Takeways From My First Official Filmmaking Experience

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Many may not know this, but I tried to make a documentary years ago. It was centered around Burning Man, had some interesting characters involved and was right around the time before the festival became uber mainstream. There was a general knowledge about it, but not many had experienced it first-hand yet. Felt like I was onto something.

In hindsight, though, it was doomed to fail from the beginning. 

On paper, I thought I had everything it took to create a feature film. One, I had some experience in documentary filmmaking having worked for a Hollywood production that specialized in this field — earning myself a few minor credits. Second, I was fortunately able to secure minor funding so I did not have to boot strap it. Third, I ran my own videography company and was the master of my own time. 

Yet I failed, and now I have come to understand that I shouldn’t regret it.

This Wednesday we are premiering our first official feature documentary at a film festival. It is a film we put together in just over a month. We spent a few weeks filming all around the country and I edited it on the fly. And I could not have done it without the takeaways from that first film.

  • Too much time is a luxury not worth having. Deadlines are needed and if you don’t have that pressure — and discipline to deal with it — you’ll never finish. That is why I never finished my first film.

  • You need a team. There is no way I could have made this film without a group supporting me. I tried to be a one-man wrecking crew the first time and only thing I wrecked was my own project.

  • Experience can’t be short cut. Yes, you can mask things in post-production but there is no substitute from doing things yourself and learning from mistakes you may make. I learned a lot the first time I shot. I learned about how set up for interviews, how important audio is and most importantly, you cannot be a timid filmmaker. Your subjects need to know you are leading them. I was far too timid the first time around. I was just happy to be there and that is no way to create anything good.

  • Say yes more than no. I had to come in with an open mind and be ready to jump in feet first. What this meant for me specifically is I had to pursue each interview lead, understand that sometimes the money may come out of my pocket and be open to edits in post-production that I may have felt too close to cut.

“Take risks in your life. 
If you win, you can lead. 
If you lose, you can guide.” 

- Swami Vivikananda


Philipe CarvalhoComment