20 Years of Making Films and 7 Lessons I’ve Learned

The back classrooms of the Flint Center is where I took film courses back in the day. Since they’ve created a state of the art film center. Photo © RoaroftheFour on Flickr.

This year is such a significant year for me in so many ways. It marks my 10th year in business for myself. Next month marks my 10th wedding anniversary to an amazing woman. And this month marks the 20th anniversary of my first film and video class at De Anza College’s Film and TV Program in Cupertino, CA.

Ah, I remember it well. I was in Zacky Lisha’s production 101 class (and I think he’s STILL there. And I think he’d already been there a decade or two when I first attended. Gotta give props to you teachers of the world!). I remember one of the first assignments we had was to do a series of different shots: tilt, pan, low angle, high angle, etc. Even back then I was always looking to do something different. So instead of just shooting the assignment, I made a story and incorporated the angles into the story. (And of course, being the romantic that I am, it was a love story. At least I  think it was.) We also each had to do one main final project. Mine was a black and white music video set to the tune “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaac. It was “wicked” cool. Yeah. I got an A.

But then a few days ago I stumbled across some old videos I made for fun when I was working at Intuit 10+ years ago and all I could think to myself was: UGH! What in the world was I thinking?!

That’s the funny thing about this, or just about any artistic endeavor.  Stuff you thought was DA BOMB at the time you made it doesn’t look fit to flush down a toilet now.

As I reflect on my 20 years of making films (either professionally or on the side just for fun), I want to give you seven quick reminders as you pursue your endeavors in this craft. These are some of the things I’ve learned.

  1. Think Different. This is a piece of advice I’ve always lived by, long before Apple made it popular. Strive to do something different. Don’t just copy what other people are doing. Being inspired by them, but see how you can change it up to make it your own.
  2. Trust Your Gut. This has been particularly important for me as a director. You have to learn to trust your instincts, then accept the consequences, good or bad. It doesn’t mean don’t listen to input, or even make changes if necessary. But if the art is going to be yours, then make it yours. (And for heaven’s sake, pick and choose your battles or you could find yourself in a shouting match with your spouse over a drop shadow. 🙂
  3. Look Outside Your Genre. Find inspiration from sources outside either your specific genre, or even from a completely different art altogether. If you’re a wedding filmmaker, look to corporate films. If you’re a corporate video producer, check out abstract photography. Don’t be afraid to push your envelope.
  4. Keep Learning. If you ever get to a point where you think you don’t have anything else to learn, it just means you’re not pushing yourself.
  5. Humble Yourself. Don’t be too big for your britches. Be willing to work as a grip on someone elses shoot. One, you may learn something if the person whose shoot you’re on is more experienced than you. And two, what goes around, comes around. This community thrives on filmmakers and artists helping one another.
  6. Spread the Love. Don’t be afraid to give praise and spread the love of your fellow filmmakers. I use this blog and my podcast as a way to do just that, frequently featuring the work of others. This goes back to “what goes around, comes around.”
  7. Flee from Envy. This is one of the hardest things to do. But, you have to nip envy in the bud. When you feel it creeping up on you (and we all deal with it, me included), run from it like the plague. It will eat at your soul and make you a miserable person. My “Comparison Kills Creativity” project is a great practice at killing envy.

There is so much more that I’ve learned, but these seven are pretty tops. Share with us what you’ve learned from your experience in this business.

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