With professional filmmaking equipment cheaper than ever, and the internet taking over the way we consume content: you only need an iPhone and a WiFi connection to make your own long-running TV series or award-winning film nowadays. Here are some of our favourite amateur filmmakers, accessible online.
Luisa De la Concha Montes on Don Herzfeldt
Don Hertzfeldt started his trajectory at the early age of fifteen by teaching himself how to do animation with a VHS camera. Since then, most of his films have been produced, directed, animated, photographed, edited and sound engineered solely by him.
His most popular short, Rejected, gained world-wide recognition because it became an internet sensation via YouTube. The story follows a fictional version of himself, an animator that has to do a series of commissioned commercials for a family channel. Throughout the story, the animator becomes more and more frustrated because his shorts keep on being rejected. The main accomplishment about this short film is that it uses the animation itself as a way of expanding on the narrative; as the animator loses his motivation, the characters themselves start to lose track of what is going on, until eventually, the cartoon starts to fall apart, literally. By wrinkling and poking holes into the paper in which he draws, Hertzfeldt created a handmade, self-contained narrative.
This approach can be seen again in Everything Will Be OK, a short-film that follows the story of Bill, a man who progressively loses touch with reality. Once again, by making use of strident noises, distressing imagery and fragmented framing, the animation mirrors the mental breakdown that the main character is experiencing. This gives the viewers a realistic experience, debunking the common misconception that animation has to be uni-dimensional.
Don Hertzfeldt’s films have a certain air of ‘anarchism’ to them; his audience goes from kids casually streaming YouTube, to academics writing about his work “as if it belonged in a Soho gallery” . This demonstrates that there can be a truce between high and popular art, showing that audiences aren’t as polarised as the film industry often implies. Don Hertzfeldt’s stubbornness to buy into the common narrative has allowed him to reach his full artistic potential, and his film trajectory is a big and ironic middle finger to the mainstream film industry, as his 2016 Short Film Academy Award nomination demonstrates that there is not a single path for real talent to be recognised.
Alys Macqueen on Yulin Kuang
I Didn’t Write This is a short web series created and directed by Yulin Kuang that was released on YouTube between January 2014 and December 2016, with each episode featuring an adaptation of an extract from a poem or novel. Most also include Kuang talking about the extract she has picked and, on occasion, her filmmaking process. Kuang herself describes the series as ‘basically one long commercial for why we read’.
Each episode stands on its own, and each has its own unique drawing points. One episode features a conversation between two characters instead of the usual voiceover, one has a personal story from the actors as opposed to Kuang talking about the poem used, one is done as a stop animation, and the last two episodes combine poetry, music and dance. However, there are repeated motifs throughout and most of the extracts are read by the same two actors, creating a sense of unity that brings the series together. The simplicity of each episode also makes creating such a series feel more achievable for amateur filmmakers.
I Didn’t Write This is a small glimpse into Kuang’s talents as a director and creative, and it makes short but interesting and insightful viewing for both filmmakers and fans of literary works alike.
Other projects written and directed by Kuang that viewers should also watch include the Shipwrecked Comedy series Kissing in the Rain, and short films I Ship It and Angie & Zahra, all of which are also available on YouTube.
Laura Dazon on Le Visiteur du Futur
From amateur to professional.
First released in 2010, created by a French group of cinema nerds, Le Visiteur du Futur (The Visitor from the Future) has become a phenomenon and one of the most followed French web-series on Youtube. What makes this series so interesting is its evolution. It all began with a group of friends having fun and with not much means, other than knowing how to tell entertaining stories, to a show of four seasons, an ever-growing number of fans and several books. But what exactly is this all about? The titular Visitor from the Future comes from a time where most of the planet has been destroyed by human activity, and he wants to change it all. He traces how the most harmless action can have disastrous consequences, and comes back to the past -our present- to prevent them from happening. At first, his silly character is not all that appreciated by Raph, a student, that is at the mercy of all the Visitor’s crazy ideas but as the story develops, he begins to understand the importance of his role. The Visitor from the Future knows when to be a fun entertainment, to some ridiculous extents sometimes, but is also a touching story about humanity, and how some people’s paths were destined to cross, no matter the time period. You can definitely feel that it was created by cinema enthusiasts as you will certainly recognize many references. I have one thing to say, Le Visiteur du Futur is on Youtube, it is subtitled in English, and it is a great example that creation does not wait for material, and that amateurism can be professionalised with hard work and passion.