Making a feature-length film (free webinar).
Filmmakers, whether making a short or feature-length film, encounter many of the same hurdles when progressing from inspiration and production to finally sharing their story with the public.
It’s guaranteed: somewhere along that road, as we progress on our filmmaking journey, we will certainly encounter many challenges that other filmmakers have faced.
But the nature of our work means that we often spend hours alone, with the dark of our rooms lit by dim iMac light. And when we do collaborate, we’re typically working with a small, close-knit team. It’s not far off the mark to say we sometimes fail to consider what we could learn from the wider storytelling community. But we really shouldn’t—differing perspectives encourage us, inspire us and push us to take our craft to the next level.
Two nights ago this became especially clear to us when we hosted a webinar with two Story & Heart filmmakers.
We spoke with Maribeth Romslo of Hello Sunshine Films and Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion about what they learned in 2014 while working on two very different films. Both Maribeth and Stillmotion made feature-length films, but the similarities between their productions end there.
Maribeth helped bring to life a narrative film called Dragonfly, a story about a Minnesota family divided by divorce and illness. She and her team funded it with a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising nearly $55,000 (surpassing their campaign goal by over $9,000!).
Patrick and the Stillmotion crew created their first feature-length documentary called #standwithme. It focused on an inspiring story of a 9-year-old girl’s fight to end slavery by selling lemonade, a story whose scope extends far beyond the shores of the girl’s home in sunny California. Rather than taking the crowdfunding route, Stillmotion found investors to help fund the documentary.
In many ways, these two films couldn’t be more different, but through our conversation during the webinar, we found that each filmmaker learned many of the same lessons—lessons you'll undoubtably face on your journey.
Here are 3 lessons learned by Patrick and Maribeth in the process of creating two feature-length films in 2014.
1. Momentum: The beginning is crucial, and the ending matters, too.
Maribeth’s goal seemed nearly impossible. In addition to making her first feature-length narrative film, her team also chose to fund the project on Kickstarter with a goal of $45,000.
One of the biggest things she learned in 2014 is that the beginning is crucial for any creative project, especially a crowdfunding campaign.
“The first couple of days are huge.”
She says, explaining the importance of having those early adopters in the early phases of the campaign.
While she knew she had supporters who wanted to contribute to the project, she asked they make their pledges on the first day. Within 48 hours she was already half way towards her goal.
“If you don’t put in the work in the beginning, the message won’t reach anyone,”
While you need momentum in the early stages of any creative project, Patrick admits that momentum at the close of a project matters just as much.
As with anything in life, it’s easier to start something than to finish.
Stillmotion learned the lesson of perseverance—towards the end of the production phase of #standwithme, Patrick was having serious doubts as to whether the project was going to come together. He was loosing faith in his initial vision.
“You need have an incredible conviction to believe in yourself and your team.”
“About 60-80% of the way through, you’ll say to yourself, ‘Oh my goodness! This isn’t coming together! We’ve wasted so much money!’”
But, as Patrick will testify, the project did come together, and #standwithme is an incredible story that needed to be told.
The take away here is that whatever stage of the process you’re in, you need to believe in yourself and your vision to build momentum and get through the moments of disbelief and ambiguity.
Whether it is a Kickstarter campaign, a feature length-film or just a short film you're uploading to Vimeo, you need to have faith in your vision. It will work wonders.
2. Decisiveness: Make decisions, and accept the consequences.
For the Stillmotion crew, making a full-length documentary was a new experience that posed a number of new challenges.
For one, Patrick learned the value of spending as much time as possible in preproduction. He also learned the difficult art of budgeting huge productions and the reality of expenses that grow as production rolls on.
“We didn’t know enough in the beginning,”
“The more time you live in preproduction and know your story helps prevent budget creeping.”
But the bigger lesson he learned has more universal implications: make decisions, and move on.
“People who don’t have a lot of experience will want to hold onto decisions.”
“But failure is a part of the path to success. You need to be willing to embrace it.”
Maribeth learned a very similar lesson with Dragonfly.
“The thing about making a million decisions is that you will make wrong ones. But you learn from the wrong ones.”
One of Maribeth’s biggest lessons is a simple one: just make decisions and go.
On the filmmaking journey, you could get wrapped up in any number of decisions—some are trivial and some aren’t. But the point is that you have to make decisions—both right and wrong—to accomplish anything of value.
Maribeth says with an encouraging smile,
“You’ll make a lot of right ones, too.”
Her successfully-funded film is one example, raising more almost $9,000 more than the initial goal of $45,000. Her story wouldn’t have been told if she had been wasted her time crying over missteps.
3. Community: It takes a village to raise a child. . . or make a film.
Both Maribeth and Patrick agree that the ultimate lesson here is the importance of community and being willing to ask for help.
For Maribeth, Dragonfly was certainly as much an exercise in community building as it was filmmaking.
“It takes asking, and being direct with your ask.”
One of her tactics on Kickstarter was to ask backers to share the project—not to everyone on social media, but as a personal email to two friends. This helped the campaign take off, and nearly 500 backers helped make the film a reality. Without the support of her virtual village, Dragonfly might not have been made.
This point is relevant to more than just a crowdfunding campaign; Maribeth emphasizes the importance of being genuine and authentic when asking for support.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about why people would want to be a part of this.”
With Dragonfly being a female-led film, the role of women in the industry became a part of their pitch and helped them authentically connect with their community.
“We didn’t set out to make a girl power movie,”
“but it turned out to be part of our story—an important part of it.”
This honest story connected with backers and helped the community believe in her film.
Patrick echoes Maribeth’s sentiments, saying you need to be “real and vulnerable” to energize your community. But he goes a step further.
While being able to ask for help is one step, you also need to be willing and open to accept this support.
That admission is what helped #standwithme become a successful documentary.
In producing the film, Stillmotion did something they hadn’t done before: brought in volunteers to act as a focus group. For the Stillmotion crew, this was an admission that they needed help, and the advice from the focus group helped restructure and improve the story.
Patrick explains that this is all part of
“being honest about what you do and don’t know; being open and collaborative.”
While we can certainly recognize the importance of the old adage—that it takes a village to raise a child—that recognition is only part of what we learned in 2014.
Admitting the need for help and being vulnerable enough to accept it are two very different things. You also have to let your village be a part of the process, and that’s one of the most important lessons we learned.
As we let this advice linger in our minds, it’s clear that these themes are central to why we’re building Story & Heart to be a more than just a gathering of like-minded folks, but to be a community by and for filmmakers.
We’re driven by the desire to create something mightier than we could make on our own.
We hope Maribeth and Patrick’s perspectives will give you that needed pick-me-up to start that project you’ve been dreaming about or finishing the edit that’s been hiding in a forgotten part of your hard-drive.
And as we move forward in our filmmaking journeys, we’d like to ask you: what lesson did you learn in 2014?