So, You Want to Be a Filmmaker?

So you think you've got what it takes to be a filmmaker? I've been involved with short films for over a decade. I have seen more than 20,000 short films and have traveled to numerous film festivals specializing in short films: Cinequest (San Jose), Mill Valley Film Festival, Palm Springs, Aspen, Toronto, Cinema Jove (Spain), and the biggest of them all, Clermont-Ferrand (France). Every year in Clermont-Ferrand, their short film marketplace contains over 7,700 films.

A lot has changed in the past decade. Films can now be done at a fraction of the cost on digital video and edited on home computers (or a mere mobile device). The web has also fueled the popularity of short films through easy access on sites such as YouTube. The democratization of the storytelling -- no longer the exclusive domain of expensive film schools -- is a doubled-edged sword. The good news is now everybody can make a film. The bad news is now everybody can make a film. Let me explain.

Just because you have access to the equipment doesn't automatically make you a filmmaker. Filming your cat, dog, or drunk friend doing stupid tricks may be hysterical and get lots of hits on the web, but calling it a film is a bit of a stretch. Many shorts lack storytelling skills, not to mention the technical skills. And even if you have the technical skills, if you don't have a compelling story, it won't matter how technically proficient you might be.

As the program director at KQED, the producer of ImageMakers, and the executive producer of Film School Shorts, I see a lot of television programs and short films. I tell people that my primary job is to watch bad films, so you don't have to. I liken my job to searching through the gravel pit to find a few diamonds. "Quality" can be in the eye of the beholder, but take my word on this, if you don't like my selections, just be glad you didn't see the ones that didn't make the final cut!

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Filmmakers, distributors and other film festival programmers attend the largest short film festival and market in the world in Clermont every February.

On ImageMakers, my ultimate goal is to find stories with impact -- short films that resonate and actually get better with repeated viewing. Great films allow us to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. We can live vicariously through people in difficult situations. A good film makes us ask, "What would we do in a similar situation?" Big meanings can come from simple actions. We may not agree with their behavior, but hopefully we can better understand what led them to their actions. Filmmaking is an art form and great filmmaking usually achieves these lofty goals.

Anyone can call themselves a filmmaker, but not many can call themselves a great filmmaker. If through watching ImageMakers or Film School Shorts, you are now inspired to become a filmmaker, or if you think you can do better than these "amateurs," then prove it. If you want to read three good books about starting out making short films and navigating the film festival world, you should check out the following books -- all three women have been in the business for a long time and offer great advice to aspiring filmmakers:
- Making it Big in Shorts: The Ultimate Filmmaker's Guide to Short Films by Kim Adelman at amazon.com
- How Not to Make a Short Film by Roberta Munroe at amazon.com
- The Complete Filmmaker's Guide to Film Festivals by Monika Skerbelis at amazon.com

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