A guest contribution by my friend the do-it-yourself filmmaker Mitch Greenberg. Check out some of his work: http://vimeo.com/frontenac. - D.D.
***First and foremost, I’d like to thank David Davidson of Toronto Film Review for inviting me to write about my experiences as a Toronto DIY filmmaker. In this piece, I will reflect on my past, organize my thoughts for the future, and impart some words of encouragement to those considering DIY filmmaking.
My path to becoming a filmmaker is somewhat unconventional. Despite my lifelong obsession with cinema, I’ve spent the past five years studying and practicing law. However, in the summer of 2013, after my second year of law school, I suddenly and inexplicably felt old. Or, to put it more precisely: I no longer felt young. I was simultaneously struck by an urgent need to begin making films. With the immensely generous help of my close friends, I wrote and directed a short film about a gangster who is tasked with the assassination of a former lover.
In almost every respect, the film was a callow disaster. I was disappointed by the writing, the lighting, the cinematography, the editing, the sound mixing... I could go on. But while I was disappointed with the film, I considered the experience itself to be a success. Prior to making my first film, I wasn’t aware of the problems I would encounter during a film’s pre-production, production, and post-production: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And so, in the words of the poet Donald Rumsfeld, I discovered many ‘unknown unknowns’ by getting my feet wet for the first time.
Since 2013, I’ve made four more short films in order to develop my technical skills as a filmmaker. My second short film is an adaptation of a scene from Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, and developed my ability to shoot dialogue. In my third film, shot in 2014, I experimented with camera movement and with colour. My third film was heavily inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express and Happy Together, and was shot by the talented and experienced Toronto-based cinematographer Jack Yan Chen. In my fourth film, I continued to work with Jack, and experimented with lighting and composition. And in my fifth and most recent film, entitled Partners, I focused primarily on screenwriting. In Partners, I sought to eschew any conscious cinematic influence; I sought to utilize my own professional and interpersonal experiences for the film’s story, and to aestheticize them according to my own personal mythology.
Despite the fact that I consider these five films to be exercises in technique, I’ve screened them in bars, cafes, apartments, and gallery spaces across Toronto. Witnessing audience reactions, and listening to an audience’s feedback, has been a major source of gratification and motivation.
Moving forward, I want to build a career telling stories that explore the impact of socio- cultural environments on inter-personal relationships. I want to tell these stories in either long- form or episodic formats, and to aestheticize them in a cinematic language drawn from my own experiences. I want to bring something personal and spontaneous to the aesthetics of my films, while simultaneously building upon the aesthetic spirit found in the films of Wong Kar-wai, Xavier Dolan, Jackie Chan, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Jia Zhangke.
My advice to aspiring DIY filmmakers would be, first and foremost, to get out there and do it. I know this may sound trite, but it’s the most important piece of advice I can offer. In 2016, all a filmmaker needs is a cell phone and a computer. The digital revolution has profoundly lowered the barrier to entry for filmmakers; the cost of production has never been lower. Don’t think, just act. Excuses are legion, but they rarely withstand scrutiny. Whatever hangup you may have (embarrassment of a shoddy script, shame in asking friends for help, fear of failure), don’t let it stop you. Getting your feet wet and actually making a film is the most valuable learning experience you can have.
My second piece of advice would be to seek help, guidance, and mentorship from more experienced filmmakers - but never show up to a meeting empty handed. Seek help from mentors with something specific (with a script, with editing, with a look-book, with something). Seek help with a goal in mind, to build upon work you’ve already accomplished.
My last piece of advice would be to develop a thick skin. You will need a thick skin (and emotional acuity) to deal a variety of personalities in the film industry. Don’t take it personally if people don’t like your films, don’t believe in your projects, or don’t support your aesthetic decisions. Don’t be discouraged by negative feedback. Rely on your own compass. Smile, say thank you, and then do whatever you want.