Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.
I am a 24 year old writer/director based out of Indianapolis, Indiana creating independent films & music videos. I’ve been obsessed with film for as long as I can remember but really started taking it seriously the summer between high school & college. I had attempted to write a screenplay & make short films a few times around the ages of 19-21 but I never worked consistently enough to make real progress. Last Spring, a few friends in my life gave me the pushing & gassing up I needed to begin taking it seriously & I’ve been working hard on projects ever since.
What drove you to choose your career path?
My path has been an interesting one & a route I don’t think a lot of filmmakers have taken. For the last four years, my full-time jobs have been as a social worker. Right now, I work at a re-entry organization helping currently & previously incarcerated people with mental illnesses & traumatic brain injuries get connected to the community resources they need to succeed in whatever way that looks for them. Truthfully, a lot of that spills into my creative work because there is just so much humanity in what I do. It makes for impactful storytelling.
As for getting involved in film, many things have been pushing me in this direction over the years. All the time I spent watching Martin Scorsese movies as a young teenager is probably the actual answer. However, a few filmmakers have been the catalyst for me over the last year or so. There is this awesome writer/director out of Michigan, Joel Potrykus, that has been my biggest influence. He makes these films that are like punk fever dreams. His characters have shitty temperaments but are never lacking humanity. He works with a small budget but his movies feel huge to me. I recommend all of his films but I always tell people to check out “Buzzard” & this short film he made on 8mm, “Coyote.”
The other creators that have had the biggest influence to my work are the Safdie Brothers, based out of New York City. Josh & Benny have this incredible style that breeds maximum intensity. They set their cameras so closely to people’s faces & it makes me feel both claustrophobic & mesmerized. Their film that came out in 2017, “Good Time,” might be the most important film I’ve ever seen in terms of me feeling like I “gotta create something right now!” every time I watch it.
How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
My full-time job took me busting my ass in college for four years, working on my social work degree, all while working at an addiction hospital wearing scrubs & helping people in alcohol/drug withdrawals take showers & change their socks.
On the film side, I’m contemplating going to film school. I applied to the University of Columbia & New York University’s graduate film programs. The acceptance rate is really low so I’m not getting hung up on me “needing” to go there. My education has been trapping myself in my bedroom over the years & movie theaters & watching as many films as possible. I learn so much more from movies now that I’m making them too. I am looking a lot more closely & trying to see how each shot was achieved & how I might incorporate something like that into my own work.
What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?
WRITING. I underestimated how much that would go into making films & music videos, which now seems ridiculous in hindsight. I generally write every single day. Even if it’s just for a few minutes jotting notes into my iPhone. Actively working on things has also made me much more creative & ideas seem to be flowing pretty freely now. Not always interesting or particularly useful ideas, but they’re there. Actually getting to the computer & creating a screenplay is such a small part of all this for me. I recently wrote the first draft to a feature length screenplay in three days. I trapped myself in a room & knocked it out. However, I spent more than four months free-writing at coffee shops during my lunch breaks to make that possible. So much writing.
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
I’m still new to this world, so I’ll talk about my own misconceptions I had going into it.
I had this idea that you couldn’t really make anything worth a damn without nice equipment. While on certain fronts that may be partially true, it’s mostly an excuse. I’ve used my iPhone 7 for every project I’ve worked on since I started. I’ve used several different apps in an attempt to make the images more interesting but it’s still just a cell phone. Some of this is definitely out of necessity with my social worker salary but a lot of this has been about choice. I’ve seen my friends over the years make great records/art/etc. without a lot of money. My ride or die homie, Grey Gordon, put out an album last year under his Kill Surf City moniker that was made entirely in his bedroom. The album is fucking awesome & is that way because of his hard work & talent. I’ve been so inspired by that!
Another misconception I had is that you could exclusively work on things when you feel especially creative. For me, that’s just now how it works. If I only worked on things when I felt 100%, I wouldn’t be making much stuff. Another close friend of mine, Dusty Neal (owner of Black Anvil Tattoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana), has taught me so much about work ethic. Work hard! Along with being a tattoo artist, he is a really talented writer & he only achieved both of these things through doing them all the time for many years. I strive to be like him.
What are your average work hours?
As a social worker, I’m working Monday-Friday from 8:30-5:00. Almost without fail, my hour lunch breaks are spent writing. I’ve missed a lot of lunches because I had some stuff floating around my head I didn’t want to forget. This just means I have to stay really focused & methodical about working at nights & on weekends. All my projects have been filmed on the weekends. It does sort of feel like I’m working 7 days a week right now but I’m a big believer in paying your dues. People become great because of their hard work & I’m down for this.
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
My first batch of short films, I more or less had the concept down & then shot them. After I had 4 done that way, I reviewed how I was doing things & decided to switch it up. I now go through the script & write out every single shot I plan to film & in what order. It makes for a lot more work but it has helped speed up the time it takes to film something tremendously. Of course I end up getting different shots during the filming but having it all planned out has been so helpful. I can choose to improvise rather than need to.
Also, who cares if something is perfect? If your shot conveys what you want it to & it looks decent, bam. You got the shot. I try & make films with the same diy/punk/hardcore attitude you hear in the music. Fast. Van Gogh painted things as quickly as possible & tried to do them in one sitting. He was pretty damn good so I’m stealing that from him.
What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?
First & foremost, how many social workers turned filmmakers can you think of? I believe this really sets me apart because I have a really interesting view of humanity. I feel lucky to have this perspective. It does feel necessary to share. People are mostly doing the best they can, even the shitty ones. I want to make other people humanize people they normally don’t.
I also think my lack of importance placed on the visuals is different, for the good & the bad. I am really into lo-fi sounds & appreciate the aesthetic quality of that music. Things like Mark Winter’s D.L.I.M.C. project comes to mind as well as Alex G’s music. I want to create films that look like that sounds somehow & embrace images that aren’t traditionally “good.” I love the look of a lot of rough digital & 8mm micro-budget films so I want to add to that myself.
Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
What's the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
Honestly, the actual production part of things. I’m still green in a lot of areas so I don’t entirely feel comfortable during the process. A lot of directors I’ve listened to seem to say something along the lines of it never going away which is a bummer. But I think that nervous energy pushes me to make sure I am very thorough in my pre-production & planning for the projects.
What's the most enjoyable part of the job?
This may sound corny, but the creative process is the thing I enjoy the most. I love the conception of the initial idea & watching it build from there, all the way through execution. It’s felt really rad to see a thought I had while walking around downtown Indianapolis become a fully realized project that other people see & have thoughts or ideas about. I find so much enjoyment out of scribbling away in my notebook after I get really interested in something & then shooting off texts or hopping on a call with my friend, writer/director Eric Pennycoff, who is based out of L.A. (His first feature, “Sadistic Intentions,” came out last year & anyone reading should peep it when it becomes available).
What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?
As a social worker, I’m making a little over $30,000 a year. This doesn’t leave a lot to pour into my film projects but I make it work. I’m unsure of what I could ever expect from working in the film industry. If I could make enough to have a place to live & some food to eat while focusing solely on my projects, it would be gucci for me. Anything on top of that would be a dream.
How do you move up in your field?
This is something I’m sure I need to focus on some more. Now that I’m starting to figure out what my voice looks like through filmmaking, I feel more confident reaching out to folks whose work I respect. I have a lot of really talented friends & I plan to continue to grow that circle. Being surrounded by interesting & hardworking friends is what pushes me to get better.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
A clichè answer here, but start making something! I’ve made everything with the tool that’s in most everyone’s pockets nowadays. Obviously you don’t have to start or stop with your cell phone but it’s been so important for me in just being like, “Fuck it, let me try this out.”
I recently directed a music video, yet to be released, without ever leaving my bedroom. I recorded images off of my television & did my best to distort them & create something new with the construction of other videos. It’s not my “best work” but it’s another project experimented with & executed. You learn something new every time that will carry over & improve your next thing.
It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are right now. It’s going to take so much work regardless. If you want to make films or videos in any capacity, start making them & see where you’re at. Go from there. DIY or die!