filmmakers

Every Time You Receive A Rejection Letter From a Festival, Submit to Two Others by Keith LaFountaine

After months of waiting, I finally got the ever-depressing notice that Sundance Film Festival was not going to be including my film in their festival. While Withoutabox.com -- one of the sites I use to submit my films to various festivals -- still lists it as "In Consideration" the full list of accepted short films was released on Monday, and my film was not among them.

Getting that rejection notice is always difficult. After you put your blood, sweat, tears, and heart into a project it's frustrating to be met with a wall of rejection notices preventing you from moving forward. It is especially frustrating if you have spent money on your project (like I did) and/or have had someone invest in your vision (like I did). You want to get your name out there and you want to deliver for the people who put their time into making your film work -- mainly your producers, your crew, and your cast.

But sometimes it doesn't work out like that.

Sundance is the Holy Grail of film festivals. If you get into Sundance, it means your filmmaker career is officially on the up-and-up. It is also a great sense of accomplishment, given the small chance of being accepted.

I knew Mirror was most likely not going to be chosen. That's not because it's a poor film in any regard. However, with 8,740 short film submissions and only 69 spots available, we had a 0.78% chance of getting in. It was going to take quite a miracle, in other words.

It doesn't make the rejection sting any less, nor does it make dealing with the rejection any less difficult. However, going in with the knowledge that you are going to get that rejection slip dampens the blow a bit.

I know a little bit about getting rejected from film festivals. I also know about getting rejected from publishers, literary magazines, and literary journals. I'm not going to lie to you -- every single one of those rejections feels like a sledgehammer to the gut. After a while, your response to them stops being "why won't they accept my film?" and becomes "of course."

A small sample of the rejection notices I have gotten from festivals listed on FilmFreeeway.com

A small sample of the rejection notices I have gotten from festivals listed on FilmFreeeway.com

The important thing to understand about this business, though, is that it's a numbers game as much as it is a game of luck. The vast majority of films that get rejected from film festivals are good films. Just, for whatever reason, they weren't the right films for that festival. 

So every time you get a rejection notice, I want you to submit to two more festivals. Use websites like FilmFreeway and Withoutabox. Submit to local film festivals; submit to international film festivals; submit to Cannes; submit to Sundance. Submit to every film festival your film is eligible for. The more places your film is submitted, the higher your chances of it getting accepted are.

A perfect example of this is in that picture above: in the list of festivals you will see a listing for the 44th Student Academy Awards. I submitted my thesis film, Stalker, to that festival last year. They received 1,749 submissions that year, and Stalker was among roughly 87 films (5% of submissions) that were shortlisted. And while it didn't make it into the actual festival, that is a number to be proud of. Too often we dismiss the "almosts" because we don't consider them successes. That is a success, though.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't feel bad about the rejection notices; it also doesn't mean that licking your wounds and being frustrated is bad, either. After I realized Mirror was not going to be in the festival I played Call of Duty to keep my mind off of it, and then I came here to whine about it a bit (while also, hopefully, imparting some wisdom). It's not wrong to feel bad when your films get rejected. You just can't let that rejection keep you from pursuing this career.

You are going to get many, many more rejections than successes. Very few people take the Tarantino route. The road to success in the film industry is paved with frustration and hard work. You just have to put that hard work in. Maybe it wasn't the right festival; maybe it wasn't the right project. But that doesn't mean you will never make the right film or submit to the right festival.

As I said, it's a numbers game. So keep submitting and upping your chances.

The Top 3 Mistakes I've Made On Film Sets (Which You Should Avoid Making) by Keith LaFountaine

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
— Murphy's Law

Maybe it's a bit cliched to begin this post with one of the most over-quoted adages in existence; however, it is important to mention, mainly because of how true it is in the film business, and on film sets.

I have been fortunate enough to be on many film sets (here defined as sets with more than one actor and more than two crew members). Of my own films, in the past five years, I have behind the camera four times. If there is something I have learned while on these sets, it's that Murphy's Law can be expected to rear its head at some point or another.

No film runs perfectly. There are always human errors that are made, whether you have a crew of five or a crew of five hundred. These mistakes are things that could have been avoided through simple logical deduction, and some precise planning. However, for one reason or another, I messed up. More importantly, though, here is how you can avoid making them yourself.

3. MOVING FORWARD WITH AN UNFINISHED SCRIPT

This itself is not always a mistake. There are plenty of films out there (Jaws for example) where they practically wrote the script on location. In the 2017 documentary, Spielberg, Spielberg himself admits that they had no finalized script when Richard Dreyfuss joined the project. There are also situations where improvisation is more applicable than a rigid script. Taika Waititi used a more improvisational style for What We Do In the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok.

I wrote the script for my 2016 feature, Departure in about two weeks. It was 60 pages long, was very rough around the edges, and desperately needed further re-writes, revisions, and -- most importantly -- time for me to think about it. However, I did not do these things. Instead, once I had written those words "HARD CUT TO BLACK" on paper, I was instantly putting out casting calls.

Departure ended up being a mostly improvised film anyway. I realized that my cast worked best when they were able to take control of their scenes with general tips -- it gave the film a more relaxed, casual, and accessible feel than the script would have. This is easily noticeable when comparing the scripted scenes with the improvised ones. While the former feel stilted (due to my dialogue that I didn't revise), the latter felt more natural, and more believable.

Making a feature is complicated and there are a lot of things I would go back and change. However, if I could choose only one thing to do over again it would be to spend more time with the script. Doing so would have allowed me to flesh out my ideas more, trim the fat on the story, and overall create a more engaging, accessible, and enjoyable film.

2. NOT USING TIME ON SET WELL

Even in the digital age where we aren't literally burning money by running rolls of film, time is still the most crucial aspect for a film set. It spells the difference between a well-made, and confident, film and a less cohesive effort. As a director you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, especially if you have a rigid budget -- you want to spend more time with the material, on set, so that you capture the best takes and are able to fully realize your film. On the other hand, you are spending more money every second you, your crew, and your actors are on set. In other words, sometimes you have to sacrifice perfectionism for budgetary comfort, and vice versa.

In my most recent film, Mirror, I overestimated how quickly we would be able to shoot the scenes we had. I inferred, based on my script, and on my shot list, that we would be able to get through everything in three days, roughly averaging around nine hours a day. Boy, was I wrong. We spent roughly ten to twelve hours a day on set shooting. 

Most of this was my fault, as I continually called for multiple safety takes, and would try and challenge my DP and have him set up complicated shots. Because of this, and because of the nature of the film's narrative itself, morale in the cast and crew eroded at a quick pace. By the third night we were all overtired, overworked, and ready for some R&R.

If I had been a little more flexible with my scheduling, and if I had been more efficient (or more intelligent) on the set, I could have shaved hours off each scene, and saved a lot of time and effort. However, I didn't and -- while the film itself came out great -- cast and crew morale suffered for it.

1. WORKING TOO HARD, AND BURNING OUT

I am still learning, and still honing my skills behind the camera. Part of being an effective director, especially one that likes to be a part of on-set tasks beyond working with the cast, is being a leader. No matter how tired, how sapped of energy, or how irritated the cast or crew may get, it's the director's job to pull everything together, and to get the team through the day.

However, the director can't do this if they, themselves, have burned out.

My team and I shot Departure in roughly fifteen days. We had a few half-days thrown in there, and a few overly long ones as well. These days were roughly ten to twelve hours long, and sometimes consisted of driving two hours between our locations when necessary. Needless to say, this took a huge toll on our crew members, our cast, and on me. In fact, by the end of it, I was barely making it through the day. Our last few days of shooting I was sick, tired, and stressed -- I relied a lot on my team to bolster morale in the group, and to get us through each and every day. Needless to say, some simple planning, and better scheduling, could have changed that.

When I shot Mirror we worked incredibly hard every day. By the end of the third day, I was burned out yet again. I wasn't as involved on set as I usually was, and my cast noticed this (and called me out on it). I managed to find some energy in me to push through the rest of the day, and we wrapped on a positive note. However, the energy and excitement that had been present on set during the first day of shooting was gone by the end of our final day.

The point I'm making here is that making a film, like many things in life, is like running a marathon. If you run really hard for the first six miles, the remaining length is going to be a pain-in-the-ass to get through. When you're on a film set, though, there are people's careers, money, and precious time on the line. You can't afford -- both literally and figuratively -- to overwork yourself, and to burn yourself out too quickly.

At the end of the day, your team is going to be the most important part about this shoot. Even if you manage to avoid these three mistakes I have made, there will undoubtedly be other hurdles to overcome, and other challenges to face. The goal is not to avoid tribulation entirely, but to know how to handle it when it inevitably occurs. Having a good team by your side, who believe in you and your story, is priceless especially during those moments when you don't believe in yourself.

25 Films All Beginning Filmmakers Should Analyze by Keith LaFountaine

Part of being a filmmaker is learning from those who came before you. While film school can provide you with a more structured exploration, and analysis, of films and their importance, you can certainly do this homework on your own.

If you are a beginning filmmaker, and you seriously want to explore this medium, I highly recommend you watch, and study, the following twenty-five films.


25. A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN | NR | 13 MIN.

Photo by A7A09064_035.JPG - © Archives du 7e Art/DR - Image courtesy  photo12.com

Photo by A7A09064_035.JPG - © Archives du 7e Art/DR - Image courtesy photo12.com

A Trip to the Moon is one of the most famous short films of all time, and is often shown in film classes due to its incredibly innovative effects, and ambitious story. It is also one of the earliest science-fiction films ever made.

There's a lot one can learn from this short film. Effects are front and center, as there are some clever usages of editing and perspective at play here. However, one can also learn short story structure from this. Most importantly, though, A Trip to the Moon offers a valuable insight into film's infancy, and the creativity that is possible even when restricted by equipment and budgetary parameters.


24. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 103 MIN.

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Documentaries are often not what most film students aspire to create. There's such an allure around narrative, fictional filmmaking that documentaries and other 'real' forms of artistry in this medium are rarely pursued. However, learning how to tell a story (whether fictional or truthful) is always important. Enter Werner Herzog, and his highly praised 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man. Depicting the life, and unfortunate demise, of Timothy Treadwell, this documentary is full of things to analyze and understand.

In particular, character development is on display. While Treadwell was a real person, Herzog still unfolds his story in a precise manner. In doing so, and controlling which images and scenes we see first, it's almost as though we can see a progression of personality in Treadwell that follows a typical narrative arc.

Furthermore, Grizzly Man is excellent for those who may be interested in documentary filmmaking. It shows that documentaries can have an overt directorial presence without taking eyes, or thought, away from the subject material.


23. Suspira (Dario Argento, 1977)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | NR | 92 MIN

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Suspiria is among a select few films I would deem 'artistic' -- not just good horror films, and not just good stories, but true art in every sense of the term. This is accomplished through its use of lighting and cinematography; both elements help enhance the horror on screen, and consistently set the tone and atmosphere.

If you are going to learn how to do horror from any film, Suspiria is an excellent place to start. No jump scares or forced horror here -- just pure fear, excellent escalation of tension, and precise filmmaking.


22. Intolerance: Love's Struggles Through the Ages (D. W. Griffith, 1916)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN | NR | 197 MIN

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D. W. Griffith is one of the most important directors in cinematic history. He was one of the first directors who managed to create huge, expansive experiences that pushed the medium into new directions. He was the first director to use a close up, and his narratives often spanned many years, characters, and themes.

After the intense revulsion to his incredibly racist 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, he set out to create a film that negated that claim, and pushed his career to new heights. That film was Intolerance, a three-hour epic that spanned three different time periods, all interconnected by the singular theme of 'intolerance'.

This film is not as successful in its execution as others in this list; however, it is important to analyze due to its production, and its innovative usage of narrative storytelling. While interconnected stories across different time periods isn't exactly 'new' nowadays, knowing how to accomplish it affectively can enhance your stories, and help you view your narratives in new, fresh ways.


21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 108 MIN

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In all honesty, Charlie Kaufman's writing is something all film students should analyze. He is one of the most inventive, and sharp, writers currently working. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps the best example of how Kaufman manages to make a rather tired, overdone story (AKA the break-up story) into something unique, enjoyable, and profound.

Michel Gondry's direction also perfectly complements Kaufman's writing, making this film both visually and literarily incredible. New filmmakers can learn a lot from this film in every respect, and so it is an important entry on this list.


20. It's Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON PRIME | NR | 62 MIN

© Don Hertzfeldt

© Don Hertzfeldt

Often times, aspiring filmmakers will focus too much on the visual imagery of their story, and not the narrative substance. This can be detrimental for a few reasons -- as numerous films prove, pretty imagery doesn't make up for a poor story. Don Hertzfeldt, with his trilogy of short films (which were eventually cut into this feature film) prove that, even with simple, stick figure animation, you can tell an incredible, heartfelt story.

It's Such a Beautiful Day is a testament to good, heartfelt, and profound writing. 


19. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | NR | 90 MIN

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Breathless is important from a couple of different perspectives. Firstly, it is an incredibly interesting discussion (some may even go so far as to call it a parody) of American crime films. With our main protagonist dressing up, and acting, as though he is Humphrey Bogart, it's hard not to draw parallels.

However, it is also important from a post-production perspective, as there is an interesting usage of voiceover and editing to enhance mood, tone, and atmosphere. Furthermore, from a visual perspective, Breathless is a gorgeous film, and offers plenty of analytical material for those who wish to find it.


18. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO VIEW ON AMAZON PRIME | R | 101 MIN

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Before Sunrise, and the following two films in the Before trilogy, are testaments to incredible writing, fantastic acting, and pitch-perfect chemistry on set. Sunrise all takes place over one day, involving different, provocative conversations about a variety of topics. What's incredible is how riveting this film is -- we're only following two people getting to know each other, and yet it's a wholly engrossing experience.

Before Sunrise is a great example of how to write great dialogue, and how to trust your talent. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke both added a lot to the script, as they got to know their characters. This, in turn, helped enhance the quality of the script, and the quality of the film.

The cinematography itself is very minimalist, and allows the viewer to focus on the characters, and the dialogue.


17. The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez; 1999)

MY RATING: ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON AMAZON (WITH HBO SUBSCRIPTION) | R | 81 MIN

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I really dislike The Blair Witch Project. I think it is an incredibly manipulative film, with horribly written characters, and an extremely anti-climatic ending. However, I cannot deny that it was a box office smash, and an audience sensation. It caused a proliferation of found-footage films (another reason I'm not fond of it).

When it comes to the film 'business', this is an important film to analyze. With a budget of roughly $60,000, and eight days of principal photography, they made this film. It has now grossed over $140 million (meaning it made back over 6,000% of its budget).

So while I may dislike this film from an artistic perspective, I can't deny that it is worth analyzing from a business mindset.


16. This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

AVAILABLE ON DVD | NR | 98 MIN

This documentary is hard to dig up, however I highly recommend you do so. This Film Is Not Yet Rated offers rare insight into the MPAA and its rating system. More importantly, though, it offers insight into the corruption that exists in the MPAA, and the film industry, and the ridiculous standards this private business has for films.

While it may frustrate most filmmakers, it is also important to understand how this side of the business works. Filmmakers are held to certain standards, and held within certain parameters, that make artistic exploration difficult (especially in the context of what some may consider offensive).


15. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | NR | 145 MIN

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There are a huge slew of World War II films that have been made, mostly from the perspective of the US (Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, The Thin Red Line). However, Army of Shadows explores the struggles, and the moral difficulties, inherent in the French underground resistance. In many ways it is the best film made about the war, and it is much more profound, and intellectually provocative, than many other films about the war.

If you are a filmmaker interested in historical fiction, then Army of Shadows is an excellent film to analyze, and pick apart.


14. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich; 2003)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | G | 100 MIN

© 2003 - Pixar/Disney

© 2003 - Pixar/Disney

Finding Nemo may seem like an odd addition to this list, but it is important for a variety of reasons. From a storytelling perspective, this film manages to transcend age groups, being entertaining for children, and profound for adults. It's visually inventive, with cutting-edge animation, and it has an excellent story at its heart.

In essence, Finding Nemo is the epitome of what animator have always tried to do. Even with films like Toy Story, or Monster's Inc., animation has the ability to push boundaries in new, inventive ways while still delivering powerful narratives, and great characters.

For animators and filmmakers alike, Finding Nemo is an important film to analyze.


13. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 137 MIN

© 1968 Paramount Pictures

© 1968 Paramount Pictures

We don't talk enough about methodical plotting in filmmaking, and we should -- especially when it comes to horror. Polanski is a master of perfectionist plotting, making sure each, individual element is delicately placed so it can all come together in the third act. Rosemary's Baby is the best example of this perfectionism on display. Tension is slowly, deliberately ramped up to the terrifying, and stunning, climax.

Too many films rush their plot, or sloppily integrate their story elements. Studying a film like Rosemary's Baby can help you avoid such pitfalls.


12. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 116 MIN

Photo by Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani - © 2010 Fish Head Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani - © 2010 Fish Head Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For a while now, but especially since 2005, the US film market has been obsessed with remaking foreign films for an English-speaking audience. We've seen this in the numerous remakes of Japanese horror films, like Ringu, Ju-On: The Grudge, and One Missed Call. Most of these remakes are bad, poorly translating the elements that make the original so frightening. However, every now and then, we get a remake that both honors the spirit of the original, and creates something new with the narrative.

Let Me In is one such film. Adapting the original film, Let the Right One In, it manages to strike the appropriate balance between horror and drama. With an incredible cast, solid direction from Reeves, and gorgeous cinematography, Let Me In is an excellent example of how to do a remake.


11. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

AVAILABLE TO VIEW ON AMAZON PRIME | R | 91 MIN

© Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

© Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Back to more inventive filmmaking! The One I Love also takes on the romance genre, portraying a couple on the brink of separation. However, how McDowell explores these characters, and how he portrays their struggles, is innovative and fresh.

This is also a funny film, with plenty of levity to balance the more dramatic moments. It is a great example of how to write a tired narrative in a fresh, exciting way.


10. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1960)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | NR | 28 MIN

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Marker's La Jetée is important for a number of reasons. First of all, its science-fiction narrative is incredibly interesting, and well written. Secondly, its usage of still images can be seen as a deconstruction of the film medium, and an extremely unique storytelling tactic. Thirdly, its usage of voiceover adds an ominous atmosphere to the entire film, making it more suspenseful, and more interesting.

For a short film, La Jetée is incredibly influential and important. It is well worth your time.


9. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | NR | 162 MIN

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Stalker may not be Tarkovsky's best film (that is left up to debate), but it is certainly his most accessible. With an incredibly interesting story at its root, and profound philosophical themes of hope, loss, and exploration, Stalker is a beautiful blend of poetry and filmmaking.

With this film, you can gain an understanding as to how film can transcend its own medium and become something more important, and more powerful.


8. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO VIEW ON NETFLIX (US) | R | 154 MIN

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One of a few pretty stereotypical choices, Pulp Fiction is, nonetheless, an extremely important film. It's non-linear narrative was extremely innovative at the time, and the dialogue is incredible. Tarantino's direction is also incredibly solid (which is impressive, considering this is his second feature), and the cast is perfectly chosen.

Pulp Fiction defies a lot of typical filmmaking conventions, and for that reason it is vital to understand on a deeper level. From its simple cinematography, to its great sound design, to its pitch-perfect writing, this is a film well worth your time.


7. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | NR | 96 MIN

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2013 Silver Screen Collection

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2013 Silver Screen Collection

One-location films are really hard to accomplish. Unless you have a really interesting story, and some well-defined characters, a viewer may get bored with the story, and the setting. One-location films have often proven to be some of the most tense, and powerful, though. It is all dependent on the execution.

With 12 Angry Men, the set-up is very straightforward: a man is being tried for murder. The twelve jury members have to decide unanimously whether or not he is guilty. Eleven of them say he is; one says he isn't.

What ensues is a powerful exploration of morality and the judicial system. Filled with an incredible cast of characters, and extremely taut direction, 12 Angry Men is an incredible film, and one you should watch over and over again.


6. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 109 MIN

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Children of Men excels in a number of capacities, but it really does well at injecting subtext and character into each moment. The story at its core is exciting, and there are a number of action scenes in the film, and yet the most tense moments are the calms between the storms. You feel uncomfortable even when the characters seem safe. That is powerful writing and direction at work.

Furthermore, Children of Men shows how the single-take shot (something every cinematographer seems to be obsessed with right now) can be used effectively to add realism to the scene, and to create suspense.

Children of Men is just a very well rounded film with a lot underneath the surface. You can learn a lot from it.


5. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 175 MIN

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Another pretty stereotypical entry on this list, but there is a reason why The Godfather is consistently hailed as one of the best (if not the best) films ever made. Every component works beautifully -- the visuals are memorable and gorgeously crafted, the cast is impeccable, the story is well adapted and tautly written, and Coppola's direction is stellar.

In other words, The Godfather is a gold mine for beginning filmmakers. Not only is it easily accessible, and fun to watch, it also has tons to offer.


4. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | PG | 128 MIN

© Universal Studios - All Rights Reserved

© Universal Studios - All Rights Reserved

As the 'master of suspense', there is a lot one can learn from Alfred Hitchcock. Vertigo is the perfect example of taut plotting, well-developed characters, and inventive imagery -- all of which works together to create a compelling, and suspenseful, story.

While Vertigo may not be as well known as Psycho or North By Northwest, it presents a level of maturity that the others don't, which makes it more helpful to beginning filmmakers.


3. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 113 MIN

© 1976 - Columbia/TriStar

© 1976 - Columbia/TriStar

The main difficulty many writers and directors deal with is the desire to push artistry and experimentation in a business that wants convention and marketability. In other words, if you are interested in making more experimental, ethereal, or contemplative cinema you have some difficulties ahead. It's not impossible, as these final three films will demonstrate, but it is a challenge.

Scorsese's Taxi Driver shows that art can be blended with convention, though. While the story of a cab driver taking revenge against the evil in his city may not seem like an incredibly original story, the artistry comes from Scorsese's direction, the cinematography, and De Niro's performance. All of these elements come together to create something unique, and -- in some ways -- profound.


2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | R | 147 MIN

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David Lynch is a beacon of hope for those filmmakers who aspire to make films that challenge their audiences. Whether you want to make completely experimental films, or if you just want to write challenging narratives, David Lynch is proof that it can be done.

Mulholland Dr. is not his most experimental film, but it is his best. Combining an engrossing narrative with his trademark dialogue, dreamy imagery, and deliberate editing, this film is full of things to learn from, and understand.

If anything, Lynch's continuous subversion of expectations, and his ability to control the story with a taut grip, are things to understand so you can use those lessons in your own projects.


1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★

AVAILABLE TO RENT ON AMAZON | G | 149 MIN

© 1968 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

© 1968 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

There is no film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Equal parts profound and engaging, this film is full of things to analyze. Its narrative is notoriously ambiguous; its visuals are beautifully crafted, and precisely framed; its sound design is legendary; its philosophy is profound; and Kubrick's direction is masterful.

In every way, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an incredible film. it singlehandedly redefined science-fiction filmmaking, and has inspired tons of filmmakers to begin their own career (I challenge you to find a filmmaker that started post-1968 who doesn't have something to say about this film). In every way, this film will help you understand the medium more, and, in turn, assist you with your own film.