Interview with director Michael Hill

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I attended ‘Wester Middle School’ in Mansfield Texas around 2014 and a fellow student of mine sadly passed away. Shortly after news broke, a number of students came to me and asked me to compose a song & accompanying video in memory of her and teachers, faculty and staff alike all aided me in making it happen. The combined communal feeling and appreciation of the late student’s family resoundingly showed me that sound & picture could quite literally affect lives.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No, not at all but it can, however, help. I only attended a few film courses during High School but once college came it has been a constant  pursuit of a “Speech Communications” degree. Film is not just technical but it’s emotional. You need to understand as a director how to build relationships and how to collaboratively develop an environment that effectively allows crew, cast and all other departments to comfortably express themselves. Art overall is an extremely intrusive career, you are essentially plastering your inner self onto the canvas of the outer world. Whether it’s through writing, holding a camera or acting, you must create a space that allows all of those creatives on set to be vulnerable because vulnerability leads to art in its purest form. That is something that can’t just be taught through film school. Go through film school if you wish to get a basic understanding of the technical side but go through “life” school to get an understanding of everything else.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

It depends on the person, for me getting started was pretty straight forward because at 9 years old you really don’t care what people think. As you get older, however, the process becomes a little more difficult because you’re essentially having to convince yourself that it makes sense to make movies despite the “impending doom” of adult responsibilities. The difficulty of continuing does lessen the more you push forward because when those moments of uncertainty do arise, you can resurface those special moments that filmmaking gave you and you then realize that you’ve been at it so long there really isn’t a point in stopping.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

YOU NEED HELP! One of the key characteristics of indie filmmaking is the “D.I.Y” mindset in that you are not only the writer, but the director, editor, DP and so forth. Although this is such a “right of passage” way to start out, it can lead to a plateau and a quick burnout. Hand the camera to your friend, give the microphone to a fellow student and call up Jimmy to set up lights. Yes, you may have an initial vision but the beauty of putting the project in the hands of many is that it transforms and evolves the project into something so much better. The difference between a controlled and collaborative set can be Silver and Gold. Without this newly found mindset, SmallTown Outsiders would not be possible.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

I knew that a project of this size let alone a period piece would definitely hurt my pockets so I had to find out where my funds would come from and prioritize where my funds would end up. Reality was, I knew I would have to take the funds out of my limited savings and make strategic decisions that wouldn’t blow it all. The cast were all my friends as well as the crew and the locations were favors of local AirBnB hosts. These communal favors and discounts allowed me to focus funds on authentic 80’s props and costumes. 

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

One of the characters in the project was played by a non-actor and I had to make significant line cuts and adopt a new way of directing to accommodate for them. It was done in stride though because we had created such a comfortable and positive working environment that all other cast and crew turned it into a collaborative effort riddled with laughter and small celebrations.   

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

A number of the cast and crew I had met at a time in their lives where they were questioning their career paths and the project I was proposing at that time served as an ‘answer’ which in turn inspired conversations which further solidified our relationship. It’s truly about having a relationship outside of film which means checking up on them, supporting them in their ventures and being an ear to listen. A relationship shouldn’t be you continually pitching something to them, sometimes it’s just about sitting and existing with them and reminding them on and off set that their talents and gifts are wholeheartedly appreciated.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

An audience ultimately wants something that either teaches them, relates to them or helps them escape. Now the effectiveness of how well you do one of these varies but these three ‘wants’ are essentially what drive an audience into liking or disliking a project. I wouldn’t say it’s a filmmaker’s sole purpose to do one of these but it becomes a huge factor the more you evolve. Much like how Apple must listen to users in order to be successful, filmmaking is a great creative service and viewers are the customers. On the other hand, other than being a functioning service like a car or a phone, film occupies a unique space in that it is a mental and emotional service which can directly affect the internal development of human beings. So tell a story that is true to you but be aware of the power you bear when releasing that vision to the world.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Film festivals are a fairly new component of my life right now. From 8 years of age to about 21 I have been releasing films via social media platforms rather than funneling them through film competitions but I have to say this new era of my life I’m in is pretty sweet. Film Festivals serve as exposure for your artwork as well as networking platforms. All the benefits of film school without the pricey check. To get the most of the festivals you must really talk to people and be genuine in your interactions. By doing this, you allow yourself to walk out, win or lose, with something industrially valuable. A connection.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

A lot of your favorite filmmakers have a favorite filmmaker ya know? It’s nearly impossible to be completely original, as my parents would tell me “there’s nothing new under the sun”. Rather than holding off on releasing a film due to it seeming “unoriginal” evaluate yourself, figure out your influences, mimic what you like about their styles individually and then mix it all up in a pot of “influencer Gumbo”.  We are all the culmination of our influences and environments and ignoring those influences is downright a disservice to the thousands of potential kids that will say you are their favorite filmmaker.