This post is by Grant Vance from No Film School

SXSW 2024 may have wrapped up the annual film and arts festival last week, but it’s never too late to learn from some of the most creative minds and up-and-coming talents to watch in the industry.

Please enjoy our filmmaker roundup below of the biggest challenges and best advice from the filmmakers of SXSW 2024.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts of the filmmakers who replied to our survey. Their responses have been edited for clarity and length. Enjoy!



‘Immaculate’Courtesy of SXSW

Elisha Christian (DP) | Immaculate

Challenges:

We shot on location in and around Rome, and most of the locations would not allow any rigging inside. Key grip Tommaso Mele and gaffer Elvis Pasqual were used to this, and came up with ingenious solutions in these locations.

One of the most technically challenging sequences was shot in the actual catacombs under Rome. Sydney Sweeney’s character is being pursued by Alvaro Morte’s character, lit only by a flashlight and a lantern. We had an 8 hour day to shoot the entire sequence, and the first two hours of the day were spent waiting for the equipment to acclimate to the change in climate underground. We had to keep to a skeleton crew, and we also could only be underground for 1.5 hours at a time and then we all had to make our way to the surface for fresh air. The spaces were incredibly tight, and sometimes the “ceilings” were so low anyone over 5’10” might scrape their head.

Advice:

Make as much as you can. Experiment with different techniques and mediums. Help on projects and build your network. You never know where the next opportunity will come from.

Philippe Chrusten (Distributor) | Joseph Rouleau: Final Encore

Challenges:

Emilie Rosas (Director) meets Joseph Rouleau in 2017, hoping to produce a film documentary about his lifework. Indeed, the film director was astonished by the absence of a documentary chronicling the singer’s exceptional career. The project evolves to showcase the numerous archives of Joseph Rouleau using new technologies.The idea is a success, and the project immediately wins the support of the SODEC (in Quebec). Despite M. Rouleau’s death in 2019, the team pursues their hard work to pay tribute to this great man. Completed in 2022, the prototype VR experience reproduces a conversation with Joseph Rouleau, who confides in a touching and intimate way various anecdotes from his life. The narration, reconstructed through several interviews, reveals not only the artist, but also the man behind the image.

Advice:

Explore the different possibilities of storytelling.

Konstantin Minnich (DP) | KRZYK – Losing Control

Advice:

Give everything. When it feels right, move on, when it feels wrong take a break and analyze the situation- don’t force yourself to move on when it doesn’t feel right.

Connor Illsley (Director/Producer/Editor) | Last We Left Off

Challenges:

The challenge on Last We Left Off, like most VR projects, was getting the best possible image quality and resolution for playback in a headset while minimizing stitching issues. On top of this all of our scenes have several main characters and highly detailed sets, all of which required a lot of fine tuning, cleanup and printout in post production. We used the Insta 360 Titan for most of our scenes, it allowed to shoot quickly with high fidelity, but required a lot of attention to be paid to blocking and scene action to give us the best chance at a seamless stitch. The Titan is notoriously difficult for these closer more intimate dialogue scenes, we felt it ultimately worth it for the ease and speed of operation to help us fit everything into our three shoot days.Advice:

Film making takes a village, it’s a beautiful, collaborative act of artistic creation. If you have the courage and the audacity to dream up ideas to be made into movies, make sure you are always setting the example of exactly how hard you can push to make something that aligns with your vision.

Cady Buche & Travis Barron aka Unlimited Time Only (Director & Producer | Little Dragon “Kenneth”

Challenges:

We saw this music video as an opportunity to deploy a bucket of practical effects we had been wanting to try for ages. Gallium, chrome party hats, kinetic sand, candles, and play dough—were all used to build a melty world that the audience could not only get lost in but feel tangible detail on screen.

Advice:

Done is better than perfect! Don’t try to make a technically perfect film out of the gate or wait for the ideal resources to get started. Start with easily achievable projects, and steadily release work out into the world while making an effort to improve your craft with each project.


‘Live From the Clouds’Courtesy of SXSW

Mackie Mallison (Director) | Live From the Clouds

Challenges:

The subjects of Live From the Clouds (my family) are riddled with anxiety disorders that have prevented them from traveling to find our family in Japan and, at times, traveling outside of their homes. To open the film, we used collage animation to create the visions, memories, and imaginations that have come about because of these constraints.

Advice:

There is always a way. We couldn’t get the project funded for years, so in the meantime would fly for free on standby flights, record family conversations on a small mic, and create audio collages to imagine what the project would become. This allowed us to refine the story with richness and seek what we were looking for when we eventually filmed. Oftentimes the constraints are what allow for the best surprises and innovations to bloom.

Nicole Chi (Director) | Los Mosquitos

Challenges:

The main challenge in Los Mosquitos was working with an all natural cast. It was both the challenge and the beauty of the project, but it required for all of us in the crew to be thoughtful about ways in which we could make the set atmosphere a familiar space, and to be able to navigate emotional spaces of vulnerability but at the same time make it fun for the young cast. The majority of the team are Spanish speakers and/or part of a migrant diaspora, and so we were able to have them all connect really well with the actresses and understand their experiences.

I remember our DIT became the “abuelo” (grandpa) of our youngest actress, although he definitely was one of the youngest folks helping out. I think that speaks a lot about the tone we set out to create, although the film is definitely more serious and emotive. We also did some fun things like attend some of their family gatherings and have rehearsals with the heads of department before the shoot, so this allowed us to bond a bit more and remove the awkwardness of a first dry encounter on set.

Advice:

I think my advice would be to surround yourselves with people you trust, and that you know will push you in the direction to make the film better. This might mean you will hear harsh truths about something not working like you intended, and having to figure it out again, but that’s part of the transformative process of making a film. And honestly, in my experience, when something like that happens, one has to set the mind to understand that’s for the best, and keep moving on. Let nothing stop you!

Susan Park (Director/Writer/Actress) | Lucy & Sara

Challenges:

I would say the main overarching challenge was the lack of resources. We were an eight person cast/crew shooting 45-50 page in eight days. Which meant that everyone (save for sound) doubled/tripled/quadrupled as something else. I.e. actor/camera, actor/AD, actor/gaffer, etc. We lived under one roof and spent every waking minute together. The irony is—that this specific challenge was also part of the magic and also made it easier in a very warped way.

Advice:

JUST DO IT. There’s no such thing as a perfect time. Just do it and learn as you go.

Chi Thai (Writer/Director/Producer) | Lullaby

Challenges:

After writing the script, Chi (writer-director) made initial enquiries with production designers about how to go about flooding a basement. Although initially thinking they would need to make a set to submerge in a water tank—costs to undertake this and technical challenges with shooting and lighting meant this was abandoned quickly. After talking to producers who had built their own temporary water tanks in studios we learned this was considerably cheaper and resolved many of the technical challenges around shooting and lighting. This was the route we would forge ahead with.

At this point, Amy Addison was Lullaby’s production designer and costume designer boarded the project. From initially reading the script for Lullaby Amy was both excited and horrified by how many elements were SFX and how we could achieve them within a budget and short shooting schedule.

The most obvious challenge was flooding the basement/boat. Amy researched heavily in very early prep and spoke to as many people with experience in this area and all the SFX folk she’d worked with in the past.

She figured out how to do a basic build that could be flooded and lit, as well as essentially being two sets with only an hour reset. She pre built the set at her workshop and worked with the DP and director to make sure we weren’t making it too big/small/shallow; and then we transported it to a small SFX studio in Buckinghamshire, where the temporary water tank was being built.

Her main building worry was always that even after weighing it down enough that the set would just float away – she had a trust in her extensive calculations (and had all fingers crossed) while the tank was being filled up.

With as much prep as she had, Amy entered into the actually physicality of the shoot: trying to keep floating fish still, make sinking babies sink and chucking an octopus to the actor at the right time was a lot, but, adding on top of that, the pressure your legs experiences when wearing a dry suit in 3 feet of water for hours at a time, it was a massive task physically and mentally.

(We are very happy to report that the timber we used to make our set was entirely repurposed into a large shed at SFX Studio we used to film in too!)

In the house scenes Amy’s main challenges was having a very speedy get in time, in a very narrow space, with a lot of different moving parts. She had made a lot of SFX rigs herself and it was an all hands of deck effort with my small team to be at the monitor, resetting props and prepping SFX. The balloon child was an effect she really loved researching and testing. We wanted to make it feel slow and subtle and magical, and not clunky or comical. She did a lot of tests with different lengths and widths of tubes for airflow and think we managed to achieve the subtly in the movement.

Advice:

Write scripts, make films, find collaborators. Drive yourself to always be making. Celebrate and protect your dearest collaborators—as you stand on their shoulders, film is a shared endeavor.

Talia Shea Levin (Writer/Director/Producer) | Make Me A Pizza

Challenges:

There is a great deal of vulnerability and care that all team members on a set like ours need to show up with every day. Producer Kara Grace Miller and I worked to craft a dedicated team that was not only comfortable with the content, but excited and compelled by it—it’s an enthusiastic consent model that applied to every level of the process.

An extraordinary crew can’t stop every inevitable bit of chaos though – our film lab told us at first that they were unable to process an entire 400ft roll of film because of a “sticky black gunk” on the emulsion side. The roll in question had come off the core in the camera and had to be re-rolled, so we expected some scratches – but no one had any idea where the mystery substance (we SWEAR it wasn’t our cheese cum) came from. Three weeks of panic later and the film came back in bad shape, but there was an image! With some help from many experts, particularly Nicki Coyle at The Negative Space who re-scanned and digitally restored the damaged film, we got it into such good shape that we had to re-add grain in post so it matched the un-damaged footage in the rest of the film.

Advice:

“Trying to make something “good” is the most boring thing you can do. Chaos reigns. Make the thing that you feel like you can’t believe you’re getting away with, and do it with the people you love hanging out with who are more insane than you are. Infuse it with joy, and try to enjoy it all.”


‘Malta’Courtesy of SXSW

Natalia Santa (Director/Writer) | Malta

Challenges:

“Being a personal story, most important was casting, it took us time to find the right fit of actors, even when shooting had started. The other was location. We wanted the film to have a realistic feel to it and finding a home for Mariana which already was decorated as the character she represented was also paramount. There was always a search for a documentary spirit to the film, where the actors could blend into a real set.”

Advice:

“Be patient and kind, your love for film will do the rest.”

Liliana Torres (Director/Writer) | MAMÍFERA

Challenges:

“The dog’s main character, Cleo, is blind in the movie. And she was, indeed, blind for real. That obligated us to adapt the set to Cleo’s needs. For example, once the art design was ready we left the set and Cleo would came with her trainer and sniff around to get used to every corner of the space, because during the shooting she was unleashed. Cleo was also especially sensitive to noise or sound, imagine if a regular dog is already sensitive, when you have a blind dog, that multiplies. So, we had a “silent shooting” during all Cleo’s scenes, the only ones allowed to talk were the actors, but for the rest, must be silent. Cleo was also very attached to her trainer, so she would be around the actors feet most of the time to keep Cleo around, too.

Another production challenge were the animations. They were done with animated collage technic. That means that you have to look for thousands of images to work with, find the royalties, process them and pray in order your storage system and software don’t crash too often.”

Advice:

“I don’t know if it will feel inspiring, but I would advice too things. The first one is calm and patience, somehow society has inoculated into us that we have to succeed at 24 in order to have a great career. This is very unlikely and I’ve seen many people frustrated and defeated because their first movie wasn’t a blockbuster or had bad reviews. Directing is a discipline that often gets better while aging. The second advice would be, observe, observe, observe and then investigate to contrast what you’ve observed. As directors our point of view over our stories is a responsibility, it is our message to society. We must train ourselves in observation of reality and work, as a good journalist would do, once we have our subject or thesis. And then, you are ready to write.”

Aidan Erbter (Producer) | Marvin Is Sorry

Challenges:

“For our climactic late night show sequence we knew we wanted Multicam coverage both to add realism to the scene and for scheduling purposes. We had two Alexa Minis with us on the day but wanted a third camera to cover the wide shot. We didn’t know how we were going to get everything at the same time. We were shooting at a public tv station that had Sony HXC-FB80SN studio cameras and our Steadi Cam Op, Douglas Lau came up with the idea of using his monitor to record footage straight off the studio camera. It allowed us to achieve the full Multicam set up we needed and gave us an authentic TV look.”

Advice:

“Film School is a great place to meet people, the best thing we all got out of NYU was the connections we made. Not-so-much the actual craft (but we are also all writers and producers).”

Bianca Caderas and Kerstin Zemp (Directors)| Matta and Matto

Challenges:

“We were a small team of five animators. i think the biggest problem, if you could call it a problem, was that we all tried to make it too perfect, too clean. We wanted the lines to be a bit more trashy and wobbly than normal. That was more difficult than expected.”

Advice:

“Focus on topics in your films that really interest and move you and not “what people want to see”


‘Meat Puppet’Courtesy of SXSW

Eros V. (Writer/Director) | Meat Puppet

Challenges:

“Without wanting to ruin the film, there is a lot of interaction between the puppet, and the cast. If we had millions, you’d build a raised set and hide the puppeteers below it, but we didn’t have millions and I wanted to shoot in a real location. So, as you can imagine, we had to get very out of the box with how we made that work.”

Advice:

“An idea is the most valuable thing in the universe. If you’ve got one, remember that and treat is as such.”

Kailee McGee (Director/Writer/Producer) | My Idea – YACHT

Challenges:

“The biggest production challenges were that we did not have a lot of money to execute my idea. It’s very expensive to do real motion capture, to shoot at real motion capture stages, and use real motion capture suits. So, we decided to create our own version of (Read more…)