- Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?
I started making videos with an old VHS camcorder in junior high and have been behind the camera ever since. Often times when a project is finished I feel a sense of clarity as if the thought has finally been expressed and I can finally see the truth within. I think all filmmakers are chasing the feeling they got when they first saw their favorite films. We keep creating to find glimmers of that same joy and wonder in our own work. Film has always been the medium that makes the most sense to me and I’m excited for the projects yet to come.
- Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
With the breadth of knowledge on the internet, accessibility to almost all of film history on demand, and the speed with which the technology and workflows are changing, it is definitely not essential to go to film school. By the time you get out everything has already changed. Experience is the greatest teacher and the sooner you start making things, the sooner you’ll be good at it. Watch a lot of movies and copy the things you like until they become your own.
- Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
Getting started is probably the hardest part because you can see the ground that needs to be covered ahead of you. At the same time, there is an energy at each milestone in the process where the team is excited and ready to commit. That energy can fade in between those milestones and it’s important to find join in the process rather than constantly waiting for it to be finished.
- What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
So many times in making projects you have to negotiate and align everyone’s interests to get them on board for the long haul. This was a project where the subjects were passionate and had something important to say. The film would not have been made without their enthusiasm, commitment, and support. Have good subjects is the key to a good documentary and we had some of the best.
- How do you find or generate ideas for documentaries or is it a different process for every project?
Documentaries are about exploring something that you find interesting without a clearly defined answer. You think you know where it’s going to end up, but you never really know for sure. It mostly starts with what and who we have unique access to and the narrative is built from there. The process varies, but the key is to make definitive decisions about the things that can be controlled like technical choices and motifs while leaving room for the story to evolve along the way.
- Can you describe your approach to writing treatments?
Treatments are just a way to show and tell people what the film with look and feel like. It’s important to be concise, but include a lot of details that help contain the story. It’s also incredibly important to get the elevator pitch right. You need to hook your audience immediately with a concept they can understand and visualize. I like to include lots of visual references to really bring the imagery to life in their heads as much as possible.
- Do you ever use the camera yourself?
I prefer to focus on serving the narrative and keeping the subjects focused while leaving the technical hurdles to the DP. By now Vas and I have worked together so much that we have a shorthand on set that keeps us moving. When you have only a few hours in a refugee camp for some pivotal scenes, we had to be on our game. We did split up at one point and I handled the car mount after Vas set it up and did a small amount of gimbal work while he shot elsewhere, but this was for b-roll only.
- What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?
It’s less about what the audience wants and more the story that needs to be told. You can’t control how someone experiences your film most of the time or what personal context they bring to it. After you create something it becomes the audiences’ experience and intentions go out the window. Filmmakers should make things that speak to them and give them a unique and profound experience, and hopefully, that will come across to an audience. Trying to please an audience is the quickest way to make something that doesn’t feel authentic and that is deadly for any project.
- What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
Festivals are great places to meet people and get reps in seeing your work in front of an audience. There is no more uncomfortable feeling of being exposed than watching something you made in a room full of strangers. Above all, festivals are motivators to keep creating and improving, and ways to connect with like-minded content creators.
- Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?
I think you need to be true to yourself. Trying to be original for originality’s sake is not a great idea, but allowing yourself to experiment and fail is incredibly important to growth as an artist. Take the elements you like from other people’s work and they will eventually morph into your own style. You have to know the rules before you can effectively break them.