writing if you’ve never done it before, but it doesn’t have to be. I truly believe anyone can write. It’s like a muscle. It just takes doing it over and over again, day after day. Write.
14. Learn a new editing system - take an online weekly lesson
If you’re a filmmaker who is producing your own stuff, then you probably understand the importance of knowing a nonlinear editing system. It’s usually because there’s not enough money in the budget, if there is a budget, to hire an editor full time. So a lot of times, it’s up to the filmmaker to be able to put together a rough assembly of the footage - edit together the movie from A to Z as a simple timeline. I used Premiere Pro for assembling Devil’s Path and I had never used that system before. There are tons of online lessons or even just youtube videos that you watch and learn from. Watch one once a week. You’ll be pretty proficient by the end of the year, I promise you. There are also some great courses on Lynda.com
13. Pitch your stories in front of the camera once a month.
I’ll probably be doing this one. Get a camera and stand in front of it, and pitch your movie. Make sure you press record. And then watch it. See what you liked, what you didn’t, and eventually move on to pitching to other people. But I say continue to record yourself once a month and track your progress with your story pitching. Make a mental note of what your strengths are and what you can improve on.
12. Start a blog or podcast.
I’ve had some friends start some really cool blogs and podcasts. Podcasts are really in these days and they’re fairly easy to put together. If you’re a filmmaker, chances are you have something to say. So say it! Or write it! John August has a great podcast and blog. His podcast is really incredible and inspiring. It’s one of the foremost podcasts I go to regularly because of how informative it is. Find one that you like and see if it inspires you in some way to start your own.
11. Direct a short scene every month and tape it.
This one could be a little difficult if you don’t have a camera. But even if you just use your iPhone, I think that’s good enough. For this resolution, the point would be to focus on how you block a scene and work with actors specifically but you can obviously tailor it to whatever your needs as a filmmaker are. Doing an exercise like this every month helps you quickly understand a shorthand to communicating with actors which is crucial for a director. You could even try directing the same scene two months in a row with the same actors and see how to improve your directing style from the first to the second taping.
10. Write a logline a month.
Personally, I really like this idea. It’s especially good for the writer with a creative block. After I finished production on Devil’s Path, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of creative exhaustion. I just felt like my imagination wasn’t working anymore. That wasn’t true of course. Sometimes it just takes jump-starting it with an exercise like this. It forces you to come up with new ideas without the pressure of having to turn any of them into a full screenplay. You can have fun with your ideas and even get really crazy. No one’s gonna see any of this anyway (unless you want them to).
09. Volunteer at a youth filmmaker program.
Check out a program that helps kids become budding filmmakers. It’s obviously a great way to give back and also teaches a filmmaker how to work with all kinds of different people and energies. It’s probably a good idea if you like kids. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you are good at this kind of thing, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to learn managing, mentoring and patience. Three great qualities for any filmmaker.
08. Take a filmmaking class.
Any class. This can be a cinematography class. This can be a community college screenwriting class. It can even be an online class or workshop like Masterclass. I did Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass and had a lot of fun and learned a lot about television writing specifically. Education is so very important and especially as a creative individual, I think it’s important to keep yourself soaking up as much information as you possibly can in your field. Find an area that you feel you could use the most improvement and then take a class on it. Let yourself fail! And embrace learning something new.
07. Learn a new lighting setup a month.
If you’re technically challenged, this might be a good exercise for you. It requires that you have some kind of lighting setup - even if it’s soft box lights. Or you could focus on only using natural light which could be an interesting challenge. I had trouble with lighting in the beginning of my filmmaking journey. Something like this gives you a chance to play around with light and staging light. You can have fun and not worry about messing a shot up. It’s all about learning what works and what doesn’t. Find a shot from a movie or show that you like and try to recreate that shot with lights that you have or that’s available to you.
06. Attend a filmmaker networking event once a month.
Trouble socializing because you’re one of those introverted, quiet, brooding type of filmmakers? Well, maybe you should consider getting out of your comfort zone and attend a networking event for filmmakers once a month. I can be really shy at times and socially anxious. So giving myself a goal like this would really help with dispelling some of those nerves while also meeting other people that like doing the same thing I do. Networking is really half of filmmaking so it’s best to just dive in and do it. Meet other filmmakers!
05. Discover a new or up and coming filmmaker that inspires you and watch all their movies throughout the year.
I love finding up and coming filmmakers and watching their work. I think researching new filmmakers is a great way to see who else is out there making movies alongside of you. And how can you learn from them? Film festivals can be a great way to discover up and coming filmmakers and find out more about their work. When you find a filmmaker you’re interested in, go research them and find everything they’ve ever done. And then watch, watch, watch. But also make a mental note or actual note of what worked for you and didn’t and why. Think about how you might have done certain things differently but from a technical standpoint.
04. Watch a first-time filmmaker movie once a month.
This sort of goes in tandem with number five. But in this resolution, the idea would be to find a new first time filmmaker every single month and watch their first movie. Make a mental note of what worked and didn’t work for you. Analyze the movie, not with the intention of finding stuff wrong with it, but with the intention of understanding it and what they were going for. If you have trouble finding enough first-time filmmakers, then just watch first films of filmmakers that you admire and who inspire you. You’ll get the same benefit and learning experience from it.
03. Join a writers group (or start one!).
I love writers groups. I used to belong to one, but we had a hard time being consistent about it. When it works though, it can be incredibly helpful especially if you are currently working on a script. It’s a great way to get objective feedback and chances are, everyone in that room will have different writing sensibilities than you have so you also get the opportunity of exploring other types of material. If you don’t know of any writers group that you can join, then start one yourself. Blast it on social media. I guarantee you will get a ton of people wanting to join. Try and keep the group small, at least at first - four to five people. Any more than that, and it can get hard keeping up with everyone’s projects and having enough time to get into depth about story.
02. AFI Top 100 List
This is one of the best lists that I’ve ever come across. They usually update it pretty regularly as new films come out. This list really helped me in the beginning of my filmmaking journey learn about the most influential movies that have been made. It’s a wonderful way to learn about your craft and the history of your craft, while watching some kick-ass movies. And I’m serious about this. The movies on this list are impeccable. Even if some of them are not your cup of tea, and some are bound to not be your cup of tea, it’s important to study other filmmakers and their work. This is fun way to do just that. AFI Top 100
01. A photo a day/week.
Lots of people have done variations of this one. It’s great if cinematography is intimidating for you. One of my directing professors at USC got me to understand the importance of still photography and how learning how to craft a still shot helps you when you’re on set both technically and creatively. With photography, again there’s this sense of no pressure. You can play around with the camera and even get abstract in some of your pictures. Learn what makes a good photo. Pay attention to lighting. Play with composition and other ways of visually expressing yourself.
Resolutions don’t have to be a pain in the ass. You can find one and cater it to who you are what you want to really accomplish in the coming year. It’s important to have goals. But it’s also important to be realistic. So don’t be so hard on yourself either. If you start one of these resolutions and miss out on a month, just get back on it the next month. It’s all about achieving something, learning something new, and having a fun while doing it. Happy New Year!