Film Connection mentor Erin Galey combines passion and common sense advice

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With more than two decades of experience, Film Connection mentor Erin Galey understands both surviving in Hollywood and making it as an indie filmmaker. As the Founder and Executive Producer of In the Flicker in Portland, Oregon, she sees her role as an artist and businessperson who finds and tells captivating stories. A new mentor to the Film Connection, Erin also thrives on helping student externs find their own place in the film world. In a recent conversation with RRFC, Erin chatted with us about her passion for storytelling, talked about her landmark film “Sahasi Chori (Brave Girl),” bragged on her students, and offered some practical, common-sense advice that all of our students could heed. Enjoy!



ON WHAT SPARKED HER PASSION TO BE A FILMMAKER:

“I am both an artist and an explorer at heart, so I started just exploring and adventuring through the world. I love being outside and I love the challenges and experiences you have through the outdoors…Having an adventure, for example, like going down the river in the Grand Canyon on a two week long trip, you wind up telling a lot of stories by the campfire. You hear a lot of stories on the boat from the guides or fishermen. They are always telling stories, and I love that. And I think that’s where it all started with me, this fascination with storytelling and adventure and the culture surrounding it. I started making movies when I was 12 and came back to it more seriously as a profession after studying playwriting in college and the rest is history.

I think at the end of the day, it all boils down to collecting life experiences and gaining perspective because if you’re going to be an artist and tell stories, the thing that it comes down to is telling authentic stories and telling stories as close to the grain as you can get, as close to the truth as you can get.”

THOUGHTS ON THE MAKING OF “SAHASI CHORI (BRAVE GIRL),” HER FILM ABOUT A HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIM IN NEPAL:

“When I first went to Nepal, I fell in love with the culture and the scenery… so the fact that there was this magical, beautiful place on the outside, but on the underbelly of it was this super dark chaotic story of these girls and this culture, and how can those things coexist?…that just sent me down the rabbit hole, you know? And I followed the thread and just kept unraveling it…I spent probably about a year researching it… I went back once or twice to research more, and I was like, ‘Hmm, something’s missing here about this story. What am I missing?’

“So when I went back again in the spring…I found a local producer, and said, ‘I need to do this journey. I need to see what this girl sees. I need to do what this girl does, and I need you to help me understand what would happen to her.’ So we did that. It took about two weeks…And I wrote the story along the way, and I talked to survivors of trafficking who had been through the journey I was on while we were on the journey. And I took all that information, went back, and I rewrote the script…Taking those experiences and getting it as close to the truth, that was really important to me.”

HER THOUGHTS ABOUT MENTORING, AND BRAGGING ON TWO OF HER STUDENTS:

“They have great, wonderful questions that make me wonder ‘Why DO we do it that way?’ Their passion and their excitement about the littlest things…I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and so seeing that is refreshing… Brooke [Tadesse] is much more of a producer type. He wants to be a producer. He’s very natural at it, but also is learning he knows how to write…Stephan [Partipilo], he’s much more of a creative type. He’s geared towards being a cinematographer, a director, and that comes very naturally to him as well; he thrives in the doing and the craft, and he is learning a lot about the planning and the writing. Stephan will likely pair himself up with a creative producer at some point, and Brooke will probably produce directors and maybe make some films himself. They’re a great pair because their strengths compliment each other and they learn a lot from each other’s questions and processes. I can work with both of them at the same time and talk about the pros and the cons of each approach. There’s nothing wrong with either student’s approach, they’re just different ways to get in the industry.”

ON BALANCING YOUR PERSONAL CREATIVE PROCESS WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE FILM INDUSTRY:

“One of [my students] showed up having done his own interpretation of the assignment. He just did a shot list instead of a storyboard, which for him, that’s his creative process. I said, ‘Well, the assignment was to do a storyboard. However, I know that you’re a very visual student, so if this is your process and this is the way that works best for you, then I respect that. However…if you showed up without a pitch book, a storyboard, a script, or a finished financing package to a studio in L.A., and you said “Oh, this is just kind of how I felt like doing it,” they would not think very highly of that.’ So my approach is to show them this is the way you have to do it in the world if you want to be that Hollywood director. But if you’re working as an independent director, say on a low-budget production, there are other ways to do things and you don’t have to follow all those rules. You can do things the way that works for you if that is your process. Just make sure you’re still ticking off the boxes that your crew needs to do a good job. Know the difference between what you can get away with as an artist and what you have to do as a person in the business of film.”

ON THE PRACTICAL REALITIES OF BREAKING INTO A FILM CAREER:

Erin Galey with students Stephan Partipilo and Brooke Tadesse (right)

Erin Galey with students Stephan Partipilo and Brooke Tadesse (right)

“There is probably going to be one niche skill that you end up [relying on for income] as a filmmaker. You’re not going to just be a filmmaker, and somebody hires you to be a filmmaker. That doesn’t really exist until you’re at a higher level and have a few successful titles up on Netflix. So right out of film school, somebody’s going to hire you to be a piece of a production. They’re going to hire you to be a producer, or a director, or an editor, or a cinematographer, or a sound mixer, or a PA…And that real world skill, that’s how you’re going to get paid. And that’s how you’re going to make a living for five to seven years until you get your first feature done. Nobody tells you that, you know? Nobody told us that in film school. I went to NYU and nobody ever really talked to us about realistic career paths, it was more about sharpening and honing your craft. And that’s fine, that’s what NYU is all about and why so many successful filmmakers come out of that program.”

ADVICE ON HOW TO BECOME A GOOD DIRECTOR:

“My approach to directing is to protect my story and also empower my collaborators to do their best. In order to do that with my collaborators, I have to understand what their job is…I have served in a lot of different functions on a lot of different film sets over the past 20 years. I have been a PA, a camera assistant, I have been a gaffer, I have shot movies, I have produced them, I’ve directed them, I’ve done sound mixing. I hate sound mixing…but because I spent time doing it, I know what a sound mixer needs to do their job well…I’ve actually acted in a couple films too, and also on the stage. I know how vulnerable it is and how hard it is. And I feel like I’m a better director as a result of those experiences…And, therefore I can communicate to everyone on my team in a way that they understand…Learning these ancillary skills is going to make you a better director. You’re really going to understand the overall process a lot better and what it takes to be a professional in your craft.”

ON HOW CONNECTIONS ON THE SET CAN LEAD TO JOBS:

“I tell [my students] this time and time again: You’re going to get hired based on the way you performed at your last job. Somebody’s going to remember you and say, ‘Oh, I know a PA. There was someone I worked with a month ago, he was great. Yeah, here’s his name,’…That’s the way it works…

My students have already been on set a couple times…and after the second gig, they approached my cinematographer and both said something like, ‘Hey it was really nice to meet you. If you ever need any hands or any help, just let me know.’ I didn’t tell them to say that, but they did that. That was smart of them. And then a week later, a week after the shoot, they both got a phone call from a producer I’d never met, saying, ‘Can you come and work as a PA?’ And now they are both hired, working on a big budget tech commercial on Monday.”

TIPS ON AVOIDING BURNOUT:

“I’ve been a big workaholic in the past, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn how to pace myself, you know, taking those five minute mindful breaks, enjoying a quick walk to the store in the midst of a chaotic deadline or big project. That actually refuels my creative energy more than anything…I think as an artist you have to learn how to rejuvenate yourself. That pressure to achieve and produce is always going to be there, whether it’s external or self inflicted. When I find my energy is low and I have a big deadline, I’m not coming home from a crazy day at the office and throwing myself into some work even if I’m stressed or the deadline is the next day. I used to do that all the time and make myself miserable. There is this stigma that to “make it” you just have to work really, really hard. And that’s true, you do, and I think filmmakers work harder than anyone else I know, but it is not always that sustainable. Frankly, my best creative work happens when I’m relaxed. So learning to come home and be like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to make myself a cup of tea. I’m going to make some dinner. I’m going to play with my cat for a minute,’ that took some time to be okay with that. But now I find these brief mini-breaks are helpful to let my brain just change gears.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING HANDS-ON:

“There’s certain life and career skills that help an editor be more professional, that help a producer be more professional. I think those things, they’re not things you can learn anywhere else except from being on set…I went to film school at NYU, which was an education beyond all educations, it was world class, it changed my life. But I would say with honesty that I learned the most when I was on set with my fellow students. That process of making mistakes, trying things we learned in class, or trying new things, and seeing what worked out in the end, that was where I learned the most about making films, and about being a professional. There are happy accidents, or these things that gel that you just can’t teach, that you have to see in action, you know?…And I think that’s why I like the Film Connection so much.”

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