Originally from Colorado, filmmaker Michael Howard has been in the Raleigh area for about 10 years. A self-described “jack of all trades, master of none”, he’s worked a wide range of jobs for TV and film including directing, cinematography, editing, and acting. He sat down to share some insights and advice from his filmmaking experiences with us.
How long have you been a filmmaker?
I wrote and directed my first feature in 2001 and then have been fortunate to work on a large amount of projects over the years for both myself and for others. And many different kinds of projects which is always fun for the variety and knowledge.
Which artists have most influenced your work?
I would say Paul Thomas Anderson and Cameron Crowe are pretty high up there but there are so many different ones that I get inspired by including Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Terrence Malick, Kevin Smith… I could go on and on and they are all influential in different ways. One will inspire me more in regards to dialogue, for example, and another in terms of visuals or mood.
How do you start a project?
If it’s one of my projects, it usually starts as early as the idea and script and builds from there. I’m also visualizing the look of the whole thing throughout so by the time it gets to making it it’s usually been crafted in my head for quite a while. If it’s a project for someone else, I really just start into prep on what it’ll take to accomplish it and what I can do to get it exactly how they want it.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known before starting your filmmaking journey?
I was lucky enough to have a couple of really helpful people prepare me for filmmaking so I don’t really know of much that I wish I knew ahead of time, per se. A lot of it is just getting out there and doing it which leads to learning, making mistakes, and improving. My best advice in this area is to prepare yourself the best you can — read up on the process, listen to DVD commentaries, talk to other filmmakers, and listen to interviews. There’s so much great information out there that you can get for free and in seconds.
Filmmaking, independent filmmaking in particular, can be tough. What keeps you motivated?
To make the film, simple as that. Even with limitations, if there’s a film that’s waiting to get out of you, you do what it takes to make it. My motivation is to create work that moves people and hopefully gets them thinking or leaving the movie in a different frame of mind than when they started. So in order to do that, I need to make the film and get it out there. And then do it all over again.
What is the one mistake most filmmakers make, regardless of experience?
I think lack of preparation is a huge hindrance but I think experience often kind of helps that out as they realize it’s more vital. It’s early on that I see a lot of filmmakers go in with less planning and it’s not always the best for the cast/crew or the quality of the film itself. Another thing that can only help is surround yourself with people that are great at what they do and have awesome personalities, it’ll bring your cast and crew closer together and help produce really great work. And listen to them too, there are a lot of great things that can come from it to really elevate the film.
When inspiration is waning, when you feel creatively drained, what do you do? How do you stay fresh?
I’ll watch other films that I love, that sometimes sparks something. I listen to a ton of film scores too, and that’s often what will get me thinking of particular scenes or imagining visuals that would go along with that score and it’ll help me come up with new ideas or get into the proper mood.
When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person that comes to mind and why?
Success is a hard thing to really gauge because there are tons of successful people out there that you know of for that very reason — they were successful! But I think success is really a personal viewpoint that comes with the feeling of accomplishment. If you make a film that you love and are proud of, I’d say that’s a success even if it never finds a big audience or really goes anywhere. If you accomplished something and are happy and feeling fulfilled, that’s an absolute success. Everything beyond that is icing on the cake.
Is there a time or place that you feel most creative/have the best ideas?
Not really, it just comes to me at different times. I can go sit out in a field with a notepad and may or may not have the juices flow as much as if I were sitting at home in front of the computer. It really just has to be the right timing.
How do you balance your filmmaking life with your personal and professional lives?
Luckily my professional life is in the same industry so they aren’t too far apart. But I’ll interweave filmmaking into my normal day-to-day whenever I can. I never know when the creative flow is gonna start, it might be randomly while I’m driving as I try to scramble and write some dialogue on a scrap piece of paper. So I try to let them co-exist whenever possible. And anytime something in your personal life can be translated into filmmaking, it can really give it a natural and genuine edge.
You’re stuck on a deserted island with a Cineplex that only shows three movies. What would you want those movies to be and why?
Good Will Hunting, Magnolia, and The Thin Red Line. They are all inspiring in different ways as well as just wonderful films so I think it would be a nice balance.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Create something. Anything. That’ll lead to making other things, improving your craft, expanding your circle of friends and connections in the industry, and it can keep growing from there. It doesn’t even have to be that great. Stop “wanting” to make something and go make it.
Michael is currently finishing up his new feature film “Where We’re Meant to Be”, which will soon begin its festival run. You can keep up with Michael on Facebook at www.facebook.com/invisibleproductions and on Twitter as @mycrayonbroke.