If you’re struggling to find your place as a writer or director, you’re not alone.
Showrunner Tze Chun spent years in the trenches as an ultra-low-budget filmmaker and recently shared some inspiring filmmaking lessons on Twitter. (Link: https://twitter.com/thetzechun/status/1182676332741660675?s=21)
Before becoming the showrunner of Gremlins (WarnerMedia) and a writer/producer/director on shows including Gotham (FOX) and Once Upon A Time (ABC), Tze made short films on a shoestring and received more than his fair share of rejection before finally finding success at Sundance.
Enjoy these snippets from Tze’s inspiring journey, and remember: don’t ever give up!
Don’t be afraid to start small.
“15 years ago, I directed a short film called Windowbreaker. The budget was $600, I shot it in my childhood home, and the crew consisted of 3 people, including my producer who also acted in the movie. My mom acted in the movie. I rented the $70 lighting kit from the rental place where I rented lights for my high school senior project.”
Don’t let lack of money keep you from chasing your dream.
“After graduating from college, I made a schedule for myself to write and direct a no-budget short film every six months and write a feature film every nine months in lieu of going to grad school, which was too expensive. At the time, I painted portraits and authored DVDs as a main source of income… In the years since graduating, I made ten short films [before Windowbreaker]. That’s ten films that I’d begged my friends to crew on for no pay.”
Rejection is part of the game.
“…I went through the arduous process of writing, casting, shooting, editing, and submitting to festivals. And not one of them was accepted to a single film festival. Not one. Meaning, I had nothing to show for all this work. Every waking day was filled with anxiety. I woke up every night torturing myself about whether I was doing the right thing and feeling that I had failed at my intended profession.
…You get a lot of rejections and there is no one career path, so you never know if you’re doing the right thing. There’s a lot of confusion and dejection that you’ll experience along the way. But I’m thankful for the years where I was so worried, dejected, and disheartened. Because it makes me appreciate the career that I have now.”
It’s often darkest before the dawn.
“When we started submitting Windowbreaker to festivals, it seemed like the same thing that happened to my previous shorts would happen with this one. Over the first six months, we received over 25 rejections. There were days where I’d open my mailbox and find two or even three rejections sitting there on top of each other. At this point, this was business as usual, and so I just started working on my next short.
But then, we were accepted to the Woods Hole and Woodstock Film Festival, and in November of 2006 I got a call from Sundance programmer Kim Yutani and found out we had been accepted to the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.”
Take advantage of your opportunities when they come.
“This short was the first thing that opened doors and helped me meet people in the film industry. I got my first manager at Sundance, and he got me my first television job. A year later I made a feature film based on this short called Children of Invention, which played at Sundance in 2009. On the festival circuit with Windowbreaker I met my longtime producer Mynette Louie, who produced Children of Invention and my second feature Cold Comes the Night. Looking back, every opportunity that I’ve had in film and television happened because of this little $600 short film.”
Don’t give up.
“I know a lot of people who are trying to make headway in the film industry…and I know firsthand that this career path is at times a terrible, lonely, hard thing to try to accomplish. There are a lot of people out there who are struggling to carve out a place in the film industry as a writer or director. And for those people I want to say—it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been turned down or rejected. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been grinding away for years with nothing tangible to show for it.
You’re only ever one piece of material away from getting your foot in the door.
So don’t give up.”
Rebecca Norris is a producer, writer, and filmmaker with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Her recent award-winning feature film, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, has been distributed on Amazon Streaming and DVD. Rebecca is also a script analyst and consultant who has read for many companies, including Sundance, ScreenCraft, Bluecat, and the International Emmys, as well as her own script consultancy, Script Authority. Rebecca blogs for ScreenCraft, The Script Lab, WeScreenplay and Script Magazine, exploring the film writing and production process and encouraging writers to produce their own work. Follow Rebecca’s posts on Twitter at @beckaroohoo!
Tze Chun Photo Credit: Gabriela Herman