"YouTube is exciting, but it's also a nightmare" - Making Movies with Dom Fera

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When Dom Fera was in middle school, his mom asked him one question; If he was given a sum of money, would he spend it on sports supplies or movie gear? Without hesitation, his answer was the movie gear. That’s when he realized what he cared about most was making movies and went full-blast into his passion. Now Fera is an evolving filmmaker and sharing it with his audience on YouTube.

We sat down with Fera at a cafe in LA and talked about his experience in film school, musicals, and advice to aspiring filmmakers.

You graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of Arts in Film & Television. What was that experience like?

I feel like I went into film school like a little idiot, obsessed with big crazy movies that weren’t even close to my realm of possibility. And I was surrounded by people who wanted to make the quieter little indie movies, and movies about somber reflections upon oneself… the first thing I wrote in film school was about ghosts in an attic that discover porn. No one thought it was funny, but I thought it was extremely funny.

That’s why I always suggest people go into film school, because you end up being around so many people with so many different tastes. Everyone is always buzzing all the time.

How did you transition from the comfort of being in school to entering filmmaking full-time?

I was annoying after graduating. I was really impatient. But I think you also have to be stupidly optimistic sometimes, you have to think you’re always a couple weeks away from something amazing, and that’s what’s keeping me going.

If you’re graduating right now, you’re not running out of time. You’re out of school now, deal with everything on a short timeline, don’t worry. Go easy on yourself. Usually when you take the pressure off, you’re going to make better stuff anyways.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

Making stuff that goes online is hard, by nature, because it’s really easy to compare it to the other stuff it’s next to. But if something doesn’t work the way you wanted, you have to let yourself to be down for a minute, because that’s the extremely human reaction to an expectation not being met.

My biggest advice to anyone making anything, is to put all your eggs in one basket for a while, then take all your eggs and put them in another basket. It lets you not be disappointed for too long. Actively remind yourself what you want to see and what excites you, and keep chasing it.

How did you delve into creating music?

As a kid I was obsessed with trailers, specifically trailer music. Like the big loud possibility of what a story could be, before you knew the movie. The big smash to the title, I love it. And that’s entirely a music thing, especially in older trailers.

In the wild west days of YouTube I was just stealing the music from Jim Carrey movies and like, Cats & Dogs, but obviously that had to stop. I never actually learned how to compose or anything, so it was fully punching a wall until I started to sort of understand what I wanted.

And I thought that I always hated musicals. Apparently I love musicals.

With your work, you have to pitch your ideas quite often. How do you handle the process?

It’s not difficult for me to get excited about a new thing, so usually when I hear No about something, I have something else locked and loaded.

When do you think it’s an advantage to be a jack of all trades rather than a master of none?

It helps in the sense that when I ask other people to do stuff, I know what’s it’s like doing it. It gives me a better sense of all the different departments. When I was growing up I didn’t see a difference between being in it, writing it, directing it, editing it, or making the music. I always thought of it as you make the movie, and then it’s you at the end. It’s part of you. But that goes both ways, because when it doesn’t really work, it’s still me. I like doing it that way but that’s not the big goal. And like, admittedly the things that aren’t writing or directing or acting are way less my priorities, and infinitely less what I’m good at. The whole point of being on a “real” set is to surround myself with people who rock at their job, so I can stop doing their job bad.

How do you approach your film collaborations?

Well I never did YouTube the right way. The only reason I’ve ever collaborated with someone was just because I knew them, I became pals with them, and I was around them enough that eventually it was like, why aren’t we doing something together? How I like to shoot my shorts and make my music, especially when there’s other people involved, is I really want it to feel like we’re just hanging out and everybody is sharing the thing we’re making.

Where do you see the filmmaking industry going in the future?

I think Tim H said this, but there’s definitely going to be a point, maybe it’s in 10 or 20 years, where when you go out to see a big movie, it’s not going to be weird that those people are also internet filmmakers. I don’t think it’s going to be a success story anymore. You’ll hear the director of James Bond saying, “Yeah I got my start on Vine.” It’s not really special anymore, like as a filmmaker right now, how could you ignore the promise of your movie being watched? That’s YouTube, that’s the whole point, you want people to see it. That’s why YouTube is exciting, but it’s also a nightmare. There’s all this added stuff that comes along with making something now.

The good news is, things that are changing about movies are all external. The movies themselves are not changing at the core. People still like the same old movies they always liked. The center of what makes a movie is not going away, the core of what a story is isn’t changing, so it’s less scary when you think of it that way. All the stuff that’s changing is how you have to present yourself, which isn’t that bad.

How do you cope with the pressure of progressing your career in such a competitive industry?

There’s a weird thing where, if you’re someone who has made stuff for YouTube for as long as we have, you get this sense that you should be farther along in your career. We were able to start at such a crazy young age and be seen. That’s not ever how it’s worked. Where I am right now, in a different decade, this is when I would start making stuff that people would be looking at. So it’s just patience. I preach it but I’m extremely impatient, it’s hard.

Last year was your first year at Buffer Festival and you won an award! How did that feel?

The award was awesome and everything, but when I think about the time last year, I think about showing the movie and hearing everyone laugh and go along with it. Then all the people who said something to me afterwards at the hotel, like I even talked about it then, but there were true moments where I could’ve cried. I was really happy.

The YouTube thing can feel so crushingly singular for so much of the process that anytime you get to be around people and feel like it’s having an actual human effect, it’s a treasure, and that’s how it felt at Buffer. It was all real people. If the typical YouTuber there posted something and it had under a thousand views, they’d be bummed out, meanwhile you’re in that theatre and you hear everyone in person, it could be a hundred people, and you’re overwhelmed. It puts it into perspective.

Tell me about your film premiere this year!

I really like time travel apparently. Last year I did Content and there was time travel in that. This year the basic conceit is interviews with accidental time travellers. The idea is that at random points, at all times, there are people blasting out of their era and into different ones for no reason. I like ideas like this, where it plays with your imagination out in the real world, like you can walk around and think, “Oh, someone around me right now might not be from this time.” I like that stuff.

Janine Maral is lifestyle photographer and culture writer. When Janine’s not writing, she’s planning her next trip, listening to a podcast, or making guacamole.

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