As an artist, I can always find people that will compliment my work, even when I know it is not worthy. It's always nice to hear great things about our work, but we really need to know what people are really thinking about our films, good and bad. We all have these 'yes' people around us. They tell us what they think we want to hear. They offer praise but no criticism. But we must have the criticism from trusted people to improve our craft. The best way to receive this criticism is to have a few 'no' people on your team.
We've all seen films where we say, 'why didn't someone tell them this wasn't good?' Well maybe the film makers didn't allow 'no' people into the process, but having 'no' people who will give you truthful opinions and thoughts, will help you along the way by letting you know something isn't right, it is a critical part of the film making process.
You must find these people to surround yourself with. They must have your best interest at heart and tell you what you need to hear. These 'no' people will end up being the most important people on your team. When you ask them for advice or criticism, they will tell you the truth and hopefully know how to deliver it without too much drama or pain. They don’t need to be in the film industry either, sometimes if they don’t know how to make a film, you still know their advice is genuine.
Finding these people can be tough. You have to make sure they have your best interest at heart. You have to know that what they are saying is impartial, that there critique is objective and isn't coming from their relationship with you. You have to have a relationship with them that you can trust. These are people that will tell you things that you don't want to hear, but know how to deliver these harsh words to you in a way that doesn’t hurt you. You have to build up this relationship. Let them know that whatever they say is ok, that you will not take anything personally. You have to keep this promise or it won't work. These relationships are going to be crucial for your future successes.
As a director, I have to make many crucial decisions: cutting a scene, changing a character, adding the right props to the story and choosing the best music. Through it all, I need real criticism. Trusted criticism. I need the 'no' people to help me see the film with fresh eyes. I need the 'no' people to tell me how they really see the film. I also need to be able to hear what they have to tell me. Everyone and I mean everyone, will see your film differently. If I do my job right as a director, this will always be the case. People will put their own experience into the viewing of the film and it's a good thing that not everything is spelled out for them, so that they can have a completely unbiased viewing experience. With this though comes many different view points. I need to hear all those views. I need to know if people are not understanding something or are taking a scene the wrong way. Communication from people outside of the production process is so important and most film makers don't want to hear it. They want to think that what they have done is great just the way it is. Yes, at some point you have to make the film, but getting a good group of film makers and non-film makers to comment on it, will help to make it well rounded.
Hearing real criticism isn’t easy. Listening to them with an open mind is crucial and putting your ego aside is a must. It takes a while to know how to accept their words, but if you allow your 'no' people in, they will push you to open your mind to see new ways to deliver your story. They will open you up to try new approaches to communicate with your audience and they will push you to be a better director. When hearing this critique of your work, you must leave your feelings at the door. Remember that they are only speaking from their perspectives. They are not talking about you personally. They are reflecting what your film made them think and feel and this will most likely be different for most people. When you really hit a mark, most will think or feel the same thing about it. Just be very open to what others have to say. Take notes and use what you know is good.
When they tell you about what they think, don’t try to justify your choices, just listen and take notes. If you have to explain a part of your film to help someone understand what is going on, then that part of the film is not working. The film needs to stand on its own, you will not be there to explain the scene or plot to every viewer. Make sure you really listen to what you are being told about parts that are not working. Let what they say stay with you a while, sit with it a while, give yourself some time to take away anything personal about it. When you have a clear head, go back to the story, by yourself and see if their advice works. Allow yourself to see the story the way they did. Allow yourself to notice any flaws. Allow yourself to take their advice to improve your film. Try new things, edit it differently. If you are in script development, try new scenes or order the movie in a new way. Try new dialogue, or a different angle. Let your creativity flow around what they have told you.
It’s great to hear the praise, but it’s better to listen to the criticism. Surround yourself with 'no' people and your career will only strive from it. Learn how to take what they say and determine if a change will make your film better. Don't forget to thank them and let them know you appreciate their feedback, it's not easy to give criticism, so make them feel okay about what they have told you.
About Dawn Cobalt
Independent film director Dawn Cobalt was born on December 6, 1967 in Hawthorne, California. Raised in the suburban landscape of Los Angeles, she began her education in the fine arts and made a natural progression into film.
After graduating from The New York Film Academy, Dawn founded the production company FutureView Entertainment. Her entrepreneurial spirit and knack for storytelling won her awards in categories such as best director, editor and special jury prize.
Dawn’s unique perspective and styling has made her the auteur of her films since the beginning of her multi-creative career now spanning over two decades. Her films have been seen all over the world, and her stories strike at the very chord of the human spirit. They are emotional, inspiring, comical and always directed with a compelling message of truth and humanity.
Winner of eight awards, seven nominations, and screened worldwide, Out Smart (2013) is a story of a boy coming out to his parents as smart. Viewed by over 50 PFLAG chapters, various church groups and both public and private schools, Out Smart has helped ignite conversations for those that want to come out as part of the LGBT community. Featured on the Advocate.com and Huffingtonpost.com, Out Smart is courageously humorous in taking on such a deeply serious subject as homophobia and turning it on its head. Out Smart has not only been a beacon of inspiration and hope for young LGBT people all over the world, but also has made people laugh and think about how society views individuality and freedom of expression. Winner of the California Film Award for Best Director, SWALK (2013) has been proclaimed as an audience favorite throughout the 2014 festival circuit. This powerful short film controlled audience emotion in such a powerful way and in such short amount of time, (running time 4:53) that the visual portrait of love between the two characters was so deeply felt, the audience could not control their tears. The love comes through the screen.
“One of the joys of filmmaking for me,” Dawn exclaims, “is the collaboration when working with actors, both seasoned professionals and new talent. Being an actor’s director is a role that I take seriously, letting them shine is my intention.” One of Dawn’s favorite filmmaking moments came when she worked onset with the great talent Mickey Rooney. “He spoke of old time filmmaking and what it was like being onset during those days.” she said, “When Mr. Rooney was acting, it was like watching a consummate professional: on point, precise, a real class act. It is that type of performance that I want to bring out in the actors that I direct.”
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