ALan Berliner's Advice
tell me something:
Advice from documentary filmmakers
edited by jessica edwards
Follow your fascination. Find what it is you’re drawn to. What you’re magnetized by. Emotionally. Psychologically. Unexpectedly. Irrationally. Ineffably. The ideas, persons, places, or things that make you think. That make you worry. That bring you joy. That bother you. That amaze you. That make you want to know everything there is to know about them.
Enter your subject with an open spirit. Each film you make is a journey. Throw away your expectations, assumptions, and your detailed itinerary. Allow yourself to get lost along the way. Make room for surprises and discoveries. Play.
Remember that filmmaking is a process. No one gets it right the first time. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In filmmaking, self-doubt is both contagious and self-fulfilling.
Know that some things will be out of your control. (That’s part of the process.) But also know that one thing leads to another. Quickly or slowly, but always. Know that a path is a path, even in a fog.
Don’t be afraid to have bad ideas. Every good idea is the great-grandchild of bad ones. Bad ideas point you in two directions. Away from what doesn’t work. And towards what does.
Listen to your film. It will tell you how it needs to be made. Quietly at the beginning, like a soft pulse. Then loudly and more clearly towards the end, like a strong personality. Sounds crazy but it’s true.
Make friends with luck, accident, and serendipity. They are forces that can be garnered and cultivated. They are your allies.
Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts. You’ve been honing them your entire life. You are your own best guide. Try to become your own best critic. In filmmaking, confidence is both contagious and self-fulfilling.
Each film you make is a unique equation to solve. Take pleasure in the challenge of finding unique solutions. Each film you make is a mystery to solve. It will confound you at every turn, and push you to the edge of your wits.
It’s supposed to be hard. And fun. It’s supposed to be fun. And hard. You will never stop learning how to make films. Get used to that.