Film Courage: I know you said previously that you appreciate USC because the people in the documentary [referring to an earlier video of people going to a competitive graduate writing program] said they also appreciated the school (they still have nothing but respect for it) however it was a very excruciating process and one of the teachers even said “Well, if you think this is difficult [the curriculum], try being in the real world.” Sort of this breeding ground, who is going to make it, who is not. And some people didn’t make it.
I was wondering how this was for you because it sounds like you have a very supportive family and college where you obtained a four-year degree. What advice would you give to someone who is coming here and they know that this is just what they have to go through?
Justin Warren, Filmmaker: I’d say don’t quit because it’s super easy to get discouraged and to feel bitter and feel “Oh these people don’t get me.” But the great part is that it does force you to examine what you’re doing, to examine your intention in your work, to sharpen it so it’s the clearest, most precise version of what you’re trying to do.
And when you realize…when you take your ego out of the process and you go into a note session thinking “Okay, I’m just here to get information. That information is so I can prove my work.” It’s not going there to get validation that you’re good at what you do, that’s not what that process is for.
Think of it as a process of whittling it down, you’re whittling a stick into something sharp. And then when you’re done with that whittling process then you can sort of release to the world and have it be something that you’re proud of hopefully. That process is so critical because when I think about how I used to work as an artist, as a creator before my film school experience, I would…if I was going to make a short or something…because I made a short before I went to school…and I made one cut and that was it. I was like “Oh, cool. I’m done.” Because it was right there, I did it. But then you realize that in film school that’s where it begins. That’s where the work starts is on your first try where you thought you crushed it and you realize “Oh, I actually didn’t crush it at all?”
And that sense of humility that comes with the craft is a really beautiful place to be in (at least I feel that way). And I now love that process.
But it’s unfortunate because I saw some of my friends didn’t make it in the program because they were getting so much harsh feedback, I think they started to take it personally and they started to think”Well nobody gets what I’m doing” and so they dropped out of the program. And that’s very unfortunate. I mean I’m not saying that staying in…everybody has their own path that’s what is best for them, but when I wanted to quit, I was really, really, grateful that I didn’t because if I would have quit right after that session where I wept bitterly, I would have relieved myself of some short term pain but I would not be nearly the filmmaker that I am now.
And the great part also about the notes process is that it keeps you humble in the sense that there is so much that you don’t know and there is so much to be explored that the journey to becoming a good filmmaker or a good writer is a lifelong process and wherever you are in the process, that’s just where you are. And I’m grateful to the point where I’m just now like “Okay, I’m going to try something new and I might fail but I’ve gotten through failure before and I’m still here so I know that I can get through it.”
Question For The Viewers: How do you gather feedback for your projects?
JUSTIN WARREN was born in Little, Rock Arkansas in 1987. He started making movies at the age of eight, making his own stop-motion animated Star Wars films. He graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas with a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Dance, where he took the lead in numerous stage plays and won awards for his bold playwriting. In 2008, Justin and his family were featured in the 2008 CNN documentary “Black in America” with Soledad O’Brien which was broadcast globally. In 2014, Justin graduated from the prestigious USC School of Cinematic Arts with an M.F.A. in Film and Television Production. In addition to writing, directing, and co-editing his own films, Justin has also written, performed, arranged, and engineered three albums of original music. In 2018, his first comedy feature film, Then There Was Joe, made its World Premiere at Jeff Nichol’s (Mud, Midnight Special, Loving) Arkansas Cinema Society to sold out crowds. The film is currently screening around the country on the festival circuit and received a glowing review in the L.A. Times, which declared Justin as having a “bright future” in Hollywood. You can visit him online at Justinwarren.me.
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Mandao (Man-Day-Oh) of the Dead is about Jay Mandao and his nephew-in-law Jackson who use astral projection to reverse a ghost’s death on Halloween.
This astral comedy is the second feature film Written and Directed by Scott Dunn and produced by Gina Gomez Dunn. It was filmed in 10 days with a production budget of just $13k. The duo’s first feature film, Schlep won Best Comedy/Dramedy at the Hollywood Boulevard Festival and was nominated in 5 different categories at the FirstGlance Film Festival. Schlep is also available on Amazon. Mandao of the Dead will be released on iTunes and DVD/Blu-ray in January 2019.