documentary filmmaking Jul 20, 2023
Jonny von Wallstrom


As a filmmaker, I've experienced the highs and lows of an industry that often feels like an uphill battle. Behind the scenes of every successful movie, countless scripts have been rejected, dreams have been shattered, and filmmakers have faced rejection and financial hurdles. It's a reality that every aspiring filmmaker must confront. You continually ask yourself, how do I make an excellent documentary?

I remember the day I received my first rejection from film school. It felt like a blow to my aspirations and a dent in my confidence. But little did I know that this was just the beginning of a long and arduous journey. Throughout my career, I've faced numerous rejections, funding denials, and setbacks that have made me question my place in the industry.

However, it's important to remember that even the most renowned directors faced their fair share of rejection. Steven Spielberg, the mastermind behind iconic films like "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Jurassic Park," was turned down by film school three times before he began his remarkable career. Martin Scorsese's breakthrough film, "Taxi Driver," was initially denied funding by multiple studios. These stories serve as a reminder that rejection is not the end; it's merely a stepping stone toward success.

In film school, I was taught to despise action movies. I was told that they lacked artistic value and were too commercial. Yet, these films were what ignited my passion for filmmaking in the first place. The likes of John Rambo and Chuck Norris inspired me to tell thrilling and engaging stories. However, the industry demanded conformity, forcing me to abandon my love for these films.

Despite my reservations, I entered the industry, hoping to make a living doing what I loved. But I quickly realized that to survive in the cutthroat world of filmmaking, I had to compromise on my artistic vision. Collaboration often stripped away my projects' unique and unconventional aspects, leaving them generic and unremarkable. It felt like a constant battle between staying true to my creative instincts and meeting the demands of the industry.

One of the most devastating moments in my career was when a dream project I sold to HBO was abruptly killed during development. An executive's decision halted the film's progress, leaving me frustrated and disillusioned. It was a harsh reminder of the industry's unpredictable nature and how easily dreams can be shattered.

Over time, I began to question my place in the film industry. The constant struggle for funding, the compromises on my artistic vision, and the lack of opportunities for original storytelling took a toll on my mental health. It seemed as though success came at a steep price - sacrifice in relationships, financial stability, and personal well-being.

But amidst the challenges, I found a glimmer of hope. I realized that if I wanted to make films that resonated with audiences and stayed true to my vision, I needed to carve my path. I decided to focus on creating films that I believed in, regardless of whether they fit into the mold of what the industry deemed marketable.

This led me to embark on an ambitious project - a series of 52 films, 52 letters to myself and other filmmakers. In each film, I explore different genres, styles, and themes close to my heart. I aim to share industry secrets and strategies, inspiring others to break free from the confines of conventionality and embrace their unique artistic visions.

My journey has taught me that success cannot be solely measured by box office numbers or critical acclaim. It's about staying true to your passion, overcoming obstacles, and refusing to let rejection define you. It's about embracing the journey, no matter how challenging.

So, to all aspiring filmmakers, remember that rejection does not reflect your worth or talent. It's merely a detour on the path to success. Stay true to your artistic vision, embrace the unconventional, and never lose faith in your ability to create meaningful films.

Together, let's rewrite the narrative of the film industry and pave the way for a future where originality and artistic freedom thrive. Let me know how you make your documentary.


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