Break into the Film Industry and Start Your Career

If you had the chance to sit down with a filmmaking pro, what questions
would you ask?

Image source: Jerm Cohen.
Break into the Film Industry and Start Your Career
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Enter extraordinary producer, director, speaker, and all-around powerhouse Lacey Schwartz. As part of production company TruthAid, Lacey works to create media that helps jump-start conversations in community spaces and educate audiences about issues like race, domestic violence, and equity. We spent some time with her to talk about starting a film career, breaking through industry biases, and entering a film into the 2019 Sundance Ignite Challenge. Read on for all the good stuff. Popcorn not included.

The one question filmmakers should be asking themselves

Learning about Lacey’s journey in “Little White Lie,” and then the journeys she highlights in “The Loving Generation,” it’s obvious that identity plays a huge role in the stories she tells. So, if there’s one question to ask as a filmmaker, Lacey says it’s “What is my perspective, and how might somebody else have a different one?”

“The reality is, we all have perspectives,” she says. “You have to really own what your perspective is… When you’re defining who your audience is, you should make sure that people who are representative of that audience [are] looking at your work and giving you feedback.”

Across audiences and different experiences, finding common ground is key. “If they can’t relate to it, it should still make sense to them and keep them connected or engaged.”

Step outside your comfort zone

From feedback, to writer’s block, to rough edits, feeling uncomfortable is pretty typical as a filmmaker. But “the more you can get comfortable with discomfort, the better off you’re going to be,” Lacey says. Facing that fear of being uncomfortable will get you one step closer to building the confidence you need to be creative.

Photo by Jerm Cohen.

What if you have your film but you need help sharing it?

Access is one of the hardest parts of becoming a professional filmmaker. It’s increasingly difficult to get into the right rooms with the right people. Lacey says the more you network and start to understand “the lay of the land,” the better off you’ll be. She started her career in New York, and attended festivals like Tribeca and Film Independence Week. Attending film festivals and events is a great (and easy) way to meet new people. The relationships you build while networking may “not always help you right then and there, but they could be relationships that will help you later on.”

© 2018 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jen Fairchild.

Overcoming industry bias

Filmmakers and audiences need to work together to make the industry a more inclusive space. “Time and time again, for better or worse, distributors follow a model of trying to repeat formulas,” Lacey says. And not all voices are represented in that formula. We’ve all seen it — the same type of film with the same type of characters because it worked once before. “The reality is, a lot of times, some of the biggest successes [are ones that] break the formula,” she says. “Have the confidence to keep on pushing through.”

Becoming a full-time filmmaker

Time and resources are limited, so it’s important to build a personal business plan that is feasible for you. That means getting clear on how you’re going to support yourself while making what you want to make.

“Some people teach, some people do work for hire and then they work on their own projects. Some people take a business model where they work on a project and get paid for a few months and then work on their own thing. There are a lot of different options.”

Since Truth Aid focuses on starting conversations with films, much of Lacey’s additional projects involve speaking and consulting to fuel the larger conversation.

© 2017 YouTube Photo by Myles Pettengill.

The best thing you can do when entering a film for the Sundance Ignite short film challenge

“Put your best work forward,” Lacey says. But of course the panel will be looking at more than your film — your entire application is important. Since the fellowship includes a year-long mentorship and connects emerging filmmakers with opportunities to pitch their films, be sure to talk about how this experience will impact your career, she says.

“Put together a clear picture of not only who you are, but what experiences you’ve had — being as specific as possible about how you think the opportunity can help you.” Will it help increase the visibility of your work? Will it help connect you with the film community? “We want to understand how you are going to take this opportunity and make the most out of it,” Lacey says.

Are you the next Sundance Ignite Fellow? The 2019 Sundance Ignite Challenge is open now.

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