Arguably the best way to learn is through doing: making mistakes, dusting yourself off, applying what not to do, and doing again. And again, and again. An infinitely better way would be to add the advice of those who have gone before – and have gone on to succeed – to your learning process. We’ve compiled a list of excellent advice from independent and award-winning South African directors who each shared what they think is the most important thing young filmmakers need to know to make it in the industry. From checking your batteries, to gorging yourself on cinema, to finding your own voice; you can take their word for it.
“Make things that fulfil you, go full throttle with all your intuition and your truth.” – Bryan Little
Jolynn Minnaar | Director of the award-winning documentary Unearthed:
Be absolutely sure – whether through your gut or a good supply of undeterred resilience – that this is what you want do to; that despite the challenges in the industry or the vulnerabilities around being creative, that you want to tell stories. If you’re committed to this dream, you will withstand whatever comes your way and more importantly, your work will be true.
Always back yourself. Trust you are in the right time at the right place to tell a story. Be a good person. The film industry has shed the tyrannical producer or director facade and more and more often works on an economy of good. Respect everyone in your crew. Respect the craft and the experience or expertise that has come before you. Be on time. Wear deodorant.
Bryan Little | Award-winning director, artist and co-founder of Fly on the Wall:
My best advice for those wanting to start making films is START. A phone today shoots better than any camera I could beg, borrow or steal when I started. My first film I edited by filming off a TV and rewinding and fast forwarding a VHS TAPE. By the time we were done the film looked like it was shot in a white noise blizzard. So in my opinion, nobody has any excuses.
Make things, and most importantly make them your own way. There will be plenty of time later to worry about what people think – and trust me they will come, they will hire your new talent, cornering you like yapping stoep-kamer kak-ers. They will nip and whine at your vision and pour vanilla all over it. So for now, run free. As Bukowski said: “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.” In fact, read the rest of that poem before you start. Make things that fulfil you, go full throttle with all your intuition and your truth.
There will be plenty of time later to desperately try and go back to this freedom and uncertainty you now have that terrifies you so much. Tie yourself to the mainmast, harness it all and enjoy it. You will learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
“Always back yourself.” – Jolynn Minnaar
Nomakhomazi Dyosopu-Dewavrin | Award-winning director and head of One Blood Productions:
My advice to filmmakers is the importance of reading whatever you can get your hands on. Expand your imagination and take the opportunity to go to school to study some kind of course – if you can’t go to film school take a course that deals with humanities. Filmmaking ultimately is communicating and as a filmmaker you need to be able to articulate stories in a form that resonates with your intended viewer.
Mark Middlewick | Writer/director and Jameson First Shot 2015 Winner:
The most important thing aspiring filmmakers need to know is that regardless of how much experience they gain, the only thing that will improve their filmmaking is to watch an array of films. They need to gorge themselves on cinema.
“Our job is to surprise people. Film that doesn’t surprise is dead.” – Jenna Bass
Hanneke Schutte | Award-winning writer/director and Jameson First Shot 2014 Winner:
The easiest way to make films is to write your own scripts and if you can’t write, team up with a great writer. If you just sit around and wait for scripts to come to you you’ll never get a chance to make a film. So take a screenwriting class or buy a bunch of books and start writing the movie you want to make.
Batandwa Alperstein | Director and co-founder of the Visual Content Gang:
Listen to people. Listen to what makes them laugh, what makes them angry, what makes them cry. Watch people, see how they react, how they communicate without speaking. Study the world, see how things fit together. Have your own perspective. But most importantly, start shooting and keep shooting. Shoot first ask questions last. Charge your batteries. Check that it’s recording. Back up onto two separate hard drives, at the very least. And never forget that the whole art is about people – your crew, your cast and your audience. Love your people and hopefully they’ll love you back.
“Expand your imagination…” – Nomakhomazi Dyosopu-Dewavrin
Kurt Orderson | Director of “Not in My Neighbourhood” and founder of Azania Rising Productions:
I see film and storytelling, as being a vehicle to give voice to the voiceless and help fill important gaps in our collective consciousness and memory. I believe film can allow a community to engage in a process of self-discovery, self-expression and self-reflection and act as a form of retaliation to cultural and political hegemony thereby deepening democracy. I have ensured that my films are shaped by the voices of my community.
Dave Meinert | Commercials director and filmmaker. Founder of MacDuff Films:
I think the hardest and most vital thing for a young filmmaker is to establish their own voice. Modern technology has democratised filmmaking in the same way a blog has levelled the playing field for any writer wanting to express themselves. You don’t need a publisher. You don’t need to get your film stock processed. You need to figure out what you want to share with us. Without that, you are just every other kid with a WordPress account or an iPhone on video mode.
The most successful independent piece I have done was created with a cheap DSLR camera and a lightbulb I got from the hardware store. It took half a day to film. The hardest part was figuring out what I wanted to say with the piece. I wrestled with that for months.
Jenna Bass | Award-winning writer/director:
On any project, no matter how small, never settle. And I don’t mean in terms of budget or compromises to accommodate practical realities or obstacles – those are always going to happen. I mean, get into the habit of asking yourself how are you changing things? How are you telling this story in a way no one else is? How are you pushing this medium that we’re still calling ‘film’ in a new direction – whether in terms of aesthetics, technology, emotions, ideas, social commentary, or even ‘just’ drama. How are you surprising people in a way they haven’t been surprised before? To paraphrase Harmony Korine (whose work definitely lives this manifesto) – what are you doing extra? If you’re not pushing your work beyond these questions each time, I personally don’t think that the absolute mission of making a film is worth it. Our job is to surprise people. Film that doesn’t surprise is dead.