Leah Warshawski is a Seattle-based freelance producer who received a 4Culture Art Projects grant for the feature documentary Finding Hillywood in 2011. She has traveled and worked in more than 30 countries around the world, and is currently fundraising for her next documentary film, Big Sonia, with co-director Todd Soliday. Filmmaker Magazine recently published this article about Finding Hillywood and we are pleased to have some of Leah’s encouraging words for other filmmakers here:
For someone (like myself) who has always worked as a freelancer, seven years is a long time to stay at one job. The other day I came to a realization: I have probably worked on some aspect of Finding Hillywood every day for the last seven years – so I guess I do have a real job. And although the “pay” and “benefits” are completely skewed, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Making a documentary is hard. But despite the challenges – and there are a lot of them – I love my job.
When I decided to make a film in 2007 many people (including my father with the best intentions) tried to talk me out of it because they could see the uphill battle ahead. We had plenty of grant rejections and roadblocks along the way, including one pitch session jury member who wanted us to include “more African drums” in our soundtrack. But despite all of the challenges, we finished the film (thanks in large part to our 4Culture screening) last year and it’s having tons of success at festivals around the world. Since the world premiere at SIFF last year, we have screened at more than 30 festivals and we have an international rep and educational distributor. Our last challenge is finding domestic broadcast distribution – hopefully this year. Every time I participate in a Q&A session at a festival now I’m proud of what we accomplished and grateful for everyone who supported us over the years when all of the odds were against us. Today, it feels like we won.
Documentary filmmakers sometimes have a bad reputation for being scrappers, hustlers, depressed artists, or too passionate. But after seven years of living our film, I say, “Documentary scrappers unite!” Don’t let anyone talk you out of your next project, and here’s why:
1.) No other job allows you to connect with so many people – and some of them (like Ayuub in our film) become part of your extended family for life.
2.) If you don’t make the film you want to make, someone else will. And that would be sad.
3.) Rejection makes you stronger. Remember that “nobody owes you anything” and you will be better for the challenge. Sometimes people even let you write about it! (Like for Ted Hope’s Blog)
4.) Really, what else would you rather be doing?
5.) You will never be bored. I promise.
6.) People trust you to tell their stories. That is a rare gift.
7.) If you are a first-born child, you need a lot of validation, and the wins are that much sweeter. (Not that I have experience with this or anything…)
8.) Watching documentaries makes you smarter. So making them should do the same, right?
9.) There aren’t many other jobs where you learn something new every single day.
10.) When you finally do go to festivals and share your film with an audience, you will want to make another film. And based on the odds, the next one won’t take as long to finish!
We have tons of Seattle screenings coming up. Please come see Finding Hillywood in April and say hello in person!