25 things I’ve learned from being screened at a film festival

RIFF program and tags For the past seven months I’ve been working really hard to really make an entrance into the filmmaking world.

For years I’ve been looking to produce a film that made a difference in my life as a person and a story teller. Never did I imagine that a short film about surfers was going to do that.

I knew I had something good in my hands, but I didn’t know how good it was. Surfer dudes looking to help the environment and community by organizing beach clean ups and promote surfing, body boarding and long board skating to the next generation – this was a topic that I knew people would want to see. That the surfing community would want to share with others to challenge the negative stereotypes they’ve been labeled with for far too long.

In that process I didn’t know how this small film was going to impact, not only me as a person, but my drive to continue exploring this topic and bringing the message of conservation to the masses.

full audience at the Rincon International Film Festival - Documentary Night
full audience at the Rincon International Film Festival – Documentary Night

However, through the process of submitting and being officially selected from the 1,500 submissions, to be among the 87 Puerto Rican filmmakers to be able to showcase their films in such a huge platform like The Rincón International Film Festival, has been an incredibly learning experience. Here are the top 25 things I learned from it

  1. I’m way too hard on myself – it wasn’t until I saw the title of my film on the big screen in a jam packed room of people eager to watch the documentaries for the evening schedule, that I was convinced that it was all really happening. Still, I managed to see the mistakes I made and think “I need to make that better” and “God that’s an awful cut”. A lady from the audience came up to me and gave me a hug for a job well done. I was surprised.
  2. Being a solo filmmaker doesn’t make you less of a filmmaker – As the single writer, director, editor, producer and location scout I had my hands more than full during the process. It also made me more confident to compete with the teams of filmmakers that were present during the event. Not once did I think I didn’t belong there. No. Instead I found myself full with certainty that I belonged. There was a deep sense of gratification and satisfaction knowing that what a team of five or 10 people accomplished I did all alone.
  3. Having a huge production team doesn’t guarantee you a win – while watching the judges award their selections, I noticed that among them was a team of two – so it’s about craft, storytelling and dedication to the piece.
  4. Being informative doesn’t mean you have to be boring – There were some really awesome films that made an impact and were fun to watch.
  5. Being artsy doesn’t mean you are being informative – while there were films that were fun to watch, the message was a little lost. There has to be a mixture of both informative and artsy.
  6. My car hates me – seriously, she hated me for driving her two hours to the west. She got so mad she fumed and didn’t want to start. It was only after I stopped for gas, let her cool down, gave her some water, coolant and some special liquid treat that she turned back on. She also does not like traffic (she rattles in it), but when coming back home, she was so excited that the smooth commute took a little less than 2 hours…wtf?
  7. Fun music in a road trip makes all the difference – I mean, seriously, I kept on thinking how horrible it would be to be those guys in the Volkswagen Passat commercial with the Spanish DVD…So I want to thank: Adele, DJ Marvl, Calvin Harris, George Ezra, Calle 13, Cultura Profetica, Sia, Matisyahu, and Ellie Goulding for making/mixing some awesome music that people can drive to.
  8. My fear of public speaking > anything – really, the most dreaded part was speaking in front of the audience about my film. I mean, everyone became a blur, and I noticed I was having a hard time standing….
  9. I should worry less – there are many things that I do, and one of them I shouldn’t be doing is worry. I worry if the work is good enough, if the message is good enough, if the audio, if the music is perfect…I should trust my instincts more.
  10. Puerto Rico has an incredible amount of talent – it’s really exceptional. I knew there were some pretty talented people here, and I was lucky enough to be recognized among them, but there are so many more talented people, so many artists, so many great filmmakers here, it’s amazing.
  11. The Expresso (Freeway) turns into local PR-2 around Arecibo – really jarring for me. Usually, when going to a place I have to navigate the dozens of un-marked streets. This trip made it extremely easy to drive those hours because it was straight driving, only two turns; one right towards Rincón, and left to go into the hotel.
  12. I’m really attached to my dogs – all the while I wished I could have at least one of them with me…
  13. There are moments I want to cherish without a photo – not everything should be photographed, or shared in social media.
  14. Experiences like these give me motivation for new projects – even when crowd-funding hasn’t been successful and I’ve resorted to starting my line of handmade beach and tote and shopping bags in order to raise funds. I’m even more motivated to start on the next project now than ever before. There is no amount of obstacles that can make me say “I’m not going to make this piece”. I can’t wait to get behind the camera again!
  15. Never give up (even when others insist you do) – Your dreams are yours, and you should reach for them no matter what. Doesn’t matter if others understand them, support them, or not, never give up on the things you want to do. The rewards are countless once you reach that goal. Trust me.
  16. Don’t worry about the people who aren’t there – When I was checking in at the Filmmakers table, I told the girl “I have three people coming in” and she asked surprised “Only 3?!” I smiled and nodded. If I would have said that three years ago, and heard that reaction I would have cried. But last night I didn’t care. Three people I knew, one of which came with his small family came to support me, support the film and say “we’re here”. And while my father was home bound (his health has been incredibly poor lately), I knew in his heart he was incredibly proud. Every photo I posted of the event he shared within minutes. He called me twice to see how things were going. I got text messages from friends and some family in New York City congratulating me. That was way more important to me than having an entourage of people coming say “we’re here for you”.
  17. I’m not the only one who has a “producer parent” – nor will I be the last.
  18. Even professional filmmakers make transition mistakes – I saw it, with my own two eyes and I felt better about mine….hehehehe.
  19. You’ll find support in the most unexpected places – truly. After the second time I had to go up and speak in front of the audience, as I was walking back to my seat, a lady hugged me. She loved my film so much, she hugged me. She wanted to see more of it and that was priceless. That is what I’m looking for with my films, to make that sort of impact. It was incredible.
  20. I should be upset with my equipment – although I’ve been dying to get new filmmaking equipment, I shouldn’t knock the one I have. It’s worked well for me so far, and I should be grateful that I have it. Because without it, I wouldn’t have been able to make the film, nor would I have been able to get a warm hug from my first fan. Awesome – I love you Cannon Rebel T3i!
  21. Rincón is beautiful, and it’s also called “Stella” in Google maps – Which caused me to want to enjoy a Stella, in one of their amazing water for developing countries chalices. I also wanted to scream “STELLAAAAAAAA!”
  22. People will try to help you if they see you have car troubles – no matter where you are, there are genuine nice people that will offer a helping hand for car troubles. In turn, that restores my faith in humanity.
  23. I am a filmmaker – despite the fact that I still can’t believe it. I am a filmmaker.
  24. Being obnoxious is not pretty – nope…not at all.
  25. Humility, tenacity, and willingness to continue to learn will take you a long way – it will also ensure your career is a long lasting one and your success is consistent.
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