How to Make It As A Moviemaker In America: An Interview With Filmmaker Edward John Drake
If you've got dreams of making it in LA, take advice from someone who's done it all before.
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Australia might believe it’s the Lucky Country (Copyright old white media people in Australia), but America loves to think of itself as the Land of Opportunity (and the Land of the Free, and about six other ‘Land ofs’). In no creative field is this more true than in the business of making films. Australia’s size, relative isolation and small population makes hitting the big time — or even making enough money to live off — hellaciously difficult. The lucky country we may be, but you need more than luck — an audience, for one, plentiful funding for another — to craft a career behind a camera.
Australian filmmaker and HP Future Filmmakers finalist Edward John Drake began making his own short films, as well as music videos for friends, and before long, one of those shorts brought him the opportunity to move from Melbourne to LA for an internship at a production company. Since then he’s directed music videos for artists like Kat Krazy, Stanton Warriors, Klangkarussell and Yolanda B. Cool and D-Cup, making him a directing go-to name for anyone wanting genre-pushing originality. Just check the mesmerising nine-minutes of All Eyes on You:
Edward has a feature film (Killer Man) on the horizon, as well as a collaboration with Diplo prodigy Daktyl; he explains that while moving to America to carve out a filmmaking career might seem like a big step, there are ways to soften the transition.
Consider Getting Your Start Via Music Videos
“Music videos,” says Edward, “are the finest opportunity you’ll find in this world to hone your storytelling abilities. You have someone else paying for it — never work for free, ever — you should have a like-minded creative (the artist) backing up your ideas, and you have a built-in audience who want to see the final product.”
Getting There And Staying There
But you can’t make films in the USA without, um, being allowed to be there. So, sort out a visa so you can live and work in the USA. The good news is Australians have it (slightly) easier than other nationalities (cheers, dubious free trade agreement!) as we’re eligible for specific non-immigrant US visas, like the E-3. Edward moved to the US on an O-1 — or ‘alien with extraordinary ability’ — visa, and the way to approach getting a US visa, he says, is to “read up, save up, and pay up.” He adds that it might feel like “you’re an inanimate number to the US immigration department,” but remember to pump up your achievements. “The more ‘my film played in X festival’, ‘I have a degree in Y’,” says Edward, “equals the more gold stars they’ll place beside your name.”
Local Area Networking
As a general rule there is a much more self-aggrandising, self-promoting approach to meeting and interacting with other people while networking in America. While there’s a time and place for being self-effacing, it’s definitely not LA. “It’s a totally different ballgame,” agrees Edward.
While it may seem alien to us tall-poppy cutting Australians, not being afraid to beat your own drum opens more opportunities. “It’s more efficient, more effective. You’ll know where you stand. If you’ve got a touch of emotional intelligence and some thick skin there’s no way you’ll ever feel like you’ve been lied too.”
Edward’s suggestion for dealing with that is simply: “Either be good, or look good at being bad.”
Adapting And Making Friends
Moving overseas is tough no matter where you’re headed, yet amid the mythology and plastic sheen of the City of Angels, plenty of people are simply making a go of it. “Los Angeles,” says Edward, is “more concept than reality, more of a terminus than a starting point. Everyone wants you to succeed just as much as you do. If it’s in their power to help, they will help.”
“Everyone’s in the same boat,” he adds, “maybe not on the same page just yet, but they want what you want: to change the world and lead a good life.”
The most important lessons Edward has learned from LA are pretty simple. For one: ”Show business,” he says, “is all about showing how good you are at the business of showing.” Secondly, people won’t “want you if they don’t know how to make money off you.” And perhaps most importantly Edward says that if you learn to speak Spanish, “you’ll be infinitely rewarded in kindness by the true locals and breakfast burritos.”
Recognising Whether Or Not You ACTUALLY Need To Move
Even if a filmmaking career is tough in Australia, Edward argues the reason LA is the go-to for filmmakers is simply “proximity to others in the industry. That’s it.” If you’re comfortable in Australia, and you know “someone in Adelaide who can get your ideas made,” then “perfect,” says Edward. “Why move?”
After all, America isn’t the be-all and end-all; “If you’re in Australia,” figures Edward, “why not move to China? There’s more funding for film in China than in North America.”
“There’s no story,” he finishes, “you can’t tell in LA that you can’t tell in Melbourne.” After all, as Edward sums up, “If you can’t make it in Australia, kid, you sure as hell won’t be able to make it here.”
Check our Edward’s submission for the HP Future Filmmakers Competition below.
Vote in HP’s Future Filmmakers competition, to help your favourite filmmaker win a cash grant — and come up with taglines for the finalists’ films in the #HPTagIt competition, and you could score great prizes too, including a $5,000 Flight Centre voucher. Head here to get involved (and for T&Cs).
Jaymz is a New York-based writer, super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers.
Feature image via EdwardJohnDrake.com.