8 Brilliant Filmmakers Share with Focal Shadow: Advice For New Directors

8 Brilliant Filmmakers Share with Focal Shadow: Advice For New Directors

Most new filmmakers seek inspiration from established directors. They look to people who have been making films for decades, reached billion-dollar box office status, or have libraries of academy awards. Usually, this is done through YouTube videos or reading their books. This approach can be helpful, but, you may also be taking advice from someone who may be too far removed from when they first started. Plus, the industry climate is vastly different today.

In our opinion, the best people to glean inspiration from are the ones that are considered fresh talent: those who are extremely sought-after with really promising careers. There, you can get advice that’s relative to your situation — advice that you can rely on because it’s been proven.

With that philosophy, 8 talented, acclaimed, and in-demand filmmakers were kind enough to share advice for new, upcoming directors with us.

This is a real treat. We hope you take all these priceless nuggets along with you on your filmmaking journey, whether you’re new or established. Keep reading for their honest, unfiltered insights below.

Joshua Kissi

Focal Shadow - Joshua Kissi

Latest Work:

Advice:

“Treat every project like its own. There may be things you learn from one project that can help you with the next, but it’s important to treat each project like its own child with its unique abilities. I think set atmosphere is one of the most important elements of filming. One part of directing is creating pretty images the other part is managing relationships with all of the different department heads. I truly think of each crew as a tribe where we build and trust each other to make sure our small ecosystem works for the best of everyone and the story we’re telling.”

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Morgan Cooper

Focal Shadow - Morgan Cooper

Latest Work:

Advice:

“I think the most important thing is to just really embrace the work and to find a ‘why’ in what you’re doing as early as possible. I think that’s really important for staying on the path, staying the course, and really staying focused within your work. You’re bouncing around everywhere and the work doesn’t have an identity because you don’t have a ‘why.’ So, really ask yourself and kind of interrogate yourself on why you pick up a camera.

 

It’s very important. Be true to yourself. Be authentic to yourself. Tell the stories that you would only be able to tell. I think that’s a really big one. There’s only one you with your experiences that you’ve lived. So use that and harness it to tell. Tell the stories that no one else would tell, and be fearless with your storytelling. Don’t wait for permission to tell your story. Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction..”

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Savanah Leaf

Focal Shadow - Savannah Leaf

Latest Work:

Advice:

“Focus on creating personal films. Don’t get too caught up with the technicality of filmmaking or the money behind it. Being able to tell an honest story that connects to viewers is always stronger than creating a film with tons of production value but no message. The audience and funding will eventually come if you keep focusing on telling your story.”

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Kamau Bilal

Focal Shadow - Kamau Bilal

Latest Work:

Advice:

“Watch the first films of your favorite director so you can see where they started. Don’t be afraid of discovery and chase transcendence — the two are tied together. What you plan might feel boring. Chase surprises. Also, prefer that which surprises you over that which “makes sense.” Be confused; some confusion is good, too much is not. Make the films that fit your personality, not the personality of what “you think” makes a great director. Cinema is a language — just because you can read doesn’t mean you can write yet, so take it easy on yourself.”

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Olan Collardy

focal shadow - olan collardy

Latest Work:

Advice:

There’s no such thing as a failed artist, just artists who quit.
– On perseverance and patience with your craft.

 

Your success as an artist is largely tied to who you surround yourself with and collaborate with. I’ve been very blessed to have found a tribe of creatives who have trusted me with their vision and intent as well as giving me the support to birth these ideas to the world.
– On collaboration.

 

What you withhold from your viewer is just as powerful and informative as what you decide to reveal to them. When you conceal information, you are forcing your viewer to fill the blanks with their own imagination, dreams, fears and prejudices to complete the picture. This is one of art’s greatest gifts.
– On storytelling.

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John Ogunmuyiwa

Focal Shadow - John Ogunmuyiwa

Latest Work:

Advice:

“I think one piece of advice that I would have given to myself when I was new is, ‘the quicker you can get other people involved, the faster things feel like they start to happen.’ You spend so long working on something, but once you get a producer, a camera person, or even just the creative director, writer, or anyone else for any other role, it then becomes a problem shared. Then, it becomes, ‘okay, now we need to start really trying to make this thing happen.’

 

Another piece of advice is actually to do as much legwork as possible. Because I think, when it comes to funding , it’s always just a case of whether people trust you, to make something when they give you the money. So, have all the questions that you think someone would ask answered already. ‘Oh, what’s it gonna be like?’ It’s gonna be like this. Things can change, but just have an idea that you know inside and out. And it’s not just like a top-line thing, like, ‘yeah, we’re gonna do this thing.’ What is it really? I think that will help you a lot, because it’s just a case of having answers to questions that people will ask. And, I guess where it falters is when you don’t have the answers, or it doesn’t sound convincing enough, because you can’t answer the question. And as soon as you get the money, everything can change — it’s up to you, but it’s just getting that belief.”

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Alicia K. Harris

alicia k harris

Latest Work:

Advice:

“Never wrap up your success in one film, event, award, festival acceptance, or important meeting. Everything you do in your career will connect you to the next step and the right people at the right time (even if it’s not the path you expected). Just focus on making good work.”

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Jared Malik Royal

Latest Feature: jared malik royal

Latest Work:

“No Mask” – AJ Radico (Music Video)
“Break Free” for Levi’s (Commercial)

Advice:

Learn from the pros. There are people doing exactly what you want to do right now. Be around them, learn their stories, and their processes.

What are they reading? How do they write and manage their time? What things do they do that make them unique? Ask questions like this, and you’ll start to be able to observe these answers in your own life too.

Stay humble. This is an industry where you can win very big, and as a result, the losses can hurt just as much, but use them as learning moments to grow and strengthen your skills.

This industry is very partial to relationships. Before you think about how good of a filmmaker you need to be, think of how good of a friend you can be. The more I’ve given and helped others the more I’ve seen opportunities come.

There is absolutely no one way to do this or any kind of blueprint, but, there is a way to conduct yourself professionally, and a way to understand how the business side of things function in order to put yourself in a position to change them and forge a better way forward — especially as a Black artist.

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