'Yosemite' Director Gabrielle Demeestere's 10 Rules For Making Your First Movie

advice for aspiring filmmakers from James Franco's collaborator

Photo by Joey Kuhn

Making a feature film is one of the most challenging artistic feats to pull off, and no one knows that better than Gabrielle Demeestere. The New York-based, Parisian-born filmmaker is out promoting Yosemite, a movie she wrote and directed based on the short stories from her frequent collaborator James Franco. The movie is set up like a triptych—three chapters that tell the bucolic stories of three young friends growing up in Palo Alto in the mid '80s, before the city's tech boom. It's garnered many comparisons to the coming-of-age classic Stand By Me, but Demeestere's film, which Franco also stars in, is more lyrical and measured, and points to a bright future NYU film school grad. Here, Demeestere shares some of the essential wisdom she learned after making it through the grind of directing her first movie. 

1. Make a lookbook with all of the visual references and photographs that inspire you. It will allow everyone on the crew to be on the same page about how the movie should look and feel. This is an awesome one that Xavier Dolan made for one of my favorite films of the past few years, Mommy.

2. Choose great collaborators whom you trust: People who will not only have your back, but also honestly tell you if they don’t like something.

3. Spend as much time as possible looking for your ideal cast. Cast actors who are not only right for the part, but have a mysterious quality that intrigues you and inspires you to film them.

4. Fall in love with your locations and think about how they will reflect your characters’ emotional journey. 

5. Give yourself enough prep time with your cinematographer. It doesn’t matter if you make simple diagrams, storyboards with matchstick people, or 3D floor plans, as long as you both know the scene inside and out.

6. Put as much care into hiring a great sound mixer, as you would a cinematographer or an actor, because sound will really elevate the movie in post.

7. Be completely open to the surprising and unexpected things that will inevitably happen on set. Be ready to throw away your plan if a new idea comes to you in the moment.

8. Love your actors to death. They will trust you entirely if they feel that you’re giving them your full attention.

9. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Making a movie is like an elephant’s pregnancy but twice as long! I had multiple waves of post-partum depression (after the shoot, after the sound mix, after the festival premiere, etc.) and wish someone had prepared me for this.

10. Listen to your inner whisper, even when it’s very faint! There are many crazy moments on a film shoot where you have to make split of the moment decisions without being in your right mind, and no one has the answer but you. Luckily, the inner whisper is like a muscle, which strengthens over time.

Yosemite is playing at the IFC Center in New York tonight.