Diving into a great big film project can be scary.
Even if you know your way around a camera, there’s so much that goes into making a film… it’s very easy to build out a great idea and then sit on it until… well, until it disappears.
Whether its a lack of experience holding you back, a lack of support, or just a lack of confidence…
…we get it.
We’ve been there, and any filmmaker who has followed through with a project has been there.
Any project that asks you to step outside of your comfort zone (aka any project worth doing) is going to present you with a lot of those challenges. You’ll feel inexperienced in one way or another, which will hurt your confidence, and you might have no idea where the money’s going to come from.
But the difference between ideas that become forgotten and projects that become remembered is simple: start taking action, and start from the right place.
For some, the starting place may be buying their first camera and figuring out how it works. For some it will be hiring their first employee. For some its making a Kickstarter. Wherever that starting place is — where you really start doing and stop talking about it… that’s the first step toward finishing a project.
For Liz and Ryan, that starting place was enrolling in the Take Action Challenge and learning how to build upon their skills as photographers to become filmmakers.
With the recent launch of our next Take Action online course and the theme of last night’s live webcast (Baker and Grant talking about everything they did wrong when they started I’m Fine, Thanks), we think it’s the perfect time to talk to two former Take Action students who are currently diving into a their first documentary project.
That is, after all, what Take Action is really about: stop watching tutorials and reading about film, and start challenging yourself to improve your skills, hands-on.
Liz and Ryan have a wonderful idea for a documentary.
It’s called The Amazing Marriage Project, and it’s an in-depth look at couples from around the country who have great stories to share about their amazing marriages.
The project was inspired by Liz and Ryan’s work as wedding photographers, and all the different couples they’ve encountered along the way. They’re out to find some of America’s happiest couples and figure out what it is that makes their marriage so… amazing.
Originally they planned for this to be a photography project, with written stories for each couple. As the idea developed more and more and the nominations rolled in (they found couples by having people nominate them on their website), they felt a responsibility to share the stories in a way that would make as big of an impact as possible. And that is where the documentary idea came from.
Other than some “playing around” with video on their Canon 5D Mark II, Liz and Ryan are photographers through and through. Correction: they were photographers through and through. Now they’re filmmakers too, and they’re diving into their project head first.
They came to Stillmotion asking for advice on what the next step would be for The Amazing Marriage Project, to which we replied “first, enroll in Take Action.”
For anyone transitioning from photo to cinema, this course is a game changer — it forces you to turn in a small project every week, each one focusing on a different fundamental of filmmaking.
With their goal in sight and a newfound determination to make a film, Liz and Ryan signed on to work as a team and actively participate in the course…
So we’re curious… where are they at now with their project, after Take Action?
Our Interview With Liz & Ryan
These two have a long road ahead of them. To really illustrate what it’s like to dive into a big project like this… the fears, the doubts, all the excitement… we wanted to sit down with Liz & Ryan (via Skype) and get everything they’re feeling out in the open.
So, let’s talk about The Amazing Marriage Project… why are you doing this?
Ryan: I guess it started at the end of last year when we had a couple of weddings where we felt like our bride and groom were a little distracted by events going on during their wedding — it was kind of out of their control, but it took away from what the importance of marriage was. And we were just inspired at the beginning of the year to get back to that [importance of marriage] and talk with couples that have amazing marriages and be able to learn from them.So that was like the initial kick start of wanting to reach out and explore more of what other couples have to say.
And it was to try to learn from those experiences and share those with other couples, and let other people see that you can have an amazing marriage, and if something goes wrong there’s other people who have had those experiences and you’re not alone.
Liz: It happens every wedding during an anniversary dance: they go through and the last couple standing is the couple that’s been married the longest. And so every single time that we see that we’re blown away by these amazing, long-lasting couples that are sitting in front of all these other couples and they have so much wisdom to share but we never are able to tap into that. So the more we started thinking about it the more we realized that there is so much wisdom out there — and it’s just a huge passion of ours to be able to bring that conversation to life and share it in other ways.
What would you say that you consider to be an amazing marriage?
Ryan: I think we’re really diving into to see what it is that makes an amazing marriage, and what takes a marriage from a 7 to 10, taking something from average to amazing.
Liz: I think we’ve always been inspired by the old couples we see walking down the street who are still holding hands, you know, and wondering how they’ve come this far.
Ryan: You can look at the couple and know that they may or may not have gone through some crazy life experiences, or maybe they’ve been fortunate enough not to. We’re taking a lot from other couples that had made nominations to the project website — what they consider amazing, what couples inspire them.
Liz: That was huge for us, when we opened the nominations and when we started receiving the nominations. It was literally mind blowing, the things that people were sharing with us. We don’t know them personally, and they are sharing their whole life story with huge struggles, that millions of people don’t even face in their life, but here they are, they’ve gone through it and they’re coming out the other end and they want to share their story, because they’re proud of it, and what they’ve come through. For us, I think what we thought was an amazing marriage at the time has become something even greater.
It seems like things are going to change a lot as the project goes on…
Ryan: It definitely already has kind of morphed from just wanting to talk with and photograph a couple couples, to really wanting to tell those stories… initially we decided we’d interview them and make an interview-style documentary, and now it’s evolved to the point where… we want to take our marriage from a good marriage to an amazing marriage too. We want to learn from those couples and inspire those couples that we can do the same thing too — all marriages can be amazing, people don’t have to sit and think “Oh, I wish it was as awesome as it was when I first got married…”
Liz: It’s always evolving, for sure.
So then, would you say it’s shifted from being a piece that’s an exploration of different couples to something that’s more of a ‘how to’…?
Liz: Yeah, I would say we’re still working through the details of what the actual storyline is going to be. And we’ve talked a lot about this with Amina and Patrick and the Stillmotion team. We recognize that it’s still evolving, and I think that as we get more into it and develop our preproduction, it’s going to become more clear what exactly it needs to be.
Ryan: At the heart of it, it’s just meant to help inspire other couples, but being that there’s the chance to also improve our own marriage and turn it into something more amazing is a cool thing to do too.
Do you feel like the decision to change this from a photography project to a documentary was motivated by a desire to challenge yourself and do something different, or because this is really the best way to tell these stories?
Liz: I would say it’s definitely because we felt the stories need to be shared in a deeper way than just photos. And we’re saying that as photographers, so obviously we see a lot of value in photography. But at the same time, just reading what people were writing in their nominations… we knew that we couldn’t get to the depth of that in the photos. We could show how great marriages are with photo, but we can’t necessarily show the history of these marriages, or the details of their relationships.
Ryan: It was kind of more like… how can we have the most impact and affect the most people with it? We talked about a few different options: maybe we could take everyone’s story and put it in some sort of book, or a blog… something along those lines. But it just kind of made sense to turn it into a documentary, it felt like we have these stories and it’s our responsibility now to tell these stories the best way we possibly can.
How’d you get the word out there about your website so you could get all these nominations?
Ryan: We kind of just shared it with our friends and other people we knew in the wedding industry, and then they shared it with people they knew, retweeted it, put it on their own blog… it was something that struck a chord with them and then they wanted to help out. So that’s how we initially promoted it. And we did get a lot of feedback from other photographers, that we know and don’t know, and they told us how excited they are about it and how much they want to help with it… and they shared it with their friends and families so that they could nominate people, so it definitely was something that we knew there was a lot of interest in at that time.
So once we received the nominations… they kind of just kept coming in, and we’d get back to them and basically just say… “we’re not really sure where this project is gonna go, but, we’ll be in touch!” And as time went on it was like, we know we need to be acting on this, but it is so unknown what the next step is going to be.
So in May we reached out again to those couples that were nominated and asked them to fill out a survey of what were the most challenging times for their marriage, etc…. and they responded to us, and that was kind of at the point where the momentum behind making this into a documentary began to pick up.
Our plan throughout the rest of the year is to see some of these couples and really get to know them, and figure out who is going to be the best fit for this documentary.
Liz: We are planning to launch a new website on October 1st, and that will be more of an ongoing conversation in blog form where we’ll get to share some of these stories. We know we can’t fit 60 couples in the documentary, but our dream is to still share their stories.
Are you feeling some pressure to follow through now, that you’ve had this contact with these couples?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean we want to be people of our word and if we set out to do something we’re going to do it. But still we have a strong desire and responsibility to keep moving forward on the documentary.
Have you encountered anyone who has their doubts about the project — family or friends?
Ryan: We haven’t shared the documentary idea with a huge number of people yet. All the people we have shared it with have been initially excited, and that’s really gotten us to the pint of like, yes — we have to do this! But we went to a film festival here in Annapolis, and one panel was about funding and distributing films, and we shared our idea with one person on the panel and she was like, super excited and showed so much enthusiasm that we were kind of blown away… and that’s been the feeling. When we’ve shared this, people have been really excited about it, and it’s something that people are going to connect with.
Obviously there are going to be people out there who don’t think its worthwhile or may hate on us… but you’ll get that with any project, and we’ll have to push through that.
Liz: I feel like we’ve been a little guarded — I mean we’ve shared it with our close friends and put it on our blog, and we’ll talk about it when it comes up — but we definitely need to figure out what it IS actually going to before we tell people too much… and in the past month or so it’s been all about “what is the path we want to take?” and as we get this rolling we’ll begin to share it with more and more people.
Are you sure there’s an audience for this film?
Liz: We definitely feel that it’s relatable to everyone, and the audience is out there — anyone who wants to improve their relationship and make it amazing, which is a lot of people. The question is, are people going to be interested in watching this story? Are people going to take the time to watch this? Do they want to commit to improving their marriage?
Ryan: The fear is… are people really willing to say, “well I have a good marriage but I could make it better.”
I mean, it’s kind of like #standwithme, which Vivienne is such a great example of. It might have a huge impact, but people will watch it and think, well I’m just one person… what can I do? So this documentary needs to get past that.
What are you guys the most scared of?
Liz: For me, I would say there’s two things. One would be the fear of… “how in the world are we going to raise $150,000?”… but for some reason that has always been something I just know is going to happen. I know that it’s a lot of money but I feel so strongly about it that I know that it’s going to be fine.
Ryan: The other thing we’re… not necessarily afraid of, but know we want and will be more challenged by: we want to put something out there that is of the quality that we know it can be and want it to be, and I’d say we’re pretty tough on ourselves in anything that we do.
Being able to do the film and make sure we do it the way we know it should be told. We could easily go out and shoot all the interviews ourselves and do the documentary with a lower budget… but it just wouldn’t have the impact that we know it should. So, I think there is a fear of living up to our own expectations of what we want it to be.
To put it bluntly: we don’t want to put out a piece of crap. We want it to be meaningful and live up to our professional expectations. And for the couples that will end up being involved, we want them to feel like what we did was in a professional manner.
How do you feel that Take Action has helped you lower that crap factor? How do you feel like it prepared you the most for what you’re about to do?
Ryan: I think the thing that helped us the most was really understanding what it takes to make a film, and how to interact more intelligently with the people we do hire to help us making this film. We know what to expect from them now, and those expectations are high.
Is there an area of filmmaking you feel significantly more comfortable with now, after Take Action?
Ryan: We learned so much in terms of understanding how to put a story together. A lot of times when you think of doing a video, you think ‘well I’ll just do it sequentially and tell a linear story.’ But with Take Action we were really able to understand that there really are so many different ways to tell a powerful story.
Liz: And I think that’s exactly what we wanted out of it. I mean, we were totally new at this. We’d done some playing around before and basic interview stuff, but to think about where we were before Take Action and how we would do an interview now… is completely different.
What’s different now?
Liz: With technical setup, we always thought we knew what we were doing… and we did it and things turned out fine, but now we know why we’re doing the things that we’re doing in terms of like lightning and setting up, using a tripod vs. a monopod, lens choice… all of that stuff that goes into making an interview happen.
And also we’ve improved in terms of just making the person feel comfortable.You know, if Ryan’s on the camera and I’m actually doing the interview, handling our communication between the two of us in order to make the person feel more comfortable and confident.
So even just the practice element of it is huge, that was another thing we really took away from Take Action — actually getting out there and doing it, just forcing ourselves to do it. Practice really does make perfect — and I wouldn’t say we’re perfect, but we’re definitely a lot better now.
Do you think it’ll be hard to get people to open up about their marriages to you?
Ryan: Yeah, but that’s one of the things we’re most excited about — starting that conversation. It’s true, a lot of times within marriages these are conversations that people want to keep private or are ashamed to talk with other people about. But, hey, we did a webinar with six other couples in April, and interviewed them and… they really shared their stories with us, the hard times and the good. There were two in particular that just totally put themselves out there and shared it all… and it was even surprising for us, like seeing that they were willing to put themselves out there and share their story in hopes that someone else wouldn’t have to go through what they went through in order to get where they’re at… it was inspiring, and gave us hope.
Liz: Even if there are only five couples out there willing to share their stories, that’s a start, and us being to get the ones that start that conversation… that’s incredible.
You’ll need to assemble a team for this project… where are you with that?
Ryan: That’s one of our next unknown factors. It’s not necessarily a fear… so much as an unknown, an obstacle we still need to figure out. They’ll need to be not only people who do the job well but that we get along with well and think it’s a meaningful project to do. When everyone’s inspired to begin with it’s just going to turn out better. Like, we could get the best horror/action movie film crew and it still wouldn’t turn out well.
Have you ever had any moments where you wanted to bag the whole project?
Ryan: Well, that would definitely be the easy way out. We could say “hey, we could have done it but it would be really hard to do, we have so much else going on…” and stop there. I don’t think we’ve ever seriously considered not doing it, and yeah, it might be taking us a little longer than we hoped to move forward with certain things… we’re busy and there’s a lot going on in life. Doing a documentary from scratch when you’ve never done one takes a lot of effort…
Liz: We’re dreamers, through and through. We honestly come up with random ideas all the time, and somehow at the end of the day it gets done and we follow through with it. I remember specifically coming out of a consultation with Patrick, and him saying… “So, what do you think are the chances that you guys are actually gonna do this?”
and, without skipping a beat, I said “100%” — I mean, we’re fully into this and we’re going to do everything we can to make it happen.
How are you balancing this massive project with your daily life?
Liz: There’s definitely been ebbs and flows, like there’s been weeks where we’re really obsessed with it and spend like, entire days at the coffee shop just dreaming about it, and I love that. But then we have our business and just our general lives — I would say we’re learning every day to work on balance, and it is an every day struggle. Adding the documentary to it is just like another part of our business that we’re doing.
Ryan: I think we’re pretty good at prioritizing stuff that comes up. Right now it’s a pretty busy wedding time, so we’re good at getting that work done and out of the way, and that’s when we spend the extra time focusing on our relationship together and the documentary.
So yeah, we’re doing what we need to do to keep our business alive, and then also putting time and energy into this project, and keeping our own relationship strong… it’s a lot, and there have definitely been times where we spend the whole week working on the documentary. When we made the website for the nominations, it was like a two-day thing where we worked non-stop to get that done. And then the treatment was also like 2 or 3 days of working non-stop to get that together. I know that as we go forward that type of dedication is going to get even more consistent, we just have to learn how to juggle all the balls and not let any of them hit the ground.
Would you say you’re on schedule at this point?
Ryan: In terms of our ideal timeline, we’re a little behind. But we’re ok with that as long as we’re still making progress… at this point we’re waiting for some feedback, and once we get that we can really start to move forward and get other stuff squared away. Now we’re securing the base of what our photography business will be next year, so that we can spend more time focusing on the documentary. Yeah, I think we wish it was a little further along at this point, but it’s something that we don’t want to be in a rush to do.
What drives you to keep going?
Liz: It all goes back to story, when you think about it. It started in our hearts as a passion and a story we wanted to tell. And, through all the fears and doubts and scary things that are going through our minds… when we know in our hearts that we’re passionate about the story, that’s it, that’s all we need. We have that passion and desire to drive us through on this project.
Ryan: And just knowing that anything is possible. When you have fears and doubts, you just have to push through it and figure out how to educate yourself best so you can do it.
And that’s one of the reasons we reached out to Stillmotion and took Take Action, because there were holes in areas and we needed to educate ourselves to fill them in. Really, anything that’s ever been done started with an idea to begin with. If someone else was able to do it — I mean you see it on TV, Netflix, Hulu… and if someone else was able to do it, it should be something we can do too, we just need to figure out how to make it happen.
So… here we go!
Are you ready to take action?
We wanted to share Liz and Ryan’s story with you because they’re such a great example of why we believe in the Take Action Challenge: they pushed themselves to work on the areas of filmmaking they needed the most help with, and immersed themselves in the weekly hands-on challenges.
They’re serious about their project, and they’re dreamers — and really, that is the only way for an aspiring filmmaker to get a project up and off the ground.
And now that their project is up and off the ground, they still have some major questions to answer…
How will the project get funded?…
What is really the most effective way to tell these stories?…
Who will they hire to be their crew?…
Will their couples open up to them in the interviews?…
Is there even an audience for this material?…
With all these questions still unanswered, this project is about to change, adjust, and change some more as they dig deeper. But they’re doing it, they’re moving forward — even when it might feel particularly scary or risky.
This is how documentaries get made… this is how you take action — by believing in yourself and being a dreamer, but also being realistic about the steps you need to take to achieve that dream.
What advice do you have to share with Liz and Ryan?
Leave your words of wisdom below… let’s show them some love!