The Happy Filmmaker Blog

Documentary
  • Success as a happy filmmaker

    As we are exploring the happy filmmaking life further, I would like to start with the first part: the happiness. We will explore the filmmaking, too, don't worry. But there are already a lot of very valuable tips out there about the technique and technology, the tools of the trade. Important to know. But all the tools in the world won't make you a happy filmmaker, if you are not happy first. Truth. (It's a bit like you won't be happy in a relationship - only for a short endorphine-fuelled high at the start - if you are not happy already. Truth that one, too. Trust me. Tried it.)

    With happiness I don't mean permanent cheerfulness, ignorance of life's more difficult aspects and neverending energy that is on 24/7. If you are after those, you might have to try cocaine or for a cheaper option that doesn't land you in prison, try sugar.

    If you are after what I would define as real happiness, read on.

    Happiness to me means a certain balance where you feel most of the time that things are working out, you find, that somehow life and work are in some maginficent order and you just have to show up to be part of it. Things might go wrong sometimes, or are a bit flat, but beneath all that, there is a permanent hum of happiness inside you, of happy stillness and peace of mind.

    That to me is succeeding in happiness. First requirement for being a happy filmmaker.

    There is a great quote about success by Arnaud Desjardins:

    Everything depends on Love. If we have professional success, we feel that Life loves us, that our employers, bosses, colleagues are no enemies. Love, love; do the first step!

    I have found the following to be a good definition of success as a filmmaker: if you feel loved by your audience, you consider yourself succesful. Success as a happy filmmaker also includes the love of colleagues, financiers, commissioners, producers, anyone you might depend on to do your work.

    Regarding my films, people often thank me for the places they have transported them to. Be it the physical place of a small Greek island or the places in our imagination and ourselves, the feelings the films evoke and the inspiration people derive from them. Audience members have thanked me for taking them on a journey to a place they didn't even know existed and giving them inspiration, hope and an idea to try out in their own life. (If you would like to check that for yourself, you can watch THE ISLAND BUS, the documentary that elicited these comments, here.)

    You cannot imagined how loved I feel when someone tells me these things. Bamm, success!

    In a wider sense, not necessarily related to any of my film or video work, people usually thank me for my kindness. Which again makes me really happy, cause the Dalai Lama's postulation that kindness is THE thing to get right in life ranks high on my list of priorities.

    Friends also often thank me for listening to them and for sharing advice I have found to be useful for myself regarding any situation they find themselves in. That is an absolute win-win situation because - I suppose you have guessed it from this blog - I am rather excited about sharing the things I am excited about. (And I love a bit of DADA in my phrasing, too.)

    Then there are those skills that I might possess but those around me not to such a high degree. Can be something simple: in a foreign country, surrounded by speakers of other languages, my native German skills are often appreciated. This obviously depends on the situation I find myself in. In Berlin, those skills might be of a little less value to the crowd around me. In the company of professionals of other stripes, having a photographer's eye and the technical knowledge to create images that speak to the viewer has earned me profuse thanks from those who were in need of these images for whatever it is they wanted to be photographed or filmed.

    Then again, there are professional skills that I have received thanks for: actors who appreciated my way of directing as it allowed them to bring out their best and shine, fellow artists who appreciated my input on their writing, editing and filming. (In a way, directing is mostly that: giving those creatives working with you feedback. What I try to do is leave room for their creativity - even if I don't understand yet what they are aiming for - to come out and do its best.)

    I am listing all these things not to tell you what an amazing person I am. (If you have read this far, you either appreciate my writing yourself, so at least you would agree on that one, or you simply wonder what the whole point of all this is. Let me tell you:) This list of what people thank me for is again a guideline for me to decide what work to do, how to do it and for and with whom.

    And that's important to know if you want to be not only a filmmaker, or if you don't just want to be happy, but a happy filmmaker.

    Find out what the traits are that elicit the love Desjardins talks about: the love of colleagues, financiers, employers, and your audience. Find out what people thank you for! Chances are, those are your greatest talents. So find those out, and then do more of that.

    See you on the small or big screens of the world!

  • Switch off your TV - or change the content. Actively. You've got the power.

    This morning, with the news from the new Paris attacks steadily ticking in, it feels incredibly sad to be writing anything here - and even worse not to write.

    I feel sad with compassion for the victims and those who love them, for their suffering and shock and despair. It is the same sadness that I feel about the victims of the horrific violence we are witnessing in various parts of the world, further away and very close by. Yes, of course, I feel a stronger pang of fear for those I know and I know to be in the vicinity of immediate danger. It doesn't matter whether these people are in France, Lebanon, Syriah, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or the Aegean Sea... the list goes on. It is only natural to hope that your friends are safe and to reach out to them first - but my imagination is strong enough to fathom that those people who I have never met because they have not crossed my path yet feel the same fear and shock, it's not hard to imagine that they, too, love and despair about the loss of loved ones and violence directed at them.

    And there is another sadness that is oddly mixed with anger: sadness and anger about the fact that a film project about religious or racially motivated violence would possibly now get so much more attention and interest than this film about the culture of the very same region and countries I mentioned above and about the fact that there are artists who manage to transcend the stereotypes, the hatred, the stigma and work and play side by side. 

    I don't care whether you think it is selfish to write about my documentary on a day like this. I know that if anything, this film is not selfish, this attempt of mine to bring something of what I experience in this music and in the people performing it to you, is my way of contributing to - peace! Yes, nothing more and nothing less.

    A friend who is living with his family in Paris wrote on Facebook this morning "we're fine. Prayers for the victims. Switch off your TV, terror for your mind, not peace." I hear him. I know what he means. Yet, I don't want to switch off my TV (I don't have one, anyway), I don't want to recoil, resignate - I want to change the content. It is my job. I make that stuff you watch on your TV and in the movies. I make movies.

    But you can change the content, too. The world is what we allow it to be. No, we must never turn a blind eye to injustice, we should stand up for what we stand for. I stand for the fact that humanity is more than the crap we are seeing. We are all better than the image of ourselves we allow to show up at the moment. And, yes, lots of what is east and south of the Mediterranean shore is so much better, so much more human than what we allow our TV programs to broadcast.

    Switch your screen back on and change the program. Yes, my suggestion would be to try the documentary about the musicians of Labyrinth Musical Workshop that I am preparing together with Victoria Trzeciak and the team of Tola Films. We are running an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds for filming a concert of Ross Daly, Kelly Thoma and Marijia Katsouna at Carnegie Hall in December and are looking for support from you. It is my suggestion and I stand for it.

    Having met Ross Daly and getting to know his work and music has for me personally - and countless others who I have talked to - been nothing less than an eye-opener, a new path into the world of the East so many of us know so little about, has rung so true to what humanity should be about and - I will continue to believe - at its core is. I - personally, as Sibylle - find it worthy to get made. If you join me in this conviction and have the means to do so, please consider contributing to the project. You will find all necessary information if you click on the link below.

    With great hopes that we can turn the world into the place we want it to be, thank you!
    Peace and music to you all!