5 Great Tips from Director Michael Greenspan - Raindance

It took me eight years after graduating film school to finally direct my first feature film and I often wonder why? I read every book on the subject, attended Vogler and McKee’s seminars, studied the greats like Hitchcock, Fellini and Kurosawa, analyzed Citizen Kane, Rumble Fish and Bonnie and Clyde, earned my BFA and MFA, yet at no point did anyone ever say to me: “Here’s what you really need to know to be successful in the movie business.” The Dean of the American Film Institute (AFI) once walked into our classroom unannounced and said: “Look at the student to your left, look at the student to your right… neither one will be a successful filmmaker in Hollywood.” Wow! Not exactly words of encouragement. After working ten years in the business, here is my list of the five things I wish I’d learned in film school.

Find out more about Michael Greenspan’s (Wrecked, Kill for Me) HANDS-ON DIRECTING intensive weekend course.

1. THE 1-2 PUNCH

If your goal is to direct your first feature film there are a couple of things you can do to maximize your chances. It seems like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how often filmmakers send their short films to festivals and have no plan for what’s next. Luck can be created by being prepared in the right moments. Step one is to make a short film and pour your heart and soul into it and step 2 is to have a feature-length script ready to go. If you’re not a writer, team up with one to write the script. If you want to be a movie director you should show them what you’ve done, then show them what you want to do next.


Filmmaking at its core is a group of people determined to bring a story to life in the form of a movie and there are many moving pieces. So how can we be part of that magical process? My answer is simple: love the process, embrace the highs and lows of writing, developing your script, giving notes, getting notes and shopping it around. Be open-minded to collaborating with different people, with different ideas, with different points-of-views. The movie business is 5% making movies and 95% planning for it. If you learn to embrace the process, keep knocking on those doors and never take no for an answer, the process and journey becomes a whole lot more fun.


Alfred Hitchcock famously said: “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script, the script.” Computers and technology have made filmmaking accessible to anyone and everyone. Equipment is smaller, cheaper, simpler to use and the Internet has made it easier for anyone to learn the process without the price of tuition. There’s HD, 4K, drones, DIY steadicam camera stabilizers and all kinds of low-cost, high-grade equipmentyou can buy or rent… but none of this will make you a better storyteller. It’s never about this high-tech razzle-dazzle because the razzle-dazzle is constantly changing. It’s always about your character, their journey, their wants and their needs. In other words, it’s about your story and your script. Some of the greatest film magicians of our time like James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg or even Disney and Pixar all understand that special effects, CGI or animation only matter if your story is working. Build your movie and effects around the characters, not the other way around. We always come back to those magical moments in movies not because of the spectacle, but because of what they mean.


Knowing your story doesn’t mean knowing your logline – it means knowing the value of the story you’re telling. Most first-time filmmakers focus on the audience rather than focusing on the process. We cannot control the reactions to our work any more than we can influence judgement, so why waste our time? Deal with matters that are within your reach: Why are you telling this story? What angle, perspective, point-of-view, life-lesson, message, theme, personality do you bring to the material? What do you believe you are saying that must be said in a personal, relevant and poignant way? In other words, Know Your Story and relate to it on some level. Instead of worrying about what it will be, spend your time knowing why it should be.


During a 2016 Harvard commencement speech, Steven Spielberg talked about the importance of listening to those tiny whispers of inspiration. At a BAFTA screenwriters lecture, Tony Gilroy told us that story is in our DNA. Why does this matter? Both Spielberg and Gilroy understand something fundamental about storytelling and the human condition. They understand that as creators, artists, writers, filmmakers, innovators and entertainers, we must invent ideas from scratch and we must create a moving story out of thin air. If we pay close attention, if we listen carefully, if we’re in tune, those quiet feelings, those nudges of intuition and gut feelings will speak to you and tell you things. They’re like directions to your destination, a guide on your journey or a map when you’re lost. They’re already inside us, built into our genes and our DNA makeup. Trust what you know, know what you believe and listen to those tiny whispers of inspiration because the answers are already inside you.

Find out more about Michael Greenspan’s (Wrecked, Kill for Me) HANDS-ON DIRECTING intensive weekend course.