How to Use Your Power as a Filmmaker for Good

Your Call to Action for the New Year.

Break down barriers, build up bridges.

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.

SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the Great Stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

FRODO: What are we holding onto, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

– From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

2016 has been a tumultuous year.

A litany of surprising political developments – as well as mounting health and environmental concerns, from the Zika outbreak to record global carbon dioxide levels – have primed some to fear a new year of “darkness and danger”. According to theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, “We are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.”

It is likely that most of you reading this are not theoretical physicists. Nor are you politicians. In the face of such complex scientific and sociopolitical developments, it can be easy to despair; to feel powerless in the face of such tectonic forces.

But you are not powerless. You are a filmmaker.

We may not be policymakers, but we are tastemakers. We are idea-setters and opinion-shapers and conversation-openers, fluent in the language of film, arguably the world’s most powerful art form. We are uniquely positioned to reach across divides if we so choose.

“We need to acknowledge that those of us who work in the film industry – at all levels, in all roles, in all sectors – we carry an incredible responsibility,” Filmmaker Magazine reminds us. “We tell stories. We educate. It’s our job to define our country’s values. To define our culture. We collectively decide which stories get told, who gets to tell them, and who gets to see them:”

“We need to remember that no matter what production company, distributor, or studio we work at, no matter how expensive our films might be, no matter what ‘demographic’ we convince ourselves in meetings we are trying to reach… Every film represents a set of values, and broadcasts these values out into society.”

What should we broadcast, and to whom?

“More than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together,” Hawking urges. “We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it… Right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it. To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations.”

As filmmakers, to dismiss those with whom we disagree would be a terrible mistake. Dismissal shuts down communication and dooms our films – and thus our values – to the reverberations of our respective echo chambers, reaching only those who already agree with us. As executives including Jason Spingarn-Koff, Director of Original Documentary Programming at Netflix, and Molly Thompson, Senior VP at A&E IndieFilms, put it, we must avoid “preaching to the choir.” We must seek to understand those who feel underrepresented, building bridges instead of walls.

“Now more than ever we need to talk to each other,” says legendary director Martin Scorsese. “To listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2016

It begins with a realization of your power. With a realization of your role and responsibility as a filmmaker. Then once you are aware of it, you must accept it.

Pilots to your X-Wings – will you heed the call and enter 2017 flying, doing what you can to turn the tide in this Great Story, or will you remain at base?

This is your New Year call to action. Break your status quo and get out there. Start your screenplays, fire up your cameras, engage with new people and new perspectives as you share your own. There’s some good in this world, students and readers… And it’s worth fighting for.

 Michael Koehler, with

For help getting started, check out our online filmmaking course. We’ll be with you every step of the way, from concept through final cut!


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