What I’ve Learned as a Student Filmmaker

I embarked on my journey of becoming a film artist late in the game. Growing up, I had always wanted to be an actor. I began acting at the age of 13 and that was all I could see myself doing… until I came to college. Being a theatre major provided a lot of insight. It made me learn many things about myself but one thing I learned for sure was I didn’t want to be an actor anymore. In fact, I wanted to be the person behind the camera. I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was more interested in being the one to create and direct the story than to be the one portraying it.

Once I realized film was what I wanted to do, I began working on my first film, Sistawhich was a documentary about the journey of young Black American women. From there, I continued to create more political films that went on to win awards such as “Best Student Film” at 100 Words Film Festival. Along my journey as a student filmmaker, I’ve learned several things.

1. Use what you got. I would argue that “student filmmaker” is pretty synonymous with “broke.” I did not have the money to fund fancy films. Instead I had to work with the resources I had. For example, instead of hiring actors, I reached out to my theatre department with casting calls to get my actors. They would provide me with their talent and I would provide them with copies of the film to put in their portfolio. If I needed more equipment, I would rent them at my university’s tech library. I kept my locations to a minimum and public which meant that I did not have to worry about permits or location rent. Many people find it hard to believe that I even use my phone for audio because it’s clear and crisp. I record with my voice memo and dub it over the footage in post-production. Not having the money will definitely force you to be resourceful and creative.

2. Network. The saying “it’s who you know” is definitely applicable to the film industry. The industry does not care about what film school you went to. They care about the quality of your reel and your connections. Connections have helped me find opportunities within the film community. In order to establish connections, I had to network. Meaning, I would go to local film festivals and just absorb everything. I would not only be inspired by the films but I would also speak to the filmmakers. Every conversation would end with us swapping business cards. Connections will push your career in the film industry but you have to do the work and network.

3. Film is a team effort. Although, on the production end, I was a one-woman crew, I still had to learn how to work with actors. Being an actor and directing actors are two different things. Being a former actor, I can attest to that. Yes, my films are my vision but I had to trust that my actors would give an adequate performance and bring my vision to life. I was open to suggestions and encouraged collaborations because I realized, when actors have a say in how their character is portrayed, they give a better performance. They are more invested and sincere.

4. Absorb and practice. To better myself with filmmaking, I read up–and still do–on filmmaking. I studied every aspect of film from screenwriting to shooting to editing. Learning about filmmaking has sharpened my skills greatly. It’s shown in my current films such as Monster.

5. It must have purpose. My films became interesting when every action, every shot–even the music had a purpose and served the story. When my films were filled with purpose, they became a lot more meaningful and substantial. For example, in Monsters, I show clips of Olivia and her partner being loving to each other to establish that they have a relationship. Because I showed how close they were at the beginning of my film, the betrayal towards the end is even more painful.

The exciting part about this all is that I know I will learn even more. I will make more mistakes and continue to learn from them. I’m excited to see where my journey in film art takes me.

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