GOSHEN — Asked his advice on the best way for today’s aspiring filmmakers to try their hand at documentary filmmaking, Shawn Rhodes kept it simple: just go do it.
Rhodes, producer of the feature film “This Is Love”, was one of six filmmakers invited to speak on the topic of “Developing the Doc” during a panel discussion at the Goshen Brewing Company Saturday morning. The talk was one of several featured events offered during the third and final day of the 2019 River Bend Film Festival in downtown Goshen.
Joining Rhodes on the panel were Kyle Hufford, a film and video production teacher at Goshen College representing the film “Deep Dive”; Riley Mills and Elizabeth Derstine, co-directors of the short film “Honeysuckle Whiskey”; Nikhil Melnechuk, producer of the film “Don’t Be Nice”; and Matt Litwiller, representing the short film “Liminal”. Local artist David Kendall served as moderator for the group.
With the digital revolution in full swing and access to a quality camera just a smartphone away, getting started in the filmmaking business has truly never been easier, Rhodes explained, noting the most important step is just to get out there and start shooting.
“Take your iPhone, which shoots in 4K, or something like that, and start cutting your teeth,” Rhodes said. “This stuff isn’t necessarily easy, especially getting in on the back end of this. But you’ve got to start somewhere. So just start now. For you kids that are out here, and even if you’re not kids, if you want to go do it, just go do it.”
Melnechuk offered a similar sentiment, noting his excitement over the fact that many of the barriers that had made breaking into the filmmaking industry particularly difficult in the past have now largely been eliminated.
“It used to be that you needed film and technicians and thousands of dollars,” Melnechuk said of the industry. “Now that you don’t have that, what I think hopefully can change is how immediate the process of creating a film can be. Everyone is pulling out their cameras to take selfies, and I think that might change the way films look and feel if there’s less setup, the intention is more immediate and direct, etc.”
Like Rhodes, Hufford encouraged aspiring filmmakers gain as much experience as possible making films, with the understanding that there will be plenty of stumbles and missteps along the way.
“I tell my students all the time to make mistakes and make them often, because you learn more from your mistakes. So practice and repetition,” Hufford told the assembled crowd. “Start small, start with a small story, and then build and do another one, and do another one, and do another one, and eventually you will get really good at it. And don’t wait. Don’t wait until you feel like you’re ready. You’re never going to be ready.”
For her part, Mills’ advice for aspiring filmmakers was take advantage of their support networks, as such networks can often mean the difference between a stalled project and a successful one.
“You’re never alone. Any project you work on, you have support from other people, and sometimes it’s really helpful when you get really close to something,” Mills said. “For most of us, these are passion projects, and so when you are passionate about something, sometimes you hit a wall, and it’s really hard to push past that. But you have people around you that can give you really great insight and perspective that you don’t have because you’re so incredibly close to it. So I would say keep reaching out to people. It can be embarrassing to show something that maybe you’re not super confident about, but it is super helpful to get that feedback.”
INTEGRITY IS KEY
As for Derstine, always keeping integrity at the forefront was her key advice for successfully breaking into — and thriving within — the film industry, particularly when it comes to documentary filmmaking.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with documentary filmmaking,” Derstine said. “You are sharing someone else’s story, and people are being very vulnerable with you in interviews, ideally, and you have to carry that and do that with integrity. I think that’s what makes the documentaries of everyone here stand out, is that you carried peoples’ stories with integrity, and people trust you.”
John Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN