The Happy Filmmaker Blog

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  • Refresh and renew with Live Your Legend's 7-day blog challenge

    Those of you who have been following me for a while, already have an idea why I am writing this blog, those of you who just started, might wonder.

    So here is a post to refresh and renew:

    • our acquaintance: Hello, dear reader! Welcome to the Happy Filmmaker blog! I am glad you have made your way here and I hope you will enjoy what you find.
    • and my own writing practice: This is why I have decided to give myself a writing boost and join Live Your Legend's 7-day Start-A-Blog challenge. Spoiler alert: you can already have a blog, like me, to join the challenge. For "The Happy Filmmaker" more than starting a blog this is about getting into a regular blogging habit again - and writing about things that are really of interest to you, the audience.

    So let's start with a brief introduction again:

    Hello, this is me, Sibylle.

    And that image pretty much sums up what this blog is about: being a happy filmmaker. To tell you what I mean by that, let me tell you a bit about this picture.

    The photo was taken by a dear colleague and friend, Pantelis Sakkadakis, a cameraman who works with me on the documentary Κάτι Υπερβατικό (Beyond the Personal). I am the director of that - and wear a whole lot of other hats as well, from the more glamorous cinematographer role to the less exciting producer and fundraiser part. The normal joys of making independent documentaries in the 21st century.

    When I started with this project in 2015 - glamouros start, I was filming three musicians who I deeply admire on a concert tour to Carnegie Hall - I did already know what I was getting myself into with this project.

    Independent documentary filmmaking is an adventure. Often a financially risky one, even if you are making a film featuring such illustrious artists as Ross Daly. The financial side makes it often frustrating, to say the least. It is sometimes also downright frightening.

    But I did know that when I started. I have already made one independent documentary film, called The Island Bus. Lots of blood, sweat and tears for that one as well.

    So where is the happiness in that filmmaking?, you might ask. Well, first of all, beyond blood, sweat and tears, it has also been an amazing ride. I met the most wonderful people making that first documentary, learned a million things, had to overcome almost as many hurdles (my personal favourite for scariness was my first ever TV interview as a director, on national lunchtime TV, live - in a language I was only starting to be fluent in). And these are just the showy things. The real beauty lies in making the film itself.

    Which leads us back to the photo, cause it has a lot of the ingredients of the happy filmmaking life:

    When Pantelis snapped that shot of me, we were filming an interview with Ido Segal, a virtuoso on the Hansa Veena, a kind of Indian slide guitar. Not only is Ido a musician whose playing I love listening to, he is also a very lovely person. We were talking about topics that we both found deeply engaging, the location was in the courtyard of a dear friend who let us borrow her house for a stunning backdrop to the interview, I was working with three people in the team who are not only good at what they do but also great fun to be around (apart from Pantelis, there was Nickolay Dorozhkin on the camera, and Klairi Kefalogianni recording sound). It was a beautiful summer's day, I was deeply immersed in the production of Κάτι Υπερβατικό as we were filming musical seminars, concerts and interviews with many of the musicians who teach and perform during the summer months at Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Crete near where I live.

    The interview went well, everybody was happy and even a little bit goofy and silly when we finished the shoot and I was in the flow. A dream project of mine was coming to life. It is a film that I care about deeply. It is a film about how art - music in this case - and the act of creating it brings together people from all over the world, who could be divided by nationality, culture, education, status, experience, religion. But they are not. Their music unites them and us, the audience, in the process. It recently occured to me that in a way the piece of music the film is about, a composition by Ross Daly, is more effective than UN Peace Talks.

    This is precisely the kind of film I love to make.

    In the picture, I am making it.

    The Happy Filmmaking life consists of - you guessed it - making films and being happy while you do it.

    How do you get to that point? That is the question I am exploring in this blog.

    Judging from that picture, ingredients include the following:

    • being able to make films - this might involve a whole lot of creativity before you even get to creating the film itself. I mean, creativity in finding the means to do it. There are very encouraging and in some cases innovative ways out there to help us with that and I am devoting my own working life and also parts of this blog to finding them and trying them out. (For one of my recent findings, suggested by a caring friend, check out the previous blog entry about Jack Conte's TED talk introducing Patreon.)

    • working in an environment that is good for you - that includes your geographical environment. There are filmmakers all over the world, not "just" in Hollywood, Mumbai, London, Berlin, Paris, Rome or any other big cinematic city. Sure, there are more of us in those places, yes, some opportunities might be easier to come by, networking is a different thing, but if you don't want to or cannot or simply are not there (and I currently am not, though I have lived and made films in two of the cities mentioned above), and enjoy where you are, it should also be possible to work as a filmmaker. It might be different. I am not only making this documentary. I also work as a location scout, as a local line producer for foreign productions. I film music videos, promo videos - and if need be, I do a whole lot of other jobs, from creative to mundane, to be able to make films right here where I am. To make films, you often have to change your location anyway. But if your environment makes you happy, that's a pretty good start. Greece does make me happy, the islands in particular. So working out how to combine the two is one of my missions. (Why I think Greece is so good for me will take up too much space here now, but is a good topic to explore in another post, cause I think I have found some parametres that universially make for good living.)

    • working with people whose creativity sparks your own (and vice versa) and whose company you enjoy - which is actually still part of the environment. The people you work with should be the people you want to spend your time with. Cause you will be spending an aweful lot of time with them anyway. I have been on too many draining, ego-fuelled, anxiety-obsessed and backbiting-inducing shoots in my life, I don't need any more of that. Funny enough, there seems to be a cliché about the world of filmmakers being like that. I have found that to be wrong. I know a ton of creative people who are also wonderful human beings. I keep them as close as I can. And try to be wonderful myself - as much as I can. And luckily enough, there are a lot of tips and tricks out there to reach that Zen state. Anything that helps us being more happy makes us also nicer to be around with - and guess what: happy workplaces produce faster and better work. Take that, Sony execs and bitching film crowd. For a long time now, I model my behaviour not anymore on the despotic directors or the bitching creatives I have met in my time, but try to learn from my happiest, kindest and most accomplished friends. Some of them run small businesses, some are stay at home parents, some are successful writers, producers or directors. It doesn't matter what they do, their attitude and how they achieved it is what I'm interested in emulating.

    • mining your own creative "genius" - which is simply to say: make work that you deeply care about and that you want to be associated with and known for. In my case, this means working on films that I would like to see more of myself, and that I believe can inspire their audience to enjoy their lives more, be kinder to themselves and others, find wealth in themselves and their lives, and explore routes they are longing to explore. I believe in this kind of work and want to see more of it. (Not only from myself but also from others, cause I really enjoy watching it, and I believe there isn't enough of it in the world yet.) So when I feel I am working on something like that, happiness levels soar. To explore what this work can be and how to create it, is another focus of this blog.

    • connecting with an audience who is looking for exactly that kind of film you are making - which is downright the best reason and the most important one to make films at all.

    And I think that about covers it, my definition of The Happy Filmmaker.

    Be sure there will be more added as we go. But I hope it has served as a re-introduction and given you an idea - and maybe some questions or thoughts to ponder yourself - about what you will get on this blog.

    Happy to have you met you here!

    See you again soon!