Four of our GSDF filmmakers will be showcasing their short documentaries this week at The Bertha DocHouse Screen in London. We asked them for their top tips, from being part of the Forum to having their work commissioned by a major media outlet. Here’s what they said:
On working with collaborators
Show them what is in your head and make that very clear because it’s a discussion. It’s things that are sometimes very difficult to express through language. Something that filmmakers really need to do and to be aware of is that you need to communicate this as well as possible to your commissioners and the people you’re working with and just be patient. If things are not clear to everyone straight away, it’s just because you’re making something new. You’re making something that hasn’t been done yet.
On receiving a rejection
Rejection is part of the process and you will be rejected again and again and again. Even when you’ve made films, you will still be rejected. And it doesn’t reflect on you. Maybe your vision is not yet fully developed. I think if you really believe in your film, you will make it and it will be great, and that’s what you should believe in. At the end of the day, making a film is a really long process and something that you probably shouldn’t really rely on for making a living. If you’re making it, it’s because you love this. Just make it, one way or another, and things will happen in mysterious ways.
It was really good to have people help me re-center and refine what it is that I was saying. It was great to be able to talk to people with so much experience, who were able to give really honest opinions about my project. The combination of having people who have the experience but also are here to help you was really great.
On the importance of community
Documentary can be a very isolating process, specifically at the early stages when you’re just alone with this idea in your mind and you’re not really confident in it. I think it’s really important to speak to other people during this process and also seek help, whether this may be a friend that doesn’t know a lot about documentary making, or whether it’s joining programs like the GSDF – there’s loads of training available, there’s programs that you can apply for, there’s loads of people that are very experienced that are keen to give advice as well. Speaking to other people is really important.
My main experience as part of GSDF was based off this incredible community of support. That is so rare in the film industry, a safe space to talk about these ideas that are perhaps just in your own head, and not a lot of people have supported you on it. To have these mentors and incredible other filmmakers come and speak to you and give you feedback and make you believe in the film is so priceless. I think it’s something that will stick with you throughout the rest of your career.
On the importance of protecting subjects
Think about your contributors and the impact this film’s going to have on them. I think we always talk about ourselves a bit more than our subjects, but it’s really important to protect our subjects and just make sure that we keep them in check the whole process and they know what’s happening. I think transparency is really important because we are benefiting from their stories as filmmakers and it’s really important that we make sure that that’s not a one way kind of relationship.
On bootstrapping your project
If you have an idea, there are ways of doing it yourself. Reach out to people that are also starting out in filmmaking that you could possibly collaborate with and who can support you. Having funding is really useful but if there is a burning idea that you have, it’s really important to think, how can you make this if you don’t have 20k?
On being commissioned
Maybe the most important thing is to show the commissioners what your character is like. Even with some very basic images, you can show what you see in the film or the style of it and they can really get a taste of you as a filmmaker.
Many times we think that whatever is our vision isn’t going to be accepted or think, ‘They won’t like that’. The truth is that they don’t know what you can do. In the early stages of making the film, make decisions that you intuitively feel are right for the film.
On developing self-belief
We may believe in the project more than we believe in ourselves. I would say even if you don’t think that your story is perfect in a textbook way, or you’re not sure if it’s gonna go the way you want it to, you’re not alone. People who get films made have the confidence and the ability to say, ‘I really believe in this and I can carry this through’. Use that as a starting point and navigate the changes.
When starting out as a filmmaker, it’s always very hard to just get through the door. GSDF gave me the opportunity to show my willingness to invest everything in my projects. Now, I have more confidence communicating with commissioners and presenting myself as a filmmaker. And the one-on-one meetings with the mentors were so refreshing and encouraging.
On the importance of on-screen representation
Accurate and diverse representation is very important both on and off screen. Misrepresentation can have dangerous and real world consequences. There is a validation in seeing yourself accurately portrayed or represented in the media. You suddenly feel seen and heard. As a little girl, I hardly saw any brown superheroes or princesses on screen. I wish I had a film like this growing up. I imagine I would have felt far more validated and assured had I seen young, strong and intelligent women like this on screen.
On trusting your instinct
Listen to your gut. It’s important to pay attention to advice. But sometimes it can be overwhelming. It’s okay to not take every single piece of advice. Your story will change shape and sometimes look very different from what you’ve imagined. Learn as many lessons as you can but you know your story. Trust yourself.
To be one of fourteen filmmakers chosen in 2021 was surreal, but it gave me such validation. For a few weeks, you are surrounded by such incredible young talents and you’re guided by top mentors who genuinely care about you and your film. Following the film’s win, I really had to put my pitch skills to use. I could not have gotten this right if not for GSDF. It gave me a platform to showcase my work and skills. It was an experience I will cherish for a long time.
Finally, don’t overthink everything. Be present. And it’s not said often enough – have fun!
Join us for the screening on Thursday 24 November 2022 at The Bertha DocHouse Screen in London. Details here.