June 10, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Filmmaker: Interview with Lance Mungia

Lance Mungia
is a screenwriter and film director. He wrote and directed the film Six String Samurai. He co-wrote and directed The Crow: Wicked Prayer for Dimension films. Mungia also wrote and directed the short film, Garden For Rio, produced at Loyola Marymount University, where he attended as a film student. Mungia recently won MoveOn.Org's Obama in 30 seconds contest for his commercial titled "Obamacan."

What's your title?


How do you explain your job to your mother?

Well I wouldn’t because my mother’s dead. But to my family in general, I mean it’s really hard. I mean they’ve always figured I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing, but they really don’t understand what it is that a filmmaker really does. You really just sort of have to make it seem like everything is going along as usual. It’s very difficult to explain what I do even to my family. Basically you just say you’re an artist and you’ll go to law school but not yet. It’s like the whole thing, be a doctor or be a lawyer; if you want to make money don’t get into making films.

How did you get started?

I started using a camera and shooting stuff on my own. I actually bought this old Russian newsreel camera. I got it from Siberia for like 400 bucks. I just went out and shot a short film, just to see if I could do it. I edited the whole thing in-camera because I didn’t know anything about editing. It was actually a pretty good way for you to teach yourself to edit and I had such a blast making the short film that I decided that’s what I really want to do. But I recommend that if someone wants to go to film school, they should go to junior college first.

What's your educational background? How did you get experience?

I went to junior college for a couple years just to get all my general education out of the way. That way, by the time you get to a four-year school, you don’t have to take any of the BS classes and spend a ton of money doing it. You get to focus solely on what you want to do and it was way cheaper. I knew people who had to drop out and work just because they couldn’t pay off their student loans. So I’m still stuck with loan debt but it’s really a lot smarter just to go to junior college first.

How do you sharpen your skills and stay motivated?

You watch movies. I watch good movies and I hang around people who are already motivated and who are already doing it. I mean, so much success is just surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. If you’re around people who also want to be artists, want to be successful with what they do, it usually rubs off. In turn, you can motivate them.

What advice do you give to those who want to join your profession?

It just really helps to have a good support network and I actually think having a support network is the reason you go to film school. I mean you don’t need to go to film school; you can just watch a bunch of movies and make movies yourself. And I would rather see somebody put a hundred thousand dollars into making a movie. The problem is if you don’t know what you have to say. If you don’t know the people you want to collaborate with, that’s the problem. I think film school really helps you out. I mean what do you want to be, what do you want to say; it just gives you that kind of support cushion to network and to meet other people you might want to collaborate with for years to come. I just feel like you can really make yourself in film. It doesn’t require you to go to UCLA or USC or NYU. It’s really just a matter of who you surround yourself with wherever they are.

A Series of Questions:

What do you like most about your job?

Affecting people; I think that as a storyteller you get to affect people and you get to sort of put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Like the thing we shot with John for the Obama ad. I mean it’s not even something that was really directed, or something that was really sort of overly polished or overly thought out. It was really simple. But still, the communication that you can get through a visual medium is so much more powerful. It’s kind of like the only growing art form that is always growing and always expanding. The internet completely revolutionized it. I think that’s the coolest thing about making a movie is that you get the gratification of people being able to come and respond to your work and hopefully appreciate it or not appreciate it. But definitely react to it and that’s cool because it brings you into the collective unconscious. Just sort of allows you to speak in a way that’s bigger than just yourself and that’s just the coolest thing about filmmaking. It’s fun to be able to tell stories, work with people you really like working with and to interact with actors and swap stories.

Where do you find inspiration?

My inspiration comes from a lot of different places. I think it’s always been, at least in the past, sort of from the desire to push the limits a little bit and go out and just tell a story in an interesting way. I’m inspired by other filmmakers, but lately my family. I have a kid now and I mean, in a way, film makes you immortal. I have this idea of passing on what you’re doing to another generation. To me that’s really cool and it inspires me and it keeps me achieving the best I can. Because when you know that maybe your kids or their kids are going to be watching. Maybe they won’t but maybe 100 years from now someone will find something that you did on the internet. It just gives you a feeling of touching a moment in history.

If you could go back in time and meet to your pre-professional self, what would you tell him?

I would say don’t stress because it’s all small stuff. There is no one big huge battle, there is never one film, there are always ups and downs; you really need to take it all in stride. I think that the more you can keep things objective and in perspective, the better you’re going to do, because you’re never as good as they say and you’re never as bad as they say. You’re only true judge is yourself. No one else is going to judge you; you don’t need to stress about doing anything other than what you want to do. Like I said, being objective about it, knowing when something works and knowing when it doesn’t work- pure objectivity.

What’s your motto?

Keep on doing it, don’t stop dreaming. I know that sounds cliché but it really is true. Just keep going. Don’t lose your sense of childhood wonder. For me the coolest thing about film is getting excited. I mean, seeing things with a fresh eye, and as long as you have that ability it’s as if you’re seeing it for the first time. And being excited about it; I think that’s the most important thing. I don’t know how you make that a motto, just stay excited. Find something that excites you.