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Independent Filmmaker

Joe Talbott has a knack for making people cry. He's even won awards for it.

That's what filmmaking is all about, says the writer, producer and director of independent films.

"It's fun to create illusions that make people laugh or cry. I enjoy the performance aspect of this," he says.

Talbott is from Beltsville, Maryland. He first started making movies with his grandfather's camera. They were mostly pirate and kung fu films and a little bit of animation. But it didn't take long for him to realize it was better to stick to the things he knew best. "My best ideas come from my own life," he says.

"When I was in school, I'd love to have made a big historical epic like Ben Hur or Gone With the Wind, but I think it's good to start with what you know first-hand," he says. "If something unique or interesting happened in your life or to someone you know, make a film about it."

As an independent filmmaker, Talbott makes movies without the creative or financial involvement of a major studio such as Sony or Disney.

Being a creative person helps, but education is essential to enter the business, he says. He learned a lot attending Salisbury State University, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and the Rockport Institutes.

Talbott knows it can be tough to make a film, especially in terms of finance.

"Filmmaking is very expensive," he says. "Food for actors, crew, special lighting equipment -- the list goes on and on. You need investors who believe in you and your future. I'm always looking for these people, but it's an uphill battle."

Even many big Hollywood directors have trouble raising money from one film to the next, he says.

Jobs in the filmmaking industry aren't limited to people who produce films, says Michelle Wong. Wong is on the board of directors of a society of independent filmmakers. She has been in the filmmaking business for 11 years.

Wong says the filmmaking industry needs people in all kinds of occupations, like lawyers, accountants and waitresses. "It's really like one big family with a lot of jobs to do -- hundreds, really." For example, drivers, cooks, writers, accountants and personal assistants all work in the filmmaking industry.

As an independent filmmaker, Wong takes an idea for a film or video and controls all of the creative decisions and processes. It's different for Hollywood producers, she says. Hollywood filmmakers usually have a studio or someone above them who makes the final decisions for the film.

As a result, Wong wears many hats. She is a writer, director and producer. She often finds herself multitasking and always learning new things about the industry and the people in it.

Like most jobs, she says, it takes a long time, a lot of hard work and many contacts to get to the top. Her advice? The faster you see the reality of the hard work of the business and let go of the glamor and money aspects, the easier it will be to succeed.

"Many people get into film because of its image rather than its reality," she says. The reality is that filmmaking involves part business and part creativity. "It's difficult to survive...if you [can't do] a bit of both."

Film school is a good place to start if you want to get into the field, she says. But the best way to learn about filmmaking is by doing. "The money at the beginning of one's career as a filmmaker is low, and the expectations high," she warns.

But Wong is passionate about her work and feels that is the most important thing. "I am lucky to be here as I feel that I am being paid to do something I love doing."

Joy Moeller is a film editor in Kansas City. She agrees that filmmakers must have a tough skin. "There will be many doors slammed in a filmmaker's face and letters of rejection sent through the shredder before a film is sold or seen by the people [the filmmaker wants] to see it," she says.

Moeller expects that there will always be opportunities for those interested in filmmaking. "TV will never be out of style, people will never stop going to the movies and with the web growing like it is, it's merely another venue for displaying, selling and viewing film."

James Israel of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers agrees. "There are a lot of opportunities in the field if one is willing to work hard and, initially, work for free," he says.

"Most people make independent films for the love of cinema and because they want to create a piece of art instead of the typical cookie-cutter dreck that comes out of the Hollywood studio system," he says. "It's nice to think truly talented people will have their work emerge from the mass of films made...and [will] be able to make a living on what they enjoy."


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