How to make it happen with Justin Lerner

On Tuesday night, the VOS cohort received Justin Lerner at our lodging, Toluca Hills Apartments, for our late night daily reflection.

According to his IMDB page, Justin Lerner is the son of two developmental psychologists, one Jewish and one Catholic, who compromised by sending him to Quaker school in Pennsylvania until the age of eleven. After getting his BA in Theatre Arts at Cornell University, he moved to Galicia, Spain, and then returned the following year to get an MFA in Directing at UCLA’s graduate film school. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California, and has made two feature films [Girlfriend (2011) and The Automatic Hate (2016)], multiple short films, and several miscellaneous projects. He is currently working on his third feature film.

A couple of words of advice Justin gave to us young independent filmmakers is to start small on your first feature project. For example, he dialed down a project from 20 to 2-3 characters, and because of that he had the project picked up within five months. Another thing to avoid is writing shorts that are shortened feature films. One has more freedom with short films, because those do not need to follow a linear structure or have a resolution. Shorts are like jokes, where you set them up and then have your punch line, or your plot twist at the end. After getting an idea for a short or feature film, finding a crew should come from either people you already know or from watching films and contacting people whose work you enjoyed. For example, Justin wrote a sound technician a fan letter, which then led this person to work for one of Justin’s films.

A big advice when it came to money was to let your investors know that they might never see their money again. This will lead them to trust you for your honesty, and to probably help you later on in another project. Directors are the only people whose careers will be affected if the movie they make is bad, thus it is important to remember that you are the boss and that you must ensure the quality of your project at all times. Do not be afraid to fire people with whom you do not get along with, or have other actors on deck in case one of yours drops out. All in all, watch a lot of different shorts and features, and contact as many people as you can throughout your journey as an independent filmmaker.

Justin’s picks: Just Shoot It (podcast), Vimeo Staff Picks (shorts), Thunder Road (short film), and Short of the Week (shorts).