Advice for Indie Filmmakers From Christopher Nolan

Over the past year or so I’ve interviewed several indie filmmakers just starting out.  I’ve asked each of them what advice they’d give their fellow filmmakers and received many great pieces of advice.  Now it’s time to hear from one of the greats who started out, like many of us, “braving the cold and personally papering Main Street with his Xeroxed one-sheets for his $6000 budget film, Following.”

So what does a three-time Golden Globe and Academy Award nominee like Christopher Nolan have to say to indie helmers just starting out? A lot, actually.

One of the first things I noticed when I started my career in filmmaking was the great sense of community one feels, especially on-set. Every production I worked on, every late night, every early morning call; I was surrounded by a great team of talented individuals working together with one primary focus in mind. The majority of which have worked on a few, if not several, films together already. Nolan’s advice on the subject is, “While it’s wonderful to have a great community of filmmakers around you, you have to be prepared to do everything yourself […] you have to be prepared to carry the flag for the film because if you’re not, nobody else is going to bother. The tricky thing is, it can seem like arrogance because it’s the film you made, but there’s no way around it. You just have to do it.”

It was refreshing to learn that even the likes of Christopher Nolan, one of the most respected Writer/Director/Producers of our time, was a fresh-faced newbie once. When “asked how he made the transition to large-scale budgets while many others flounder when they step up to that sandbox, Nolan said the key was taking incremental steps, and trying to look at each project from the vantage point of an audience member, making sure as director your vision matches up with a studio’s expectation of the film it will receive for its investment.” Tackling a multi-million dollar budget sounds like a lot of pressure to even think about for many of us but this piece of sound advice has helped me to keep an open mind to the task. If and when that day should come, I’ll be sure to take things one step at a time as he did.

As a director of an indie film project we always where many hats, but our most important task is seeing the production through from start to finish.  However, I’ve known many a director who, after getting it ‘in the can’, will falsely believe their work to be done and prematurely take time off to relax. Yet, although it is important to take a short break between each phase of production in order to get a fresh perspective before facing the next stage; “Nolan confessed that when his editor puts together a rough assemblage, he tries not to watch it. ‘It’s four hours long and it’s terrible and I don’t want to start from that place,’ Nolan said. ‘I want to start from a sense of possibility.'” So next time you feel the need to eagerly watch the first cut of your beloved project, remember Nolan’s advice and be patient.  Wait for the third cut, at the very least.

I hope to have the incredible opportunity to learn from great filmmakers like Nolan going forward in my film career, but until then I will continue to read articles like this one until then. And I will try to pass on this tidbits to our readers as well.


What great filmmaker would you like to hear advice from?  Let us know who in the comments section below.

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