Making AK taught me so much.

Some of these lessons are new, some are repeat reminders.

I’m thankful for all of them.

1. Go make a movie.

You learn more by doing than overthinking.

I highly recommend to anyone interested in filmmaking to simply start making movies. Use what you’ve got, even if it’s the smartphone in your back pocket. (One of my movies is an iPhone documentary, which I made to prove this point.)

With AK, we used the resources we had available at the time.

2. Create your own opportunities.

To build on lesson one, go create your own opportunities.

Stop waiting for your ship to come in.

Dive in, swim out to it.

3. It may not happen the way you’d imagined.

No matter how many movies I make, they all turn out differently than I imagined.

And that’s part of the process. It’s a collaborative art and business. So I try to leave myself open to the possibilities. This goes back to my improv background. You’re a part of a team. What you create, you create together. It could be gold, but it maybe not – and that’s half the adventure. I choose to have fun with it, no matter what.

Now, of course, it helps to be surrounded with the greatest talent and kindest people. I want a team that listens, cares, and also holds our project to a really high standard. I want to work with people who want to give it their best; that’s an amazing thing. I also want to give them the best I have to offer, every step of the way.

But, even so, things don’t always turn out the way you’d imagined. (Sometimes infinitely better, sometimes not.) That’s something I’ve had to reconcile with at the end of each project.

You’ve gotta make peace with your own shortcomings and circumstances.

You’ve gotta use the lessons learned to make the next project the best you can.

You’ve gotta keep learning, moving, and improving.

4. But imagine every detail anyway.

The movie helped me think critically about every aspect of scripted storytelling. I wanted that challenge since I’ve made more unscripted (documentary) than scripted films. Boy, did this project deliver.

When I watch narrative / scripted stories, I have a keen eye for detail. Every tiny detail matters: casting, lighting, camera angles and movement, line delivery by an actor, costumes, set pieces, etc. I’m totally obsessed with the details and will watch movies multiple times to deconstruct it. While making the movie, the idea is to make every choice seem like it’s done on purpose.

AK gave me the opportunity to imagine every detail, reconcile that with reality (what’s actually feasible / available), and find a way to create a finished piece that resembles the initial idea.

What’s really beautiful about this process is how your team helps you ante up. They can make that vision infinitely better than you imagined, and that’s a lot of fun.

5. Narrow your focus.

Making this movie helped me narrow my focus, which is a really wonderful thing.

For a long time I’ve been exploring the following:

  • What stories keep me most engaged?
  • What stories am I uniquely qualified to tell?
  • What do I want to be known for as a director?

Although I’ve always been a tomboy, appreciate being surrounded by incredible fellas, and lean towards more masculine subjects, what I’ve found is that I have a unique opportunity to direct stories about strong women.

My next two films (AK and Good Thing) are about strong women. I think strong women are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures. I also think that, as a female director, I could add a level of depth and authenticity to the stories I tell.

Now, let’s be clear about something. I love stereotypically masculine things, so don’t make the mistake of pigeon-holing me as the female director who only tells girlie stories, mk? That’d be a mistake.

There’s good stuff that comes with narrowing your focus.

This, too, comes from doing improv. As soon as an improv scene starts, there are an infinite number of possibilities for what that particular scene could be about. But as soon as you specify what it’s about, you and your scene partners can start working within it.

It lifts the fog and makes your next steps a lot easier.

Mike Williams, Olivia Griego, and Hayley Tate on the set of “AK” in February 2016.

Want to watch AK?

We’re working on a screening in North Carolina!

Sign up for email updates so you’ll get news when it’s available: camdenwatts.com/email-updates.

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