Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Director's statements: how to write them, what they're for

In many stages along your film's path you will be asked to write a "Director's Statement." This article will hopefully help as you navigate these waters.

First off, there are different reasons that you will be asked to write a Director's Statement, and each of them will have different needs and requirements. The main two circumstances, generally, will be before the movie is made (development) and after the film is made (distribution).

Before the film is made, your purpose is to describe why the film should actually be made. You may write your Director's Statement for a grant application or maybe in a business plan. Your purpose is to get funded, or maybe to get a job making the film. You're selling your vision of the film - and you're making people see that your vision is the only way the film should be told.

Andrew Mack, editor for Screen Anarchy, says: "A director's statement is about what inspires someone to make a movie and what they desire to convey with their audience... The director wants to, in this statement, express their inspirations and ambitions - generate some excitement about this potential project."


In development the key things you should consider including are:

• The genesis of the project (where the idea came from; its circumstances and history)
• Why the project is important (will it have social impact; will it make people laugh)
• Why you're the only one who can tell this story (what do you bring to the table that is unique and especially pertinent to this project)
• Your cinematic inspiration and influences (this helps the reader see the vision of the film)
• Visual and technical approaches you intend to take that will make the film unique and successful
• Your hopes for the audience's response (what will the audience get out of it)

You don't have to include all of these things, but they all should be alluded to in some way. Remember, you're a storyteller, so this is just another form of storytelling. Make it entertaining. Bring the reader along with you.


For marketing (once the film is done), you will include a Director's Statement in application material for festivals, or in press material for the film's marketing. It's important to remember that no one will choose to program your movie in a festival, review it in their paper, or distribute it because of your winning Director's Statement. If you're film doesn't appeal to them, they're not going to change your mind because of your Statement. However, once they decide to program/review/distribute your film they will look at the Director's Statement to help them market it. From a journalist's/film critic's stand point, a good Director's Statement saves them the hassle of having to interview you.

In marketing the key things you should consider including are:

• The genesis of the project
• Why the project is important
• Why you're the only one who could have told this story
• Your cinematic inspiration and influences
• Production and Post-production discoveries (what happened during the process of making the film that shaped the film's final state)
• Your hopes for the audience's response

Thus, the two types of Director's Statements are very similar, except in one you're discussing what you hope will happen, and in the other you're explaining what did happen.

Remember: Your Director's Statement needs to exist outside of the film they're discussing, in other words, don't assume the reader will have already seen your film, or even has any intention of seeing it. It needs to make them want to see it, just like a development Director's Statement should make them want to see it made.

Do people read them? My film Superpowerless was recently reviewed by Variety. I know the reviewer had come to the screening (at my invitation), and had given me a smile on his way out during the credits, but he had also told me that he would see about thirty films at the festival and review around five, so I wasn't holding my breath... at all. When the review came out he concluded it with some information that he would have got only by reading the Director's Statement included in the press material.

My friend Maggie Mackay, executive director of Vidiots, says "When I was programming festivals, Director Statements and other supplemental materials didn't play into my programming process. Once we programmed a film, those materials were useful, but they didn't have any influence on my selection process. On the other hand, when I was the Director of Nominations at the Spirit Awards, and we required Director Statements for the grant awards, not only did they get read, but they were a HUGE part of the submission. My biggest recommendation to filmmakers submitting required statements is that they really read and stick to the instructions from each organization or festival."


You will be given instructions in regards to length. Do not go over, and do not be too brief. Make it quick and easy to read no matter its assigned length. This is not the time to write a scholarly paper.


This is always the same, no matter what aspect of your filmmaking career you're in; or no matter what stage of the filmmaking process you're in:

• Be grateful / humble (don't come off as pompous or like God's-Gift to the filmmaking world)
• Take your movie seriously, but don't take yourself seriously (you've made an important, awesome movie, but you're grateful for the opportunity and for all the people who helped you along the way).

These two attitudes, which are intertwined, will help you in all stages of your career. And, by the way, if you are sincere about these two attitudes, and apply them to the rest of your life, you'll be happier.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tom DiCillo's Drunk Film School

In an earlier post I shared a Google Hangout that I had with director/writer Tom DiCillo after a screening of Living in Oblivion. Tom, being Tom, took the youtube version of the interview and made it into something so much more... The Drunk Film School. In it Tom really give great advice to aspiring filmmakers about everything from working with actors and cinematographers to launching projects and working in TV. It's really worth watching, and there's no guru quite as fun as Tom.

Drunk Film School Trailer from Tom DiCillo on Vimeo.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The ultimate in film geekery apparel (Tees by Duane)

I would never consider myself a great designer, but over the years there have been a few T-shirts that I wish I could find elsewhere that don't seem to exist. So, I created my own T-shirt venture "Tees by Duane." I set it up at a site called Teepublic.com. However, it turns out that the good folks at Teepublic don't like my designs (What??), so you can't find my shirts if you Google them, or even if you search in their website search bar. Well, so I'm posting them here to promote them out to the world (in my massively read blog - hahahaha). Follow the links to order. Honestly, the shirts are really cool. They super comfortable. They come large but shrink to the appropriate size.

Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin T-Shirt

This is my favorite of all the shirts. It has the iconic image of the woman watching the baby carriage roll down the steps. It's a dazzling image - but you don't need to be a fan of Eisenstein to appreciate this shot. My skateboarder son thought it was a cool shirt without knowing anything about it. If you're looking for a shirt that expresses your love of film history, and makes you look punk rock... this is it. Order it at this link: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/386478-eisenstein-battleship-potemkin

Eisenstein Battleship Potemkin T-Shirt
Eisenstein Battleship Potemkin T-Shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Walter Murch T-Shirt

Nothing shows off your true movie geek to your fellow movie geeks as well as this shirt of famous editor, sound designer and philosopher king, Walter Murch. Get your Murch Merch here: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/386246-walter-murch

Walter Murch T-shirt by Tees by Duane
Walter Murch T-Shirt (from Tees by Duane)
Classically Trained Editor T-Shirt (Moviola)

Let the other editors know that you can edit digitally and on film with this T-shirt featuring a Moviola film editing system. You learned to edit on film, you're awesome. Let the world know. Order it at this link: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/386231-classically-trained-film-editor

classically trained film editor t-shirt
Classically trained film editor t-shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Free Jafar Panahi T-shirt

I recently wore this at the Aspen Shortsfest and got a lot of comments from film geeks from around the world. Jafar Panahi, of course, is the amazing filmmaker from Iran who has been under house arrest in his native country for publicly supporting the Green Movement which demanded the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. All these shirts can be purchased in any color, but I felt, in this case, green was the most appropriate. Get it here: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/386201-free-jafar-panahi

"Free Jafar Panahi" T-shirt from Tees by Duane
"Free Jafar Panahi" T-shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Pulp Fiction Screenplay T-shirt

This T-Shirt features the first page of one of the greatest screenplays ever written... Pulp Fiction, by Quentin Tarantino. In this scene Pumpkin and Hunny Bunny begin to plot to rob restaurants, eventually leading Jules to become a shepherd. Make it yours today: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/386185-int.-coffee-shop-pulp-fiction-page-one

INT. COFFEE SHOP (Pulp Fiction Page 1) Screenplay T-shirt
INT. COFFEE SHOP (Pulp Fiction Page 1) Screenplay T-shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Friday, March 25, 2016

An interview with Jennifer Prediger (Apartment Troubles)

Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler's "Apartment Troubles" is a great low-budget comedy that is both funny and emotional. It's well worth the watch, and for aspiring micro-budget filmmakers, worth the study. A bi-coastal film, they stretched their dollars on two coasts, and were able to recruit some great name actors. I recently had the opportunity to host a discussion with co-writer/director/star Jennifer Prediger with students from Utah Valley University's Digital Cinema program. Jennifer shared insights into collaborating, appealing to audiences (or not), and recruiting name actors, among many other things.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Interview with Tom Donahue, director of "Casting By"

The documentary film "Casting By" is a great watch for anyone interested in films and the filmmaking process. On micro-budget films I have seldom had the opportunity to work with casting directors, as it is often a role that I end up doing myself, but watching this doc makes me eager to work with Casting Directors who know their stuff and who can bring their own sensibility to a project.

This interview with Tom Donahue, the film's director, is part of a monthly series I host at Utah Valley University, called CineSkype, where we show a film, then Skype with the filmmaker.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The importance of the 1st Assistant Director

I cannot over emphasize the importance of a good First Assistant Director when you're making your micro-budget movie. If you are just starting out, and don't know anyone in the industry, it is worthwhile to search for someone with more experience than you to be your 1st AD. If you hope to have a successful shoot that doesn't turn into less of a dream-come-true, and more of a nightmare, you need a good 1st.

I would say that the three people on your set who should have the most experience are your 1st AD, your cinematographer and your makeup artist. These are not roles you want to cheap out on. Fortunately there are always people who are looking for experience who can step into these roles and do a good job at a reasonable rate. When hiring a First AD you can look for people who have been a Second AD on multiple projects. You can reach out to people who have been First AD's and, if they're not willing to First your small project, see if they would recommend someone they've used as a Second to First your film.

Overall, you want an AD who is a great leader, but who is also a good person. Some AD's feel like they need to shout and make everyone unhappy. Only an AD who has poorly planned needs to do a whole lot of shouting. If you've planned your shoot, then an AD should be able to keep things under control. I find that New York based AD's tend to shout more than I like. I'm very much a West Coast guy, so I think it's just a matter of taste. I like my AD's to say please and thank you, and always to be courteous and respectful. I like having a happy set, and no one is happy if they are being consistently yelled at.

Left to right: Alun Lee (1st AD), actor Natalie Lander, Director Duane Andersen
On the set of Superpowerless with 1st Assistant Director Alun Lee (left), Natalie Lander (center) and director Duane Andersen (right).
So what does an AD do? They essentially do all the work that a director has to have done, but doesn't want to worry about themselves. They're responsibilities include:

1) Creating the shooting schedule and making sure the crew sticks to it. They are the "general" on set, making sure the schedule is being followed, and coming up with alternative plans when needed. Often a director shows up, asks what is being shot, and goes to it. It's nice for the director to not have to worry about the schedule.

2) Making sure the cast is where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be. The AD manages call-times and wrap times. They also create the call sheet which tells everyone what is being shot and when on a daily basis.

3) Directing "background players." The AD makes sure the extras are doing what they should be doing. If the director spent time "directing" the extras, they wouldn't be considered "extras" but "cast." Thus, is the policy of the film world, and the Screen Actors Guild.

4) Crew safety. The AD is the person who keeps her head in a situation when the director become too focused on her vision that something might injure cast or crew. After Sarah Jones's death three people were indicted for involuntary manslaughter: the director, the producer, and the 1st AD. She should have said, "No."

On the set of "A Serious Man," Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Betsy Magruder, Roger Deakins from Duane Andersen's blog
On the set of "A Serious Man," Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Betsy Magruder, Roger Deakins.

I had the great opportunity to interview Betsy Magruder who has been the 1st AD for all of the Coen Brothers movies since O Brother Where Art Thou. She was nice enough to have me to her home and allow me to film our interview. This is a great video to watch if you are interested in performing the tasks of an AD, or if you're interested in hiring one.

PICTURE'S UP: Scheduling and Shooting the Siren Scene from O Brother Where Art Thou with 1st AD Betsy Magruder from Duane Andersen on Vimeo.

At Utah Valley University's Digital Cinema program we have a female filmmaker's club called FEMME (Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences) which brought Betsy in for a Skype discussion. I am very grateful to Betsy for her willingness to spend time with and mentor our students.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sundance - The other days (Meet the Filmmakers)

After one of our events held at the Utah Film Commission Hub filmmakers (L to R) Kerem Sanga (First Girl I Loved), Mario Campos (Christine), Clay Tweel (Gleason), Andrew Neel (Goat), Jeff Feuerzeig) and Steven Kajak (We are X) pose in the Utah Postcard set.
After one of our events held at the Utah Film Commission Headquarters in Park City, filmmakers (L to R) Kerem Sanga (First Girl I Loved), Mario Campos (Christine), Clay Tweel (Gleason), Andrew Neel (Goat), Jeff Feuerzeig (Author: the JT LeRoy Story), and Steven Kijak (We are X), have fun in the Utah Postcard set. 

OK, it's hard to keep posting consistently, so it was a bad idea to try to keep a digital journal type thing for Sundance this year. But now that the dust has settled I can report on the other films I got to see and some of the other experiences.

As far as films go, in addition to what I already reported, I got to see Nuts (Penny Lane), Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker), The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer), Author: The JT LeRoy Story (Jeff Feuerzeig), and First Girl I Loved (Kerem Sanga) They were all fabulous. I learned a lot as a filmmaker from each film I saw, and will make better films myself for having seen them.

Each year I host several Meet-the-Filmmakers events for my students at Utah Valley University. These events are a highlight of the festival for me. We get to sit down with these awesome filmmakers and pick their brains and hear their advice for young filmmakers. This year was the second year we did it, and it's definitely becoming a thing. Last year I had four friends who had films in the festival, so I just called each of them and invited them to participate. This year I didn't know anyone, so I had to reach out through publicists, agents, and Facebook. In spite of the cold calls, we had a great response. We had nineteen different filmmakers participate this year - including all the filmmakers of the films that I got to see.

It was especially cool to have Mr. Parker there. Less than forty-eight hours before he had just sold his film for the highest amount of any film sale in Sundance (and all of film festival) history, but he very willingly and humbly came to sit with our students and answer their questions. I think all of the filmmakers who participated have already had some kind of sale, and several of them had super buzzed about films.

If I were to sum up what we learned from these filmmakers I would say: just make stuff. That's what we hear time and time again. Don't wait for permission or approval. Just go out and make stuff. It doesn't even have to be good. You can make stuff that you never show anyone - stuff that is horrible. It's the work and the learning that happens through work that matters. As you make things, you hone your craft and eventually you will make better and better things. This is a universal truth that I hear in one form or another from every filmmaker I interview.

Utah Valley University Film Students pose with (L to R) Andrew Hyland (The 4th), Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), Aaron Brookner (Uncle Howard), and Rokhserah Ghaemmaghami (Sonita)
After another of our Meet-the-Filmmaker sessions Utah Valley University Film Students pose with (L to R) Andrew Hyland (The 4th), Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), Aaron Brookner (Uncle Howard), and Rokhserah Ghaemmaghami (Sonita).

Writer/director Rebecca Daly (Mammal), producer Mel Eslyn (The Intervention), producer Kim Leadford (Joshy, Yoga Hosers, Too Legit) talk to film students from UVU.
Writer/director Rebecca Daly (Mammal), producer Mel Eslyn (The Intervention), producer Kim Leadford (Joshy, Yoga Hosers, Too Legit) talk to film students from UVU.

Writer/Director/Actor Jennifer Prediger talks with students from Utah Valley University's film program.

Writer/Director/Actor Jennifer Prediger (left) talks with students from Utah Valley University's film program.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

At Sundance - Days two to five

As I've continued my assignment as a volunteer at Sundance for my second year, I've had the chance to see several great movies. I've enjoyed all the movies I've seen, but want to give particular shout-outs, observations and predictions about a few of them.

Jesse Plemons is going to be a star

I've seen Jesse Plemons in three movies in the past couple of months:   Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, and now Chris Kelly's touching film Other People which premiered this weekend at Sundance. Plemons reminds me a lot of the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman. In each of the films I've seen him he plays very different characters, and he's spot on with each. He's quickly becoming one of these actors that everyone wants to work with.

Kelly's film is very well done. If I could ask him a question it would be: what were your thoughts when you were making your film, and you saw James White? Because Other People and James White are ridiculously similar... however, their tone is extremely different. From personal experience, I am sure Kelly freaked out and felt like he was ruined, for a moment. Then I bet he realized that it's all about tone. And the tone of these two films are light years apart. I'm sure the programmers at Sundance would agree, otherwise, they wouldn't have scheduled these two films in back-to-back years.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon star in Chris Kelly's Other People

Molly Shannon is very smart

Recently I've fallen in love with Molly Shannon. She was always great in her SNL days, but now she has embraced the role of being an Indie Darling. She has consistently done great work, and it won't be long before she starts doing bigger and bigger roles. By seeking out great directors, and not shying away from small budgets or first-time directors, she has amassed an impressive body of work. In fact, I feel her work has been better than just about any SNL alumni as far as quality and authenticity (except for Bill Murray - but she's definitely followed his model). On top of that, friends of mine who have worked with her, say that she is just an amazing person to work with as well. Hopefully for everyone involved, Other People, will help to get her the mainstream praise she deserves (though may not be interested in).

Molly Shannon at the premiere of Other People

Everyone involved in the movie The Free World is awesome

I hope this movie gets to rise above the indie-scope and gets some people out to see it. It's an amazingly tight, well executed, poetic, and intense thriller with great performances from Boyd Holbrook and Elisabeth Moss. Jason Lew, the film's writer/director, is headed for great things. The filmmaking world would be better with more films like this.

It's cool to just be able to stand near Paul Dano

I was very happy that Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe fought their way through a blizzard to come to the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City for the Q&A following their screening of Swiss Army Man. The film is unlike any other and is a whole lot of fun. There was all of this silly scandal because some people walked out. People walk out of movies at Sundance all the time. There's a lot of people who just get tickets, but are sensitive about what they watch; so they roll the dice, and if it's not to their liking they leave. That's cool. I think a movie like Swiss Army Man has a particular audience, however, and I think that audience will eat this up.  I thought the film was very entertaining and visually inventive.

At the Grand it's an almost all local crowd. Seldom will you find many industry people there. So, it's great when directors come to do the Q&A (and most of them do the first weekend), but it's seldom that actors make the journey... even more rare for actors of the profile of Dano and Radcliffe.

Mr. Dano is my favorite actor right now, so I was excited to just stand a few feet from him after the screening. It made my night.

Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sundance 2016 - day one

One of the highlights of the year for me, and for most independent filmmakers is the Sundance Film Festival. This year my film, Superpowerless, didn't get selected to the festival. So, I am like the thousands of other filmmakers who are still waiting to find a premiere for their film. However, as I watch the films at the festival I am happy to say that while I don't respond to them all equally, I am still inspired and excited by what I see. It's going to be a great festival and I can't wait to get the most out of it.

First, this is the second year I supervise a group of volunteers from the Utah Valley University's Digital Cinema program. We get to work as ushers at the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City, and it's a great assignment. As ushers we get to make sure people are in their seats, and then watch films. Not a bad gig at all.

I have also arranged for some great Meet-the-Filmmakers events for the students - more on that later.

In my newly reawakened blog I will post a brief diary about my thoughts and impressions of this year's festival.

Day One (Tuesday January 19)

As a volunteer we get to enjoy volunteer screenings and the first two films I saw were among the best films I've seen at Sundance in any year.

Life, Animated - A beautiful film by Roger Ross Williams about autism and the wonder of the human spirit, movies, and family. This film had me smiling throughout. It's a great documentary and I'm excited to have Ross at one of our Meet-the-Filmmaker events. Definitely watch this film.

Under the Shadow - This film scared me to death. I'm not good at scary films, but I did sit through it, unlike a lot of my fellow volunteers who scampered out. This is seriously one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen, and one of the coolest. Another must see.

Congratulations two these two great films and their impressive filmmaking teams, and thanks for letting them screen for volunteers. If these two films are an indicator of what the festival is going to be like this year, it's going to be an amazing festival.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Interview with Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion)

It's been a long time since I've posted, but I'm back (and I'm going hard). I haven't been posting lately because I was hired a year and a half ago to teach film production at Utah Valley University. Now I have even more content to share, but much less time. I will try to keep at it though.

One of the coolest things I get to do at UVU is a program I call CineSkype. We watch a film, then Skype with the filmmaker. We've had a lot of great filmmakers talk to us over the past few semesters, and most of the interviews are available online. One of the most engaging we've had was with Tom DiCillo recently, who shared a wide range of insights with us. I highly recommend watching this interview for anyone interested in independent film... and of course, I also highly recommend his film "Living in Oblivion" to anyone interested in independent film. It is a classic that does for micro-budget filmmaking what Spinal Tap does for heavy metal.