Bill Lustig: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Keep Doing What You Do

Don’t stop working. For me, moviemaking is practice
that makes you better but never perfect. Although I accept that
my first widely released movie (Maniac) is my signature film,
I look back at the making of Maniac and Vigilante as my ‘film school projects.’ I didn’t feel confident in my craft
until my third film, Maniac Cop. I advise all first-time
filmmakers to move on to your next project as quickly as possible,
no matter how critically and/or financially successful (or not)
your film has been received. Don’t fall into the What’s Best For
My Career bullshit. I know several filmmakers who are sadly now
retired but just don’t realize it yet. Keep working.

Keep several projects going

I’ve made the mistake several times of focusing on
one project for an extended period in one instance, for two fruitless
years. Unless you have a trust fund, this can and will kill you
financially and emotionally. Learn to juggle several projects simultaneously.
FYI, my most successful films have been the ones that came together
quickly.

Maintain control of the rights:

Don’t ever vest rights of any property you’ve found
or created that you want to direct to a producer or production company
unless the financing is absolutely committed. I can’t begin to tell
you all the tragic stories of filmmakers who’ve lost control of
their projects by vesting the rights to producers based on promises of financing. I personally had the experience of discovering a now
well-known script, then spending six months doing revisions and
beginning pre-production and casting only to be sandbagged by the
producers who replaced me with a high profile, mainstream director.
The film went on to be a major hit. Although I was paid my full
director’s fee and expenses, I felt emotionally devastated. I’ve
learned not to ever vest the rights until I’ve completed shooting
the film and have been fully paid.

On Keep a blue-collar work ethic

Moviemaking is an art. Unlike other art forms however,
it requires an enormous amount of money. Money is not attracted
to irresponsible, lofty personalities. I work every day. I’m at
my desk each morning (except Sundays) by 5am even if I don’t necessarily
have a particular task. Learn discipline. Be focused. Apply it to
your work.

Work with people of integrity

The film business is truly cutthroat. Try to surround
yourself with people you can trust. It’s easier said than done,
but it is absolutely essential.

Be reliable

In this business, Money Rules and Money Runs.” I take
appointed times to meet someone or be somewhere very seriously.
If I commit to doing something, it can be considered done or I immediately
notify the other party otherwise. This is extremely important in
our work, where Money Rules. Get a reputation for being unreliable
and you’ll see how fast Money Runs.

Serendipity Rules the Day

When I look back on my career, it is evident to me
that I could have never planned it—for better or worse. Make yourself
accessible. Opportunities do not come knocking. Be out there.
Travel. Seize every chance to meet new people. Don’t sit home. Tortured,
isolated artists just die broke.

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