1000s of filmmakers. 5 ideas to take with you on every production.
Sometime after the odometer sped well past 6,000 miles, we forgot what day it was.
Or maybe it was before that. Somewhere in Arizona, somewhere in Texas, somewhere in Alabama: we began to interpret time in physical landmarks, in the personalities of the people we met—using anything but a calendar.
More than a way for us to support our good friends as they inspire filmmakers across the continent, the tour has served as our first chance to meet the Story & Heart community face-to-face.
This is how we build a community for storytellers, by storytellers: in understanding first-hand what is standing between you and telling the stories you love.
Which was how our collaborative film was born, from the idea that one story—the story of us as filmmakers, growing from creative islands to creative communities—could be told by the 1,000s of filmmakers we'd meet traveling coast to coast.
Appropriately, our friend Marshall Davis Jones (who wrote the V.O. for #standwithme) authored a script—an anthem, really. It is the story of how we realize that the power we can wield side by side will be so much greater than what we do apart.
Our execution has been simple, too: the morning after Stillmotion’s Storytelling With Heart workshop, we gather together to film one scene. The location and scene itself are determined the night before by those attendees interested in staying a few minutes after. We only provide the gear and some guidance; the rest is up to you.
In order to change the way we create, tell, and share our stories, we must believe that we can—and that each one of us has a vital part to play.
If we start by reimagining how a film can be made, we can then set our sights higher: reimagine what it means to license our footage, what it means to earn an income, or how community can transform our whole creative process.
But we start small. So on each shoot day we encounter a new location and a new group of people working together to tell a story bigger than what they'd each tell alone. So each shoot day is like a microcosm of the Story & Heart community.
Which means each shoot for this cross-country film provides a unique opportunity: to intimately ask, in person, what is necessary for each of us to feel like we have the freedom and support to tell the stories we're meant to tell.
Care of storytellers from around North America, here are 5 things to keep in mind to make any production a collaborative success.
1. Conversation is never small.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, we met Tim. We met him and about 10 other filmmakers at the Raleigh-Durham Airport, optimistic that we could find our way out to the tarmac and shoot a scene from our collaborative film.
The only problem with such optimism is that it requires most of our crew to stand around outside for a good 20 minutes or so, while someone scours the terminal for a pilot willing to give us the time of day.
So, we waited. And as we waited we could have limited the conversation to a bunch of technical Q&As, or even to just a lot of awkward silence. We chose instead to fill the time with some meaningful storytelling.
We talked about where we grew up, what we spent every day doing, what we cared about in our lives, who we cared about the most. We told each other our stories. And when it was time to actually go in and shoot, we were almost disappointed we had to cut our stories short.
A few days later, Tim sent us this email:
I feel that when I follow someone or something online I can easily idealize them and forget about any struggles they also may be experiencing…Thank you for being so open and honest with all the knowledge you have… Whether it was amazing knowledge on gear or the fear of not having anyone show up to the "day after" shoot, it made you real. It made the experience more personal and I think you represented the vision of Story & Heart exactly as it should be: bringing filmmakers together to make them better at what they do.
Despite Tim’s wonderful words, which carried us from Raleigh through the next couple stops on an incredible high, he had a good point: life's too short for small talk.
Every conversation we have, every time we open our mouths to explain one more piece of our life, we are sharing our stories with another. Which is no small task. This is what brings us together, what makes us human—what makes us real.
It isn’t easy, and rarely does it come natural to us, to focus on any one conversation, any one bit of talk, within a big, bustling group. No one expects that anyway. The key, instead, is to be engaged: to value these talks as the important connections they are, no matter the subject explained or the scope of the story told.
2. Confidence is essential, ego is not.
Worth noting: this is a bit of advice we’ve gleaned from Sam Mendes’s latest list of filmmaking koans.
In Houston we met Chris. Chris’s sister owns a bakery, Sweet, which meant that on the day of the workshop, Chris brought us cupcakes and macarons. Like, a lot of cupcakes and macarons. Unsurprisingly, they were magnificent.
Unsurprisingly, too, Chris arranged with his sister to let us shoot at the bakery, despite it being a busy Saturday morning.
More than by his graciousness, we were impressed by Chris’s talent, which he demonstrated in the way he cooly directed much of our shoot. He carried himself with confidence—in how readily he stepped up at every chance he got to try a new technique, or play with the MoVi, or ask an especially poignant question—his graciousness just one more byproduct of such confidence.
Confidence is the belief that your story is one worth telling, even if you’re not exactly sure how to tell it.
He had no real fear or anxiety in what he was doing. He just knew that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing.
Which gets pretty close to the heart of the difference between confidence and ego.
Ego is confidence without gratitude, the belief that yours may be the only story worth telling.
So, to use a baking metaphor: ego and collaboration can’t mix.
3. Collaboration is about people and passion, not profit.
In Concord, Massachusetts we met Elena. She braved the winter weather to shoot one more scene from the collaborative film with us. We stood in Minute Man Park, in the snow, in temperatures that at their highest reached 14 degrees, and she told us her story.
Her story was about how she left her home in Russia, established herself as a wedding photographer in Massachusetts, and then quit a schedule of 40 wedding engagements per summer to raise her second child. She told it briefly.
Her point, she said, was that she was no longer beholden to the burden of paying bills. Happy for her, we interpreted that as meaning she knew didn’t have to be out there with us that morning at all.
Profit is motivation without inspiration. It’s the prospect of working together to earn something so much more that is truly inspiring.
Elena told us that when she was shooting those 40 weddings every summer, she was shooting them alone. It was grueling. It burnt her out.
She met us in the snow that day because she was relieved she wouldn’t be standing out in the cold by herself.
4. Just show up.
In Dallas we set a call time of 5 am. Our goal was to catch the sunrise—not to alienate half of the attendees who would have come to the shoot if we’d planned it any later.
Still, a big group came out, balking at the surprising (to us at least) briskness of a Dallas dawn.
We knew we were asking a lot. There were countless reasons to not show up at the shoot that day, to get a few hours of extra sleep, to generally just move on with life.
But those who came out were witness to some of the most impactful images we’ve yet had the opportunity to capture on tour.
This is what will connect you to projects, productions, and stories much bigger than yourself: your eagerness to just show up.
Because with those shots came the experience: the chance to learn about shooting in such light, or to ask a bunch of questions, or to meet a small crew of filmmakers—future collaborators—with the same early-rising attitude toward telling passionate stories.
5. Competition is not necessary.
In New York we met Harry, who, when we spent the morning shooting in Brooklyn Bridge Park, pointed across the river at Manhattan and said that we could see his office from there.
Harry works in finance, makes “a lot of money”, but was skipping work that day because he wanted to take a hobby—filmmaking—and make it something more.
Mostly, though, Harry wanted to tell us about his wife, who was making a new living off of video games. Also? She’d never played a video game in her life.
She’d recently started a business which provides job opportunities to chorale singers in New York. As Harry explained it, the market of talented chorale singers in the city is oversaturated, and so viable employment—much like the film industry—is hard to come across.
Then she found video games: a previously untapped outlet for singers. She spread the word, found her friends work, and in helping fellow artists earn a livable wage has built a business.
By embracing collaboration, we can make our passion a livelihood. We can make joy a job.
Harry was there that day with us, collaborating on this film, he said, because of his wife. He skipped work because building something with a bunch of artists seemed so much more satisfying than sitting in a cubicle, alone.
So often we assume that competition is what fuels success in any creative field. We hold our secrets to our chest, and refuse to share our resources, lest we lose our place in the food chain. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Any set is like a small community—every person involved is part of building something bigger than each of its parts. When a set works well together, it works well for each person involved. When the community thrives, so does the story they’re telling.
There’s still time to meet in the field and tell this story with us. Find out more here:
Go to www.storytellingwithheart.com to see where we’ll be next.
Sign up to Build With Us at www.storyandheart.com and we’ll keep you updated on how and when you can become a full-fledged member of our burgeoning community.
Follow our visual journey (and find all the pictures from this post) on Instagram—see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.
And make sure to check out, praise, and support all of the wonderful friends without whom we'd never be able to hold a shoot day in the first place: LensProToGo, Zacuto, Kessler, Freefly Systems, Westcott, Manfrotto, and Rode.
Any tour story we missed? Or any situation on any production in which collaboration made all the difference? Share in the comments below.