This week, for our 250th episode, we had a very special podcast with our hosts: Giles Alderson, Phil Hawkins, Christian James, Dom Lenoir and Tobias Vees talking about their inspirations, how they work, how important it is to build good relationships in the industry, and how they cope with putting out various ‘fires’ on a film set.
Their Filmmaking Inspirations
CJ remembers reading “Robert Rodriguez’ Rebel Without a Crew, way back when I was a runner for Sky TV.” He said that what stood out for him was that you didn’t need “all the lights in the world. All the kit in the world. And realising what could be done. That book was the key catalyst in triggering me into where I am now.”
For Dom, it is Clint Eastwood. Because he “grew up on Hollywood films, my approach as a filmmaker has always been that I want to try and make Hollywood films. I think in terms of Hollywood films, and then sort of reverse engineer them.”
“When you look at Nolan now, making ridiculous, huge budget things, money is no object. And as a filmmaker, trying to make a short, there’s a disconnect. So I always like those filmmakers who bridge the gap by making a piece of work that has resonated,” said Phil.
Giles is inspired by our past podcast guest Jim Cummings. “What he’s done and achieved is ridiculous. He set up his own company now and they’re making things constantly and he’s helping other filmmakers.” Jim started making shorts, then made Thunder Road, then went and did a studio film, and wasn’t happy so went back to making indie films.
And for Tobi it was last week’s episode with Richard Miller “talking about Repeat because having done a couple of shorts and raising money myself, I thought making a feature for 10K was ridiculous. And I watched the film and it’s brilliant. So it’s possible.”
Suggestions for Reaching Out and Building Relationships
Although Phil mostly receives lovely emails from people, he sometimes gets those copy/paste <insert name> here emails and “I switch off immediately. And then you get other ones where someone’s watched your work or have put the effort in to research you.”
He replied to a lot of emails in lockdown and ended up setting up online meetings with people who contacted him, to discuss their projects. “I wish I had that starting out, and that’s why I love trying to do it when I can. Do your research about those people and be very targeted. And approach them in a very nice manner with some knowledge of their work. It doesn’t harm to ask, right?”
Dom says that for him it’s important “to not pitch when you meet them for the first time. Or if you do, just tell them casually what you’re up to. And I think that is one of the key lessons, but also one of the hardest if you’re in the room with someone that can greenlight your project.
As a commercials director, CJ said that if you “get picked for a job. You instantly create a director’s deck to show how you would execute that project.” But wondered whether people made decks to accompany their features.
“For every single project, the pitch deck is the number one thing, because I think you can make the quality way higher than you could demonstrate with anything else. And it’s much easier to read the script” was Dom’s opinion.
Giles says that he wants “as much information as possible. I want a director’s rip reel, I want a short synopsis, a tiny synopsis, and then a full synopsis, plus a deck. As a producer, it’s important because I know straight away if I want to do it, but also what this director/ producer is capable of.”
Dom’s biggest mistake when starting out was making “50-page ‘bibles’ with all these words and numbers and financial documents. And the reality is you should get someone that knows how to talk money to your investors. Because if you talk even the slightest bit of generic finance stuff, someone who’s used to that stuff will take one look and just say I’m not interested.”
Staying Cool Under Pressure
Being on a film set is hard, and especially as a director. You have to be “paddling madly under the water and smooth as a swan on top,” as Phil described it.
While it’s important as a director to set the tone, Dom doesn’t think you need “to be super serious. Some will think that you have to be a military leader on set but you can have a lighter tone and have fun. The key is that people know when they need to buckle down and pull it together.”
Giles agreed, saying that “setting the tone is so important. If you’re the leader. And sometimes it’s very hard for directors to understand the difference between leader and dictator.
“I like to show my decks to my crew. I don’t necessarily mean the whole deck, I might show an image – this is what I’m meaning for this film, these are the colours, this is my palette. If you can get your crew and cast on board with your vision, then it’s easier.”
For more brilliant advice from The Filmmakers Podcast hosts, listen here.