War Stories and Tall Tales from the Frontlines and Deep Trenches of Independent Filmmaking - Ask Me Anything - AMA

Sean J.S. Jourdan
Apr 14, 2018


Hello, Brave Souls, Dreamers, Creatures of the Night, and Early Morning Risers:

I’m Sean J.S. Jourdan - imdb - (I know, don't be blown away...)

Nice to meet you.

As you can see, my name is on and associated with a number of short films, screenplays, and one feature film in particular. Overall, I’ve been fortunate – I’ve made films with highly creative and talented people that I’m fortunate to call friends – some of them my best friends – and those films have won awards and played all over the world.

I’m very very proud of them.

You may hate them.

It’s okay, we can still be friends.

Don’t get the wrong message (ha!) – I am, by no means, a trust-fund wielding filmmaking prodigy with star-connecting residencies at the Sundance Lab, a premier at Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight, and an offer to direct a character-driven Marvel movie… not yet anway... like you, I imagine, I’m chipping away at this thing called “a dream” and hustling to get the next one off the ground.

A little more about me from ol’bio:

“Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sean J.S. Jourdan now lives and works in Denver, Colorado where he relocated after receiving a MFA degree in film and video at Columbia College Chicago. His work gradually developed from theater to film where he has worked as an award-winning screenwriter and director (Silver Hugo/Chicago International Film Festival, 2nd Place – Creative Screenwriting Awards, Finalist Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, Top 5 Finalist in MTVu’s Best Filmmaker on Campus Competition, CINE Award of Excellence, among many others).

Shorts International, via iTunes, and BigStar.tv currently distribute Sean’s short films, which have also played in a number of film festivals worldwide (Raindance, Chicago International Film Festival, Montreal World Film Festival, etc).

His award-winning debut feature film, TEDDY BOY, can be found on a number of streaming platforms near you."

You can find much more about me at www.seanjsjourdan.com... maybe too much… (hmm, I should probably update that…)

So what do you want to talk about? Film school? Film Festivals? Pre-production? Production? Post? Financing? Crowdfunding? Genre? Story structure? How do you make a gd living doing this? Screenwriting? Casting? Whatever.

And, no, I don’t have access to funds to get your movie made. I’m sorry.

Like I used to tell my students, when I taught, if I don’t have the answer maybe I can point you in the right direction.

I’m an open #AMA book for you to peruse, glance at the best parts, and leave discarded and unpurchased :)

Ask away.

(before I change my mind and back out of this)

(my hair likes to stick up like that in the back)

sjsj AMA.jpg

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Conversation (68)

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I want to THANK everyone who paricipated and I apologize for the misspellings and typos.  

This was fun. It was very thought provoking.  In fact, I'm still mulling over some of your questions. I hope it was helpful. It was for me.

And I encourage everyone to do one of these yourself. I'm really not that far "ahead' of anyone here - in fact, you may have already surpassed me in whatever measurement you want to use as it pertains to a career in this crazy business.

In closing, a word of advice a friend used to tell me - "be you." Nothing else is as unique or interesting or as relatable, if that makes any sense.  Please take risks and pick yourself up and take more risks. I tell myself this all the time to varying effect. 

Again, thank you for your time.

Apr 24, 10:27PM EDT0
Have you used the internet to help promote your films? Have effective have you found your film’s trailers?
Apr 21, 11:24AM EDT0

It's funny that you mention that - I just ran into a good friend of mine - a trusted actor who edits on the side and he asked me if I'd be interested in having him cut a new trailer for TEDDY BOY, just for fun. My response - why not? Certianly can't hurt :)

On the low budget, bottom of the ladder level that I'm on the internet has been a great, if not one of the only means of marketing my films aside from film festivals.  The days of going "viral" without some kind of paid promotion are about over but even with the limited reach that social media provides, it's better then nothing.  You have to try.

The goal is getting into a prestigious film festival and tying into their massive marketing machine to do the heavy lifting but you cannot count on that. So yeah, I would strongly suggest - at the very least - building a social media presence - at least attempting to do so - and create some buzz around an event, like a screening.  Maybe you can get the local newspapers or cultural event publication to help with the promotion too.

As far as how successful my film's trailer's have been... that's a hard call... I guess number of views would be one measure of that - or sales. It's been okay - it could always be better, no question.

Apr 24, 10:22PM EDT0
Do you find yourself working with the same (or similar) production crew on each of your productions?
Apr 21, 6:54AM EDT0

I have! It's trust, mainly - I trust their work ethic and taste. When you work with the same people you begin to understand each other quickly without a lot explaination - and sometimes you find yourself thinking alike :) this is a good and bad thing.  Sometimes it's good to mix it up a bit, test yourself and the new collaborator and learn something new in the process. 

I've never been fortunate enough to work with the exact same collaborators on different projects - there's always a new face or two or three - often recommended by people that I trust.

It's interesting, the tree or more or less branches out from film school, at least for me. Many of the folks I've worked with I went to school with them and either worked on projects with them their - directly - or I'm familiar with their work. Many of the people have far and away surpassed me in their chosen aspect of film production or post. It's been super cool to see them sprout wings and take off.  I guess I'm proud to say I knew them when and I was fortunate to be a part of their journey.

In a way, working with people on different projects - yours and others - is a great way to scout and vet talent.  And for others to scout and vet you. I'd suggest always bust your ass on set because everyone is watching, whether you know it or not.

Last edited @ Apr 24, 10:16PM EDT.
Apr 24, 10:14PM EDT0
What do you feel is the most commonly overlooked distribution area by independent filmmakers?
Apr 20, 1:09PM EDT0

This is an area that too little attention is paid to - myself included - until it's too late.

If I had to do it all over again - and I might - I'm opting out of an existing sales agreement. This will allow me to pursue other agreements on my own, the key is research. Who is interested in acquiring films? What platforms are there that will accept your film, non-exclusively, and pay you per stream or download? It never hurts to contact them, if they're interested, send them a link - what's the worse that can happen? The pass. So what. Like that's never happened...

Backing up a bit - what kind of film do you have? Is it edgy and does it have a lot of illicit sex (not porn)? Then that Christian distributor may not be a good fit... so knowing what kind of film you have will help you sift through the distributors to help find ones that could be a good fit.

Backing up a little more, what films are getting distribution? Horror has traditionally been a strong contender. If people are watching those films and their is a distribution need... maybe those are the films we should be making... (caveat - I do believe, at the low budget level, you have to make a film that you love - not, neccesarily, what's selling. It's just too hard to make the film - you have to be in love with it, to get you over the many many tedious hurdles that will be there... if you're just doing for the money... you may be happier in real estate - on the flip side, if you hate horror but love comedy... maybe you can make a funny horror film... so you have something that sells into a market while being something you enjoy and are proud of... there's lots of room to compromise here without "selling out.")

Apr 20, 1:47PM EDT0
What kind of assistance would you welcome from people for your new film projects?
Apr 20, 9:31AM EDT0

It depends on what stage we're in - and social media/crowdsourcing - is pretty great for reaching out when help is needed.

At the moment, I'm writing/developing a number of projects and utilzing readers who, graciously, provide notes. In a way, they're the films's first audience. Of course, I'm in their debt and more than willing to read and give notes on anything they may be working on.

In pre-production, we usually need assistance in every area you can think of - locations, wardrobe, camera, production, etc. - you name it - it's kinda an all hands on deck scenario. Some assistance is paid, some stipend, some favors - it just dpends on the level and length of assistance.

In post, we could always use assist editors to help synch and organize footage - maybe even work on the assembly. Sound folks to clean up dialogue and start pulling EFX or creating foley.

Release, regarding marketing distribution help is welcome to - from BTS to research.

The interesting thing about this business if you're offering help - particulalry if it doens't have a monetary cost attached - you'll find someone to take you up on it. And who knows - you're owed a favor in return and it may lead to paid work or assistance on your own project.

If there's someone you'd like to help - don't be shy. They may not need you now but they likely will need your help eventually.

Last edited @ Apr 20, 1:37PM EDT.
Apr 20, 1:21PM EDT0
Who are some of the independent film makers who have inspired you and influenced your style in making films?
Apr 19, 9:11PM EDT0

Bergman, Tarkovsky, Cassavettes, Ramsey, Murnau, Lang, Goddard, Von Trier, Hanake, Polanski, Hitchock, Kubrick, DePalma, Ozon, Chabrol are some that come immediately to mind. 

I love their work. Maybe not as human beings - but as filmmakers their amazing. I learn something everytime I watch their films and, in their own way, they're all risk-takers and innovaters - and not always successfully. You don't have to be perfect - but you do have to try (I have to keep repeating that to myself - maybe it'll stick).

Thank you for asking this question. It has me thinking (and remembering).

Last edited @ Apr 19, 10:03PM EDT.
Apr 19, 10:03PM EDT0
What is the acheivement you are most proud of?
Apr 19, 2:43PM EDT0

Whew... this college entrance essay level... I didn't come prepared...

As I give this some thought, I think of things like:

- being a good father to a couple of amazing kids.

- persuing my dream(s)

- making provacative art that calls for discussion

- remaining friends with (most of) the people I make that art with.

- Helping others.

- Making the environment cleaner (when I was an Environmental Engineer)

- Etc. Etc. 

And then it occured to me that I neved accomplished any of the above without other people helping me. My wife. Talented collaborators. A former boss or two. 

So maybe the achievement I'm most proud of is making and remaining friends with kind, generous, smart, and talented people for whom I will always be in their debt.

That may not be the answer you were looking for but it's the most honest I can come up with.

Apr 19, 9:59PM EDT0
What is your advice for someone who wants to make her first feature?
Apr 19, 4:49AM EDT0

I think about this all the time - what would I have done different?

I go back and forth on this, but one thing I might suggest is to take your time - make sure the story is solid. Make sure you can assemble the best collaborators you can - in front of and behind the camera. This often takes money - and money takes time to raise, it's extremely difficult.

People gave me the above advice, but when I made my first feature, I couldn't take it anymore - I was almost in the various labs. I was almost selected for various film festivals. I was almost, etc. etc. etc. I literally couldn't take it anymore - I was at a point that I HAD to make it NOW. So I did. And that passion and drive helped to make it possible... but maybe if I would have waited it would have been more successful.

I recently came across this post from Ted Hope which I think is a good one - "How to Make the Perfect Sundance Film" - at least to consider and think long and hard on - here's the POST.

Because we all want to play Sundance and sell our films which will allow us to make another, right? It's the dream, at least.

Apr 19, 9:15PM EDT0
Do you still teach? Did you ever have a moment when you thought you were really making a differenc in a student's life?
Apr 18, 10:47PM EDT0

Aside from volunteering in our daughter's elementary school art class - I don't. I do miss aspects of it - paricularly the screenwriting class where we workshop our ideas within the class, brainstorming ways to solve dramatic problems.  Same goes for the directing classes.

I am fortunate enough to have made a difference in student's lives. Not long ago a former student who is very much in demand as a cinematographer reached out to me. He wanted to thank me for impressing upon him that he had to add value to every job or project he woked on. He's attempted to do that - successfully - and now he's a valued collaborator. It was nice of him to reach out and thank me but he already had the work ethic before he took my class. With or without me, he was likely to get there anyway.

Something that makes me super happy is to see former students of mine succeed at whatever they set their minds too. It's really just them, I was just fortunate enough to offer what I could, like this endeavor, hopefully something is of some use.

Apr 19, 9:09PM EDT0
Would you ever go another route and make film other that independent ones?
Apr 18, 8:17PM EDT0

If given the opportunity - happily! - but that's just it - that opportunity has to be earned, it's not given, at least in my experience. If, at some point, I have a breakaway hit - that makes some serious money - then the studios, with their tremendous resources will come a'knock'n. But with their resources comes a loss of control. You have to answer to them. They have to approve expenditures. I think it's a fair trade off.

The studios are made up of pretty smart people who've worked their way up - most of the time.  I don't think they're given enough credit. But who knows? If I'm ever fortunate enough to go that route, I may have a different opinion.

Apr 19, 9:01PM EDT0
Which movies or series have you seen lately that has inspired you and why?
Apr 17, 3:05AM EDT0

WILD WILD COUNTRY - the six-part documentary series on Netflix - is AMAZING. Not only is it a compelling story with heroes who are villians and villians who are heroes but it's very well constructed - even innovative. The filmmakers were fortunate to have access to a TON of existing footage that they could combine with more recent subject interviews - a small thing that impressed me was that when they jump-cut within the pre-existing footage, from the 80s and of grainy quality, the covered the jump with a digital blip, like a micro-second problem with the tape.  It worked great. The use of music was incredible - even sung lyrics over interviews. And the prodution value matched the quality of the story. Highly recommended.

ANNHILATION - I loved loved loved the director's previous film - EX MACHINA - and looked forward this film. It's not as solid. It's problematic - but it's bold and risktaking - maybe best summarized as Tarkovsky-lite. My concern - based on the trailer - that was it was going to be horror-sci fi, with things jumping out and atttacking, and it had a touch of that, but it's fear was deeper than that.  The ending was not great but overall, I enjoyed it. An unusual movie.

TANGERINE/THE FLORIDA PROJECT - Sean Baker may be one of my top five living director's at the moment. My gosh are the films he spearheads good. Both absolutely blew me away - pathos and humor on the fringes of society. The forgotten and ignored. Beautiful beautiful movies reminiscent of the  (Italian) neo-realism movement. Loved them.

That's about it, lately, for me - how about yourself? What have you seen that inspired you?

Apr 17, 11:53AM EDT0
What products or techniques to get your hair’s style or is it a natural talent, and what methods can one use to achieve a similar look?
Apr 16, 6:25PM EDT0


Thank you for noticing. 

I live in a dry climate and swim regularly so - no products - and just conditioner, shampooing occasionally.  No blow drying.  Simple.

I was just thinking I needed a haircut... but... maybe not...

Last edited @ Apr 16, 6:46PM EDT.
Apr 16, 6:33PM EDT0
Why did you choose to go the route of independent films?
Apr 16, 10:22AM EDT0

I wish I had a choice :)

The goal is to one day work with a studio but that has to earned - it's not given or gifted - at least in my case, as much as I wish it was.

If my situation was different, if I was younger and didn't have a family I would have definitely considered moving to Los Angeles and tried to get an entry level job in either Production or development and begun to pay my dues and work my way up the ladder... but that's not how it has played out for me. And that's fine. I consider myself to be very fortunate to be in the situation I am in - where I can develop projects that I'm personally invested and interested in.

So we keep chipping away...

Apr 16, 10:59AM EDT0
In your opinion, what are some of the unintentional methods of self-sabotage that cause filmmakers difficulty in furthering their careers?
Apr 15, 12:35PM EDT0

Ego comes immediately to mind.

(and the irony of that statment, while doing an AMA is not entirely lost on me)

We work in an extremely difficult field. There is so much that can and will go wrong. It's very stressful. And all the decisions are made with the following in mind 1) Safety. Everyone HAS to work in a safe environment. No one gets hurt. 2) the film. We have come together to make the best movie possible.

Most conflicts that I have to resolve between crew members are based off of ego - someone is not treating someone how they feel they should be treated. Someone is not getting the credit they feel they deserve. That kind of thing - and they may be right. Maybe they do deserve that credit or maybe they are not being respected as they should. There's a pecking order for a reason.  But it can and will get toxic. It helps get everyone in the same room and air it out and agree on a path forward but we're human. We're imperfect. Sometimes feelings just get burried - and more stress brings them out again. It's tough - you just have to hold it together until wrap.

Something I want instill in my kids is that there are certain things than tie into success. Talent and luck are two. And you may or may not have some say in that. But what you can directly control are the basics - having a strong work ethic, showing up on time, doing what you say you were going to do, problem solve on your own, be resourceful, have a postive attitude, among many others. Those are things that will also make you successful so let's focus on those.

Last edited @ Apr 16, 6:28PM EDT.
Apr 15, 2:26PM EDT0
What was the first job you had in the entertainment industry and how difficult was it to progress to your current status?
Apr 15, 6:37AM EDT0

Like most everyone, I started out as a production assistant. Long, often boring, and grinding work. But you stay alert and solve problems then you start getting bumped up to key PA, then 2nd 2nd, then 2nd, then 1st AD. My organizational and problem solving skills were easier to apply to the Production side of things. It's hard - it's all hard. But if you are dependable, you show up early and stay late, you make many more good decisions than bad, you take responsibility, etc. etc. you'll rise up through the ranks quicker than you might think. But it's extremely difficult.  

Do it while you're young :)

Apr 15, 2:16PM EDT0
What kind of training have you undergone in order to take on your various careers in the film industry?
Apr 15, 5:58AM EDT0

My training is a little unusual but that's okay - everyone brings a unique background and skills/abilities that can - and will be - drawn upon, no question. You'd be surprised.


- BA degree in Chemical Engineering. Problem solving and discipline.

- MA in Drama.  An emphasis in dramatic literature (plays) and directing. In many respects the MA was just as valuable in my MFA. We broke down plays, beat by beat, studying dramatic structure.  We worked with costumes, set design, lighting design, sound, and acted in plays. We directed. This experience was great in terms of learning how to work on a creative team - where you're not the lead - and working with actors. Invaluable.

MFA in Film and Video. I knew nothing about how to work and frame with a camera. The MFA helped to teach me what one professor called "the dance" - using the film camera to capture dramatic action in a three dimensional space. I should mention what drew me to film school from theatre was that I wanted to be IN the scene as an audience member. I wanted to BE IN Willy Loman's living room. I knew that film was a way to do that but I knew nothing about cameras. Also, storywise, what I had experienced up until then was dialogue driven. Film school changed that focus to visual storytelling.

But we all take our own paths. You never know - training as plumber or cook or taxi driver can come in handy or really anything.  It's all valuable.

Apr 15, 2:13PM EDT0
How do you react professionally and emotionally to other films you watch in relation to being a film maker yourself and how does your career affect your overall enjoyment of a movie or series?
Apr 15, 2:55AM EDT0

It's changed things, but not entirely.

Something that has happened is that I can usually tell within the first five minutes whether or not I'm going to like it. Not always - I'm proven wrong - but more often than not I get a sense of the quality - both in terms of story and production value in that short of a time.

Every film is allowed a certain number of missteps by an audience and when those are used up... we stop caring... the intersting thing is that because of my training and experience I can talk directly to those issues - someone else may not have that language - but they feel the same things. Everyone is an educated viewer, just by watching things starting at very young age - they just may not be able to describe it directly but they know when something is off.  That's why test screenings can be valuable.

When something works well - I still get lost in movies. It's a beautiful feeling and you know you've been in the hands of a remarkable storytelling creative team. I love it.

In terms of professionally - we can all learn from "bad" movies - maybe more so than the good ones. What went wrong and why? 

Also, when you see a great movie and the team behind it - or the good aspects of a bad movie - you can find people who you want to work with. This is particularly true of a film festival where you may get the opportunity to actually meet them, face to face. 

Apr 15, 1:05PM EDT0
Which famous past television show or movie would you have most loved to be cast in, which role would you have liked to play and why would you want to have been on said show?
Apr 14, 8:17PM EDT0

I'm not an actor - not anymore - but I would have loved to play Richard III.

I love villians and he's a bastard.

It would have been so. much. fun.  You never know... it's never too late :)

Thank you for asking this.

Apr 15, 12:56PM EDT0
What are some of the unusual skills and abilities you possess that you keep hidden and why do you choose to hide these talents?
Apr 14, 7:04PM EDT0

Most people tend to hide a skill or ability because they're ashamed of it or they want to surprise people with that ability. There maybe be others but I can't think of any skill that I have were I have any desire or need to do either. All the skills that you have at your disposable are used at one time or another, some more than others.  For instance, I love doing research. It's time consuming but it's proven to be invaulable in numerous ways - I once had a meeting with a director much more accomplished with me and when I googled him, I noticed he was meeting me on his birthday - so - I wished him a happy birthday and he knew, immediately, I do my background work and pay attention to details. 

My undergraduate degree is in Chemical Engineering - I may have mentioned that earlier. The degree itself has not been that helpful but the discipline and problem solving skils that I learned in pursuit of that degree have been invaluable.

I hope this is somewhat helpful.

Apr 15, 12:54PM EDT0
What are some of the most difficult production challenges you have faced during filming and how did you overcome them?
Apr 14, 3:56PM EDT0

There's always something that goes wrong - often many things - and, in general, it helps to keep a cool head and breath and problem solve and get through it. I've heard of directors who are screamers - when things go wrong they start yelling. That kind of behavior so counterproductive. Other directors shut down and disappear somewhere.  Also not helpful. If you're fortunate to surround yourself with problem solvers who, with you, can weigh the pluses and minuses of difficult decisions, you'll get through it okay... and you never know... the film may be better for it.

In terms of specifics, locations can be an issue. You lock them down with a contract and payment and once you begin filming they ask for more and more and what can you do? If they call the police and kick you off their property, the film is toast. They have you. You acquiesce or you delay and come to a settlement once you've finished filming. It's in your best interest to appease them because... what if you need to come back for reshoots? It's always a tough one.

People flake out in all departments and roles or do not live up to expectations - it happens due to a variety of reasons - some legitimate some not so much.  So you always always always need a back up plan - for everything. The best ADs and UPMs are worriers for just that reason - they're prepared when something doesn't go as planned with a contingency.

And utimately the buck stops with you. When production wraps you have to shoulder this thing through post.

I hope that's helpful.  I have countless specific examples, if pressed.

Apr 15, 12:39PM EDT0
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