When was the last time you told a story that you felt so connected to, that if you could, you would tell it entirely for free? And as a storyteller, when was the last time you made a film that truly moved people, and intensely reminded you of your passion for this craft?
Today we announce something very special. An opportunity to tell an inspiring story, to learn, and to win $100,000 in amazing filmmaking awards.
Bad news is easy to come by — in the newspaper, on screen, over radio waves, saturating our media: the world is a troubled place, and it seems like this is something we’ve grown used to hearing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to let it deflate us or try to drown out the noise.
We are media makers too, and there are some pretty incredible stories out there to tell!
A little more than two years ago, we told a story that changed our path as a studio.
It was a story without a contract, or client, or payment. It was a story we were deeply connected to both in its purpose and how the film we’d craft could help them. It’s because we had such creative freedom and felt so deeply connected to the piece, that we still consider it be the best short film we’ve ever made.
It was a story full of hope, struggle, diversity, deliciousness, and support. In fact, those were our 5 keywords — themes within the story that guided us as we made choice after choice to bring the film to life.
This story was that of Old Skool Cafe, a youth-run supper club in San Francisco. Their mission: Confront the epidemic of violence by providing at-risk and previously incarcerated youth with career opportunities that would normally not be afforded to them.
We’d just wrapped production when it happened. One of our last scenes was in the projects in San Francisco, an area so dangerous, we were advised to back into our parking spots so that we could get away quicker, should the need arise.
We were in the gear room of our old Mountain View studio putting everything away. It was a tiny cube of a room with uber-ugly fluorescent lighting. And as everything was going back onto the shelves, Justin walked in and said he had an idea.
Want to attract the clients you want and keep them coming back for more? Want to tell the stories you want in the way you want to? Here’s how, using a cool tool called journey mapping.
Developing your voice is one of the most difficult and rewarding things you can do as a filmmaker. It seems like it should be easier, right? It is your voice after all.
You know you don’t want to just be a tripod – being told what to shoot and how to shoot it.
You also know that there are certain stories that capture your heart immediately and that those are the stories you want to tell.
You know that, deep within you, there’s a strong voice that is uniquely and undoubtedly yours and a powerful vision of where you want to go.
But how to get from here to there?
Last week, we described how to move from being a tripod to being a storyteller by building your overarching narrative. Your over-arching narrative is all about choosing five keywords that sum up your purpose as a filmmaker.
By asking yourself what inspires you as a filmmaker, what stories you like to tell, who is your ideal client and what you love most about filmmaking, you can cut through the clutter and arrive at why you’re truly pursuing this path in the first place.
In doing so, you’ll zero in on those five words that sum up you, your business, your art and your purpose.
There’s a power in these five words, when you use them as a lens to filter all of your decisions as you create a film.
But here’s the thing. These keywords can be used to give you clarity on ALL of your decisions as a filmmaker, both on set and off.
Your clear, over-arching narrative can extend to every detail of people’s interactions with you, from navigating your website, to a client’s first introductory call, to how you deliver your final product.
You can use these keywords to create exactly the kinds of experiences you would like your team and your clients to have every time they work with you. The kind of experiences that absolutely blow them out of the water and keep them coming back for more.
If you haven’t come up with your 5 keywords yet, take 10 minutes to head on over to our keywords blog post, download the free work sheet, and make it happen. Your 5 words will help you get so much more out of what we share here.
So, you’ve got your keywords, but how do you apply them to the entire experience you offer?
Ready for it?
You tap into stories, of course.
Defining your filmmaking style and actively developing it, each and every time you shoot, is one of the best things you can do for your future. Here is how to get started.
There are two questions I always try to ask each of the filmmakers we come across.
I’ve been fortunate to talk to literally thousands of filmmakers across the globe and ask them these same two questions. How they answer them, and what they say, can be incredibly illuminating. I’ve started to notice some patterns.
And here is the really interesting thing: The answer to both questions is the exact same thing.
Okay, so what are the questions?
The first one—Why do you make films?
It’s a question that’s always intrigued me. The answer you provide offers so much insight into where you should focus, the types of stories you should be looking to tell, and the people you would want to attract.
The second one—What is your biggest challenge?
As a studio we have devoted so much of our time to deconstructing the art of storytelling and trying to share it with all of you in a tangible, actionable, and accessible way.
Knowing what it is you struggle with only helps us know what to focus on. It’s pushed us to tell better stories in order to help you do the same, and move through those challenges.
Let’s move toward what inspires you and away from what is holding you back.
When asked Why do you make films?, here are some of the most common replies:
Because of the emotional impact on the audience.
To express myself and grow creatively.
To tell stories that inspire me, stories that I feel need to be told.
To provide for my family while running my own business.
When asked What is your biggest challenge?, here are some of the most common replies:
Clients are always telling me what to do—they’re holding me back from making films how I want to make films.
How to find and tell a real story, the way I can imagine it in my mind.
I want to make MORE films like X, and LESS films like the ones I am making right now (which typically means: more commercial work, and less wedding work—OR making more wedding films with couples I really connect with, and less with couples I don’t).
I need to be able to charge more for the gear / lifestyle / creative control I want.
Here’s the really fascinating part:
Both questions, and their answers, all point to the same thing. Knowing this one thing, and working on it every single day, is the biggest thing you can do for yourself.
Let me share a short story about my journey into filmmaking, the stages I went through, and how that led me to this “one thing”.
I started getting into video in University as a Psychology student. It was a way to express and explore some of the things we were learning in class. Our first camera, the glorious Canon GL2, was a very large investment at the time.
Armed with nothing but the GL2 and a cheap Best Buy tripod, I was off to make videos. I was a videographer and I’d get hired to show up with my camera and tripod, and cover things.
Over the next couple years, as I and the rest of Stillmotion learned more about all of the technical aspects of making videos—how to work with light, move the camera, and make beautiful shots—the title of videographer suddenly became offensive.
I then became a self-proclaimed cinematographer. I didn’t simply show up to cover things, I deeply considered the light, lens choice, composition, and they way I moved the camera when filming.
For years we really identified with that label. When brides would come in looking for a videographer, we’d explain that they’d find no one like that here at Stillmotion. Nope, we only had cinematographers.
Over the next few years we started doing less weddings and got into some pretty exciting commercial work.
Then something changed.
No longer would the label cinematographer suffice. It became less about how we used our tools and the elements to add to the video, and more about what we were choosing to cover, the unique way we saw it, and what we wanted it to say.
Now, we were storytellers.
As a videographer we’d show up to weddings and cover everything. Everything. We’d get shot lists from the bride. We might even be told what soundtracks to use.
As a cinematographer, we’d cover a little bit less, but we sure knew how to make it look good. Give us a shitty hotel room with a window and we’d transform it into a magical and mysterious palace of preparations.
But as a storyteller, suddenly we started covering much less, and everything we did was meant to say something.
Look at it this way:
The videographer sees everything in full, end to end. The cinematographer sees how to make it beautiful. The storyteller sees only fragments of the larger whole, pieces that together say so much more.
And here’s the truth:
None of us got into this to be a tripod—to be told where to stand and what to film. We want to say something, we want our work to make an impact, we want to tell stories.
But how do you move from tripod to storyteller?
Stop standing around and covering everything. Make decisions. Say something. Harness the power of your irreplaceable voice.
You may have heard that before. In practice it isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. We all wonder: How do I find my voice? What do I do once I’ve found it? How to I strengthen it, make it clearer?
With that, here is the first step we suggest every filmmaker should take to help define his or her voice as a storyteller.
Five years ago, I entered into the filmmaking arena a minority, an underdog. I didn’t go to film school, I’m just over 5’ tall, I’m young…. and I’m female. If you were able to place bets on me at a casino the odds would be something like 341:1.
That’s not too far from where a lot of other women feel like they are at in their filmmaking careers, but here’s the secret:
On paper, you may be the underdog. But don’t for one second let yourself believe it.
I went from working at 3M in an engineering lab to all-access on the sidelines of the Superbowl in just 19 short months. From there, I went on to take a major role in the production of A Game of Honor and, over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege to work on a number of different productions, large and small.
As I look back, I’ve discovered a lot about what it takes to succeed as a female filmmaker and I want to share five powerful ideas I’ve learned with you.
This is a tough industry. It’s a harsh landscape for any filmmaker, but it’s especially challenging for women who have dreams to succeed in this space. Make no mistake, women are still the minority, but we don’t have to be the underdog.
It’s important to point out that with immense challenges also come opportunities to succeed.
Some may say that being DP of a feature-length doc and winning some Emmys in just five short years are significant triumphs, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I also feel that is something that’s within everyone’s reach.
You just have to want it enough to go for it, regardless of age, race, or gender.
So how do we handle being repeatedly marginalized, dealing with inappropriate comments on set and making the most out of fighting an uphill battle? Ladies, this one is for you.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned about how to succeed as a female filmmaker.
What would you say if you could share one thing with the world?
We had the amazing opportunity to speak at the Social Innovation Summit hosted at the United Nations in New York.
I had 10 minutes to talk to an amazing group of people, but what did I want to say?
In ten minutes you really want to get to one big idea. So what was it? Our one big idea that we wanted to share with people. I knew that if I tried to say too much I’d end up saying nothing at all.
One big idea to give to a room full of people: CEOs or heads of social corporate responsibility for companies like JetBlue, Chobani, Google, and Microsoft and a few hundred more.
As we thought about what we wanted to share, we realized that there is one storytelling secret that we think everyone should know.
Heidi McKye and I put our heads together to co-author what exactly we might say on behalf of Stillmotion.
This is what we came up with. Our one thing, as shared with everybody at the Summit.