6 Filmmaking Tips Directly From Indie Pioneer Jon Jost

By  · Published on July 25th, 2012

by Jon Jost

Last Chants for a Slow Dance

Editor’s Introduction: With his first feature in 1974, Jon Jost launched a filmmaking career that can be proudly described as fiercely independent. His work has been seen at festivals all over the world, the MOMA in New York, AFI Film Theater in DC, and the UCLA Film Archive in LA. He’s made dozens of short films and dozens of features, although his most famous are probably All the Vermeers in New York and The Bed You Sleep In (for which he won respective awards at the Berlin Film Festival).

And he continues to make movies at a furious pace.

Normally we comb interviews and quotes for this feature, but for this entry, Jost himself contacted us with the desire to share a few tips. So, it’s with great honor that we present a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an American indie icon. Now, in his own words (and with his own tough love)…

Learn Everything

Learn by doing it yourself – how to shoot a camera, record sound, and everything else. Otherwise you will be at the mercy of others who may or may not know, and if you don’t know, by experience, you won’t know if they know anything or not.

The film biz if full of hustlers who will tell you what you want to hear.

Make Every Damn Day Count

If you really want to do this, and you have a digital camera of any kind, go out and shoot everyday so you learn what your camera can do and what you can do with it.

You don’t need “an idea” – you need to practice your craft – like a painter or musician, you have to do it every damn day. Otherwise you are just jerking yourself off pretending.

Avoid Advice That’s To Good To Be True

Don’t read any manuals, how-to books, or go to lectures that promise the 3 step magic to writing a script, getting a sale, etc. If you go to those, it means 99% you will never make anything or anything worth making. There are a lot of workshop/how-to-book junkies, and there is a flip side of those happy to peddle you useless advice for money.

Get Outside the Movie Theater

Live life. If you make movies because you see a lot of movies, you’ll make pale copies of the fraudulent “life” you learned in the theater. That’s not life. And if you don’t have real life under your belt you will never be able to say anything of interest outside an ossified academic world which mistakes the virtual for the real. Life is not movies, video or video games.

Don’t Bullshit

If you bullshit others you are only bullshitting yourself. The movie world is 98% bullshit. It’s all about money pretending it is about “art” or “how much you care about…”.

Be honest. A very rare thing in the film world (or the world in general).

You Don’t “Learn” to be an Artist

You are one or you are not. It’s like a musician – 100 years of teaching will not make a musician out of someone with no innate talent for it; if the talent is there, it can be encouraged and developed, and the talented person can learn through themselves, but it can’t be “taught” like mechanics. If you don’t already know it’s in you, it probably isn’t and you are kidding yourself thinking that if only you learn XY or Z, it’ll pop out. It won’t.

What Have We Learned

Editor’s Conclusion: It doesn’t get more direct than this. With a high degree of bluntness, Jost clearly champions the Get Out And Do It approach, but the toughest part of his tips might simply be the act of being honest with yourself as an artist. It’s one thing to claim to be a writer or a painter or a filmmaker and another to wake up in the morning, making the time to write, paint and make movies. Selling them is a whole other story, but at the very core of every artist is the simple act of doing.

On the subject of selling (or at least getting financing), Jost himself is a living filmmaking tip. His career is an outlier – not relying on studios help to ensure a consistent flow of movies over the past 4 decades or even some of the more typical indie routes. He’s had business relationships with American Playhouse and Strand Releasing, but he’s also financed or secured financing through his own production company. There’s a kind of magic in that, but it couldn’t have been the easiest road to go down.

For more from Jost, check out his personal website and filmmaking blogs.

To suggest a director, email us.

Check out previous entries in our Filmmaking Tips series:

Or enjoy a different feature

Related Topics:

This designation is reserved for our special friends and neighbors who pop in to contribute to the wondrous world of FSR.