Living a Good Life as a Filmmaker

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Field Notes Interview: Robert Hardy, Filmmaker and Writer 

Make films you genuinely care about.  This is the mantra behind Filmmakers Process, a blog founded by Independent Filmmaker and Writer, Robert Hardy. Straying away from the traditional film blogs that focus on the latest gear and Hollywood trends, Hardy focuses on what he considers to be the most important tool for an indie filmmaker: mindset.

As a filmmaker, it’s easy to get caught up in commercial work and fluff projects when striving to make ends meet. When this happens, you can lose sight of why you started making films in the first place. This familiar cycle inspired Hardy to start his blog, aimed at helping filmmakers live their best lives, creatively and otherwise. Does this mean that he has this down to a science himself? Not quite – but he’s determined to find out.


Marmoset: How was Filmmaker’s Process born?

Robert Hardy: Filmmaker’s Process came out of a couple different factors that all sort of converged in my life at the same time.

Part of it was that I was just sort of dissatisfied with the work I was doing. Sure, I was writing for a living and in a position where I could influence filmmakers with that writing, but I think I blew that opportunity in a lot of ways.

I was writing filmmaking stories at the time that basically pandered to what I thought people wanted to hear instead of saying what I really wanted to say. I was writing lots of gear-based articles, writing about the biggest of Hollywood filmmakers hoping for clicks, and curating YouTube videos and turning them into articles. Basically, I did what was easiest and most likely to be popular instead of actually producing something valuable and original and true to my beliefs about filmmaking.

Another part of it was that I was craving autonomy and independence from any kind of traditional employment. I know it’s super cliché these days, but the allure of starting a business and sustaining myself with more meaningful work was really strong, and still is.

And lastly, I’ve always been way too idealistic for my own good, especially when it comes to art and how powerful a force for good it can be in the world. It might be naive, but I want to perpetuate this idea that it’s admirable to strive to make great art that makes an impact.

So I basically set out to build a site that not only reflects my values and my idealism, but also puts out well-crafted content that is both practical and inspirational. Plus, there’s a good deal of content on the site that focuses on helping filmmakers adapt to the changes that have been happening in indie film for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, this means shedding light on some harsh realities about the industry that a lot of people don’t want to hear, but it’s still an important part of figuring out how to move forward.

Also, somewhere along the way, I added in another focus to what I was doing at Filmmaker’s Process. Instead of just teaching people the processes and mindsets necessary to make films, I started adding in another layer of how to live a good life as a filmmaker.

I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to shake out, because frankly I don’t know yet what it means to live a good life as a filmmaker. But I’m sure as hell going to keep writing about it and digging deeper into that topic because I believe it’s really, really important to start figuring it out.

If you had to choose, what do you think is the single most important thing to know as an indie filmmaker?

Every step of the indie filmmaking process is going to present you with problems and obstacles and setbacks. That’s just how it is with all types of filmmaking because it’s such a complex process.

However, whereas big-budget productions are in a position where they can solve those problems with money, the indie filmmaker has to solve them with creativity, ingenuity and a DIY approach.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Some of the obstacles we encounter in filmmaking can feel insurmountable, especially the ones related to not having enough money to do things the traditional way.

So I think it’s a mindset thing more than anything else. We not only have to learn to embrace the struggle and to be unrelentingly persistent when things don’t go our way, but learn to see obstacles as opportunities to be creative.

It can also be really helpful to take a practice from Stoic philosophy and actively imagine everything on your production going wrong. Then you can solve some of those problems in your head before ever setting foot on set. I know it seems scary and odd, but when you make mental preparations for the worst, nothing can phase you.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in your years as a filmmaker?

Nothing is more important than building fruitful, long-lasting collaborative relationships with talented people.

Whether you’re making short films with your friends on the weekends or making a multi-million dollar feature for a studio, filmmaking is a team sport that requires like-minded people to come together to accomplish a larger goal.

There tends to be a lot of ego in the world of film, and that’s a shame because ego forces people to close themselves off to the potential for true creative collaboration with others. It stunts people’s ability to build their network.

Yet it’s this network -- all of the people you’ve met and helped along the way -- that will be there when it’s time for you to make your passion project.

Is it possible to make a living working on your passion project?

Yes, but not in the way that most filmmakers go about it. The traditional idea is that you need to raise the funds, make the film, take it to festivals, and get it acquired for distribution, or self-distribute through an aggregator or something.

Unfortunately, in the past 10 or so years, the indie film business has shifted immensely -- and not in a good way. These days, even filmmakers who take this route and make successful films rarely see enough money to live on. So most indie filmmakers need to work day jobs to make ends meet. They run production companies, freelance, make commercials, teach at colleges, etc, and then make films on sabbaticals.

So for me, the way forward is for filmmakers to build audiences of their own and sell their films directly to that audience instead of relying on middlemen. Filmmakers have to become a potent blend of artists, technicians, managers and entrepreneurs in order for this to work. It’s not enough to just be a filmmaker anymore. You’ve got to know how to reach audiences yourself and be able to put together a plan to sell them on your work.

Luckily, the internet gives us most of the tools to do this, but it’s still far from easy. That’s another subject I plan on tackling in-depth with Filmmaker’s Process in the future.

How do you silence the inner critic?

By creating more work and making sure every new project is slightly better than the last one.

The best book ever written on this subject has to be The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. It’s all about battling what he calls “Resistance,” which is a force that conspires to prevent us from doing our work. Our inner critics are really just one manifestation of Resistance. So we have to do anything we can to shut them up and get on with our work.

And the best way I know to really silence the inner critic in the long run is to produce a high quantity of work. Even if your work doesn’t meet your high standards yet, the more you make, and the more you strive to make small improvements, the more you’ll begin to close that gap. Quantity leads to quality. Quality leads to the inner critic leaving you alone.

What makes one indie filmmaker stand out from the rest?

Having something unique to say, and having the courage to actually say it.

One of the most irritating things about the world of indie film is that new filmmakers tend to think that they need to imitate other successful indie films in order to be successful themselves. Or they think that if they can make micro-budget versions of Hollywood movies, they’ll be set.

But what really sets indie film apart is the freedom it gives us to go against the grain and be bold and take creative risks. And consequently, those types of creative risks are often what sets a film apart from everything else in the (extremely flooded) marketplace.

Filmmakers don’t have to reinvent the form or anything, but they should actively attempt to push boundaries and try things that scare them. Nobody wins -- least of all you --when you play it safe.

Anything else that you think should be included?

Just this week, I made the jump to turn Filmmaker’s Process into a site that is supported directly by its readers through Patreon. It’s something I hope will alleviate the need to rely on advertising, sponsorships, affiliate marketing, or any of the other things that make reading articles online pretty unpleasant. The idea is that this will allow me to focus my time and energy on helping filmmakers rather than tracking down advertisers and making sure they’re happy. If any of the philosophy of this site jives with you, it’d be cool if you could check out the Patreon.

Also, Filmmaker’s Process has a really kickass newsletter that goes out every Sunday morning. If you want to keep up with the site and get lots of extra filmmaking goodies, that’s the best way to do it.

Posted on November 4, 2016 and filed under Filmmaking.