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6 Filmmaking Tips from Texas-Based Directors

Local filmmakers in Austin, Dallas, and Houston share their best advice.
Texas State Outline
By  · Published on March 9th, 2017

Hollywood, New York, and Atlanta are the big hubs for filmmaking in America, but Austin is up there as having one of the greatest indie scenes in the nation. Not everything has to be bigger in Texas, and while there have been a number of famous directors to come out of the Lone Star State (Linklater, Rodriguez, Malick, Hooper, and Wes Anderson, among them), there are a ton of small but significant voices, as well. Below is a collection of filmmaking advice from a handful of these Texan talents.

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Engage with the Community

Whether you’ve got the support of a local scene like Austin’s, where moviemakers and moviegoers intermingle healthily, or you find your fans online, it’s beneficial to have a relationship with the people who’ll come to see your work. Matt Hullum, co-founder of Rooster Teeth and director of the crowdfunded feature Lazer Team, told KUT 90.5 in 2015:

Transparency and open communication with your audience is always the best policy. It really is a bi-directional kind of relationship now, and in the past it’s been much more one-sided. The culture of the internet has changed that…Our financiers were our fans.

For specific ways to engage with the community through the culture of the internet, there’s a helpful list of social media tips compiled by the Sundance Institute and the Austin Film Society in 2015. Here’s one of them from producer and distribution consultant Annie Bush (Tower):

Films/Movies are part if this mystical, seemingly far-off world to people who aren’t filmmakers. Provide access to the filmmaking process with behind the scenes, get-to-know the filmmakers, regular updates, personal videos, to break down the distance between fans and their involvement in your film. Make the people behind the mystery of film real and relatable.

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Watch the Right Movies

A lot of filmmakers in the big time will suggest for young directors to watch a lot of movies. But East Texas native Michelle Mower (The Preacher’s Daughter) says, in a 2012 interview for Houston Press, to be specific:

First, you have to watch films. I’m not talking about the big-budget Hollywood fare. That’s not the kind of film you can make starting out. If you’re going to make independent films, you have to watch independent films.

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Get Off Your Couch and Do It Yourself

You can watch films, but don’t sit around criticizing them. Make your own! For this week’s obligatory encouragement to just do it, here’s Louis Black, a filmmaker (Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny) and co-founder of both SXSW and the Austin Chronicle, last year:

Keep Doing It and Keep Pushing Yourself Until You Make It

Just doing it doesn’t mean anyone will see what you do, but if you’re passionate and relentless, eventually you could find success. Dallas-based David Lowery, who recently hit the big time with Pete’s Dragon, and his producer Toby Halbrooks shared some personal encouragement back in January while promoting their latest indie, A Ghost Story:

Take It One Step at a Time

Considering she broke out as a filmmaker as a preteen, Emily Hagins (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) may not seem like the person to recommend patience as a virtue, but this advice offered in a 2012 interview for The Huffington Post is still worth following:

If you think too hard about a big project you’re undertaking, it becomes very overwhelming. [When I filmed my first movie], I wasn’t thinking about how big it was, I was just thinking about how badly I wanted to do it. Persevere through all those little obstacles that are inevitable and just finish it, because at the end of the day, you end up with something you’re proud of.

Also related to the idea of being patient and taking things one day at a time, Hagins gives a tip in the same interview on writer’s block:

I think the best thing to do is to write something else entirely, even if it’s not involved with your project. If it’s just feeling wrong, it doesn’t matter how many drafts you do, because it’s not there. So, you kind of have to wait for your brain to sit on it, like, ‘Aha!’ You can’t force anything creative.

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Make the Most of Any Situation

Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) attended film school. He’s also sometimes a film school instructor. Yet he doesn’t seem to recommend attending film school. However, if you do commit to going to film school, he has this advice for you, via a 2015 MovieMaker magazine interview:

It’s the year 2015 and you’ve decided to attend film school. Congratulations! You are a very impractical person. May as well commit, I say, and use this time as creatively as possible. You’ll have the rest of your life to get your ass kicked by economic realities. For now, take advantage of the bubble you just placed yourself in. And enjoy it.

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What We’ve Learned

It’s not surprising that so many great filmmakers decided to stay in or move to or shoot in Texas (I recommend a 2013 New York Times feature more focused on why that is), but these people and this place can be an inspiration for artists and scenes in other parts of the world. They offer mostly universal advice, some of it stuff we’ve heard before like just do it and keep doing it and do your own thing. Some of it, mainly the community-oriented tips, reminds us what a model for indie filmmaking Austin in particular is, yet even that stuff ought to translate to other locales.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.