Keira Knightly and Dominic West at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

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Filmmakers share 11 creative tips at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival


Published on January 27, 2018

Creativity doesn’t always come easy. At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival—in the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox—some of the biggest names in movies shared the secrets behind their creative processes. What’s the hardest part about filmmaking? How do you get into a groove? Here are 11 tips from the directors, writers, and actors behind 2018’s best independent films.

1. Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan on the importance of passing drafts back and forth

When Paul Dano wrote the first draft of Wildlife, he was convinced he’d nailed the script. But it took Zoe Kazan’s red pen—and several rounds of candid feedback—to produce the critical darling the film became. Watch the clip here.

2. Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher on finding something universal in personal stories

In Eighth Grade, first-time director Bo Burnham chose to focus on a single week of a 13-year-old girl’s life. But he and star Elsie Fisher say they wrote the story to resonate with just about anyone who feels insecure. See why Bo thinks a 60-year-old college professor would connect with the film.

3. Idris Elba on creating an authentic scene—a lesson he learned from director Ridley Scott

After years of acting, Idris Elba finally stepped behind the camera for Yardie, his directorial debut. In this clip, Idris explains why getting every single background detail right—from the look of a door to the style of the lights—is so important for keeping the audience engaged.

4. Emmy Rossum on fair pay and having the confidence to walk away

With the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, women in cinema are continuing to take a strong stand for respect and equal pay. Here’s Shameless star Emmy Rossum on having the confidence to fight for what she deserves.

5. Chris O’Dowd and Rose Byrne on staying focused and doing the job

Some parts of filmmaking are intensely collaborative, with everyone in the room helping to shape the final product. But as Chris O’Dowd points out in a conversation with co-star Rose Byrne, sometimes you just show up and “do the job.” Hear Chris explain why having your own specialty can be good thing.

6. Keira Knightley on streaming services as a boon for women In Colette, Keira Knightly plays the woman behind the man, a talented author who must fight to free herself from her husband’s influence and control. See why Keira credits streaming services for helping actresses all over the industry take on more nuanced roles that empower women.

7. Armie Hammer on how to inhabit a difficult role

As the principal villain in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, actor Armie Hammer had to learn to become a character that most will find reprehensible. See how Armie bought in right away to portray the role as authentically as possible.

8. Naomi Watts on reimagining Shakespeare from a woman’s perspective

Creative storytellers—in both theater and film—have been performing the works of Shakespeare for centuries. While we’ve seen countless interpretations of classics like “Hamlet,” few have been reimagined from a distinctly female perspective. See why Naomi Watts thinks Ophelia’s new spin is both important and commercially viable.

9. Nicolas Cage on why you need to avoid having too many cooks

Nicolas Cage describes a childlike feeling when you’re making something simply for the love of the movie—when you forget everything around you. He says that too often, filmmakers can get distracted by all the different people and goals on the film set. See how Nicolas avoids distractions and stays in his flow.

10. Ethan Hawke on what it really means to create a “labor of love”

When Ethan Hawke started to make Blaze—a biopic about country singer Blaze Foley—he was simply enamored by the artist’s music. He didn’t start with a full outline or a mechanical process: he let his love for the art lead his creative instincts. Hear Ethan describe this labor of love in his own words.

11. Tessa Thompson on bringing together “real life stuff” and big ideas

Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is often fantastical in the extreme, a movie with otherworldly characters and a series of dystopian surprises. But crucially, the film is also grounded with some real life depictions of work, friendship, and the daily grind. Here’s how star Tessa Thompson describes this key convergence. At Dropbox, we’re proud to support filmmakers during their creative process. When teams know they can rely on Dropbox to share files and collaborate on ideas, they’re free to focus on challenges like these. Our thanks to all the creators who visited the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox.

More from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival:

7 takeaways from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Tell your story, not theirs: The case against conventional wisdom in film

8 more ways you can use Dropbox for your next film