David Liz: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

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You better love this or you won’t survive long: Filmmaking is so hard, it’s like an endurance race mixed with a sprint, mixed with a punch to the face — just so hard. You will not last long in this field if you do not have a passion for it. I have seen countless filmmaking friends who started off with so much passion and enthusiasm only to end up dead inside from the sheer difficulty and disappointment of the process. Have a plan B if you aren’t sure filmmaking is for you. However, if you love this craft, nothing can stop you. You will overcome every obstacle, you will persevere, you will achieve your goal if you just keep going; there is light on the horizon, there has to be.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing David Liz.

David Liz (writer/director) is an award-winning Latino filmmaker based out of Miami, FL. He’s been working as a Director, Cinematographer, Editor, and Producer since 2010. His films and videos have screened in film festivals all around the world including: The Director’s Guild of America in NYC, Raindance Film Festival, Monaco International Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, New York International Film Festival, and many others.

In the past few years, David Liz has become one of Miami’s most active Filmmakers, having worked on dozens of short films and video projects for numerous high profile clients including Telemundo, Red Bull, and NBC universal. The Welder is David’s directorial debut in a feature film.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

It is my pleasure to be a part of this interview series. Thank you very much for inviting me on. I’ve seen some of those who are also participating and I am honored to be among them. Coming up, my life was pretty much the standard quo considering where I lived. I grew up in a city called Hialeah, which is part of the Miami metro area. Hialeah has long been considered a refuge for immigrants of the Caribbean and Central and South America; however, the majority of folks living there are Cuban migrants seeking political asylum from the oppressive communist regime of their home country. My father is one of those refugees, a man imprisoned in Cuba for being part of a coup to take down Fidel Castro. After years in a concentration style prison, he became hard and cold, but he was lucky he wasn’t put in front of a firing squad like his buddies were. As luck would have it, he was never around for me. You see, he had an entirely different family and my beautiful Colombian mother and I were his plan B family. I say all this as a way to paint the picture: Here is this young kid with no father figure, growing up poor in a very rough neighborhood, and made fun of for having a big nose and no dad. However, movies! As far back as I could remember I found a safe place within the warm glow and static of the old CRT TVs. I’d pop in the mysterious black rectangle into the VCR slot and suddenly my favorite movies would teleport me away from my reality. With films I found a father: Sylvester Stallone! He was one heck of a dad, especially when he was fighting Ivan Drago. Watching movies allowed me to become lost in my imagination, a feature that has helped me a lot as an adult within my chosen profession.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was about eleven years old my Mom bought me my first computer. For those old enough to remember them, it was one of those Compaq brand ones. This particular computer came with a web camera, which quickly became my Bolex. I’d use this web camera to film skits with my friends, mini musical performances in my room (how embarrassing), and even stop-motion shorts starring the clay Backstreet Boys. This was really the beginning of my love for filmmaking and telling stories using the medium of video. So thank you, Mom, for splurging on that computer and webcam — every penny counted back then, but she made the sacrifice and got it for me. I am still so thankful for her.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

Off the top of my head, I remember having a lot of fun moments, but can’t pinpoint one specific example right now. However, while on set, and even right before production started, it seemed like Murphy’s law was in full effect, which I think qualifies as something interesting to talk about. A few examples would be: Three days before the first day of production we had our car burglarized and important gear we needed for the production was now not available to us (And despite having surveillance footage of the guys, they were never caught). One day before production was to begin, one of the cast members was arrested erroneously, and the morning of the first day the production truck broke down and we had to transfer all the gear into several cars to transport it to set…You know, things like that.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I have had the chance to interact with some cool folk in my time as a filmmaker. Probably the most interesting for the readers was a time I was on set with Robin Williams and John Travolta. They were in Miami filming a scene for their film Old Dogs. It was very early on in my filmmaking journey, and I was on set just gaining experience. It was so cool being around these two legends and they acted just like you’d expect, extremely nice and personable to everybody. One day we were filming a bar scene with 30 plus extras and in between takes Williams would break into a comedy routine and just make the extras and crew cry from belly laughing; he did that all night, and his energy levels were mythical. Another night Ocean Drive was closed down to the public, as the production was shooting a carnival scene. However, when word got out that Travolta was filming that night, a flock of middle-aged women crowed the sidewalk alongside the barricade dividers yelling, “Johhny, Johhny, we love you,” and Travolta would smile and blow them kisses like a newly crowned beauty queen. Just the nicest guys.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A lot of people helped me along the way. I have had several mentors throughout my life for whom I am thankful. People who taught me, led me, supported me, and gave me great advice. No man is an island, no one can achieve anything entirely on their own, and this is a fact I am not exempt from. And although I’ve had my share of help from others, I have to say that my biggest inspiration and supporter is my mother. As a single immigrant woman, coming to the USA with no funds and no help, she really was able to make her version of the American dream come true. My mother is a hard working woman who took on challenges head first and never quivered at the challenges thrown at her (or at least I never noticed). She taught me to always finish what I started, she embraced my creativity, and she fostered an environment where my brother and I were encouraged to have open dialogues about anything. I give massive credit to her for taking the risk of coming to a foreign country and making a life for herself. I just hope that a little bit of that courage she has trickled down into me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I always love to repeat this life lesson that was taught to me by Chip Chalmers, one of my directing teachers in film school, a fantastic magician, and very lovely person. This lesson was taught to me within the context of film but also works very well in life. Imagine if you were a triangle and each side of that triangle represents something different: Fast, cheap, and good. If you want to make a movie always remember that you can only ever have two sides of the triangle at once. So if you want your film to be good and cheap, it’s not going to be done fast. If you want your movie to be fast and good, it’s not going to be cheap. And if you want your movie to be done fast and cheap, it’s not going to be good. The deeper I go into this filmmaking rabbit hole, the more I know this to be true. I live by this now, and I think it’s great advice for any filmmaker.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity in film is so important. As a Latino filmmaker myself, I have a desire to tell stories that represent my background, my truth, and my people. Filmmaking is really just storytelling with fancy equipment, and the best stories are always very personal to the storyteller. I believe that by having more diversity in film we inject into the social consciousness different perspectives that can challenge dangerous ideals that over time have become the status quo. Having a diverse voice tell a story with a universal theme can perhaps crack a narrative or construct that perpetuates bigotry and division. Really, diversity in film should be as natural and common as the current state of diversity in musical artists, fashion designers, painters, and so on. By having people from different backgrounds share their voice, we can communicate with each other better and hence possibly achieve the goal of understanding each other better too.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

-This question delves into the top secret manila folder. We are hovering over Area 51 territory, but perhaps I can share just a little. Manny Delgadillo (my co-writer) and I are working on a new horror film that explores the terrors of Alzheimer’s disease framed within the context of the horror genre. Manny and I are very close to this subject, having both our grandmothers suffer and die from this terrible disease. So in true writer fashion, we have decided to once again write what we know. Apart from that, we also have a sequel to The Welder completely hashed out and ready to go, should there be a demand.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

I love working with actors. There is something magical about coming up with an idea, writing it down, and then one day that idea comes to life when an actor begins uttering the words on the paper — giving a heartbeat to the idea. When we hosted the first table read with all the actors, it was a very surreal experience for me. Hearing the voices of the actors transform into those of the characters was weirdly fulfilling and magical.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Time can be your friend on this journey: Coming out of film school the first thing on my to-do list was “Make a feature film,” and I had an asterisk next to it that read “and do it before any of your friends do.” So my goal was to make it within a year of graduating. And I had that confidence because in film school they give you all the provisions to execute: The school supplies all the fancy gear, the guidance through the teachers and staff, and they even give you a film crew in the form of your fellow filmmaking peers. My amazing film school was a sanctuary of creativity meant to help us learn the craft. But once you’re out, reality sets in, and you have to fend for yourself. Gone were the days of shooting on a RED camera or having an entire crew at your disposal. In the real world you have to be scrappy and make stuff happen with whatever little resources you have. It took me all of 10 years to make my first feature, but at the end I needed that time to mature and become well rounded. In those ten years, I was on countless sets learning everything from sound, to lighting, directing, and PA’ing. I met talented people who became my friends, co-collaborators, and even investors. Time turned out to be an ally that helped me develop into a better filmmaker and storyteller. And the journey is still ongoing, the clock is still ticking, I wonder what kind of artist I’ll be in another 10 years. I have no idea, but that’s the exciting part.
  2. Plan as much as you can, but leave breathing room for adlib: I was always under the impression that every line, every moment, and every second of a film needed to be methodically planned out or a film would fall apart. I would stress myself into a panicked frenzy about it. To a certain degree this is not too far away from the truth; since a film has so many moving parts and usually is shot out of order, there has to be a method to the madness or confusion and chaos would take over. And yet, over the years I have found that the coolest and most memorable moments I’ve captured are sometimes those that aren’t planned at all. Sometimes an actor will say or do something that is not in the script and was not on the docket, and it freaking works better than anything that was planned. There is something to be said about living in the moment and taking things from the moment and incorporating them into a performance. This cannot be planned ahead of time or foreseen, for this type of magic comes on its own and doesn’t announce how or when. So these days my methodology includes planning as much as I can in pre-production and allowing for an environment that fosters and encourages these moments to spontaneously manifest themselves.
  3. Failure is part of the process: This is a big one because I have always been a sore loser. No one likes to lose, and coming from a fatherless background, I didn’t have anyone to teach me to lose the right way. But it’s ok now, because life became my daddy and taught me very well that I would lose often and it’s ok. By “lose” I mean: you won’t always get what you expect. I’ve worked on projects I thought would be a success and they weren’t, and that’s a failure. I’ve had the door slammed in my face time and time again, more failure. I have been downtrodden and discouraged by failure in my life, so I wish early on someone had told me that failures are building blocks. The more failures you have the more you learn what works and what doesn’t work and you build on that. Each failure gets you closer to a success, so fail and fail often.
  4. Build a team as soon as you can: Filmmaking is not boxing, it’s not golf, or tennis; football is a team sport. You need to get like-minded artists on your team that can align to a singular vision and help execute a film. And you need to start building the team early so you know who is really committed and who needs to be cut. A film takes a lot of collaboration, time, and problem solving so make sure you have a team you can trust and you like being around so you can make your filmmaking journey not only productive but enjoyable. I made the mistake of taking too long to build a team, and it has delayed me more than I like to admit. So to you young filmmakers, don’t make that mistake.
  5. You better love this or you won’t survive long: Filmmaking is so hard, it’s like an endurance race mixed with a sprint, mixed with a punch to the face — just so hard. You will not last long in this field if you do not have a passion for it. I have seen countless filmmaking friends who started off with so much passion and enthusiasm only to end up dead inside from the sheer difficulty and disappointment of the process. Have a plan B if you aren’t sure filmmaking is for you. However, if you love this craft, nothing can stop you. You will overcome every obstacle, you will persevere, you will achieve your goal if you just keep going; there is light on the horizon, there has to be.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

To me every one of my films is like my baby. The baby eats first, the baby gets the most attention, the baby is the priority. If someone like a producer, critic, or investor has some input that will help the baby get big and strong, then I embrace and welcome it. However, the moment someone tries to hurt the baby, that person is cut off. I take this approach because otherwise everyone will give their two-cents and start wanting to change the movie to how they see fit. As some of us know, this business is filled with egos chiming in. At the end of the day, you as the filmmaker know the story best and you are in charge of preserving the singular vision of your movie or it will inevitably fall to shambles.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love to start a movement of kindness. People tend to be so ugly towards each other, for different reasons, but it’s hardly ever justified. Someday, I’d love to start a movement that inspires forgiveness and kindness. Apart from my filmmaking endeavors this would be my mission. This would by no means be a crusade to adopt kindness or there would be a punishment, no, nothing like that. But just like there are organizations that focus their energies on all sorts of causes, why not one that focuses on doing kind things for your neighbors and friends? Sounds idyllic and perhaps naïve but why not? Hey, you asked!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Yooo Adrian, I did it !!!! I would love to meet Sylvester Stallone. I grew up watching his movies on replay. I’d go to the video store across the street from my house — they rented movies for $2 for two days. I used up all my birthday and Christmas money to rent the Rocky movies one by one, and when I got to Rocky 5 I’d start all over again until all my money was gone. The first Rocky came out in 1976, and eleven years later I would be born and eight years after that I would start watching that film and become inspired. How amazing is that? That a story could transcend time and space and reach a young fatherless boy and help that boy not feel so alone. And now that I am an up-and-coming filmmaker, I’d love to connect with him and share how my story was undeniably inspired by his. I never stopped punching.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I want to thank Authority Magazine for the opportunity to be on here. It’s been a lot of fun rambling on. Folks can find me on instagram (@davidlizfilms) or my website www.davidlizfilms.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

David Liz: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.