You have talents as a writer and filmmaker that are uniquely yours.
You want to create those films that run through your mind. You can see these movies or shows in your head. And you have things to say that should be said – and that we should hear.
Maybe you give voice to a community that’s been kept invisible and marginalized. Or you want to use story-telling to inspire people to work together and build the kind of world we want to live in. Or you’ve always been passionate and creative and you know in your heart of hearts that you’d blow us away if your talents were given a chance.
You are right to think these things.
So What Gives?
Despite those few moments of grace when you can remember that you have something important to offer, years of procrastination go by. Fact is… there are things that no artist, of any kind, can do without guidance and support.
We lack money, we lack time, we’re overwhelmed by responsibilities and distractions and other work (as in: paid work, that we can’t get around having to do). But more than anything else, what gets in our way are the insecurities and doubts that plague us. What if what I’d create is complete crap and I’m fooling myself to think that I got what it takes? What if I’m a hack?
That’s me right after college, trying to look like a bad ass but definitely not feeling like one.
My name is Ela Thier
and holy cow do I know about all of the above. If we haven’t met before, here’s a little about me:
I went to film school at NYU and graduated in 1993. After film school I felt totally discouraged, didn’t think I had what it takes, and I couldn’t handle what felt like cut throat competitiveness. I also believed that a creative life was all about waiting around to get discovered. That wait went on for years.
So I quit.
After graduating from film school I spent my days at a soul sucking office job. Filmmaking became a dusty and long-forgotten dream, though I did try to occasionally write as I continued to harbor the secret hope that some day I’ll sell a screenplay.
I also continued to take more screenwriting classes; there I got ridiculed when I showed works-in-progress.
I left these classes becoming a total perfectionist about my writing. Plot point X must happen on page Y! The perfect recipe for writing blocks. I quit writing too.
More than ten years after film school, a series of events and insights turned that ship around. I made a U-Turn and went at it. Slowly at first, gaining momentum, and eventually at full steam ahead.
Today I'm the filmmaker
that I always wanted to be
I’ve written, directed, produced and performed in numerous short and feature films. My first feature film, Foreign Letters, was sold to a notable independent distributor and screened at over 140 film festivals. My new feature film, Tomorrow Ever After, was self-released theatrically and on VOD platforms, and has received prominent awards and critical acclaim in major papers. My short film, A Summer Rain, screened at hundreds of venues around the world and passed half a million views on YouTube. I’m currently in development on several projects and I’m in love with my work.
I didn’t find a magic pill that made all this easy and I don’t have one to sell. Filmmaking is hard work no matter how you slice it. I spent years gathering the most effective tools I could find, growing my skills, learning from mistakes and building a network of support. These were the ingredients that made the work possible. One thing that I know for sure: it is possible.
As a filmmaker, I began teaching what I was learning, kind of by accident.
While finally managing to actively pursue my creative dreams, I also needed to make a living but I couldn’t find a job. I was even turned away from a dog-walking gig I interviewed for. Meanwhile, I was still a workshop junky learning anywhere I could. When I finally noticed that my colleagues kept turning to me, specifically, for input on their work, an idea came to me. One day, on a train ride home from class, I thought to myself: why don’t I teach the writing class that I wish I could take? I had no idea what I was about to embark on.
This was 2006 and 2 people signed up. So I offered a one-time free class, and from there I got 6 more students. Within a couple of years, word-of-mouth spread organically, and I ended up with a couple hundred students. Meanwhile, many of the writers who were studying with me refused to leave my class, so I kept having to add more classes. One of the 2 people who first signed up ended up taking my classes on and off for over 7 years.
When, by necessity, I had to learn to direct and produce my own scripts, I began to teach my students how to direct and produce their own scripts. So what started out as a slew of screenwriting workshops turned into a one-stop-shop to learn all-things-filmmaking. And so began The Independent Film School.
By 2017, without doing any marketing (because I knew nothing about it and had no time for it), I had taught over two thousands screenwriters and filmmakers in New York City. In 2018, it was time to make myself available outside the New York City area by offering online courses.
I can't teach talent because it's always, already there.
What I can do is encourage you and offer the tools that you’ll need to master the craft and bring your talent to fruition.
Many film schools take a sink-or-swim attitude. There’s this unspoken myth that if “you got it” then you’ll just do well and rise to the top; if you’re not “making it” then it’s because you don’t have what it takes.
This lie infuriates me. Besides being complete bull, it also stunts and destroys artists before we ever get a chance to grow.
I’ve seen people time and time again write and create material that’s kind of blah, who, with enough practice, encouragement, and learnable skills (yeah, I just made that word up), end up creating stunning works. For real.
In studying with me, you will put an end to creative blocks and to procrastinating, you will take the plunge, you will take risks, your will try things, learn, get better, give yourself permission to make mistakes, make those mistakes, make even more mistakes, adopt, over time, the skills that you need to become a pro, and eventually become the writer and/or filmmaker that you knew all along you could be.
Don’t ever question yourself. Your desire to write or create films is all the evidence I need to know that you have unique talents that are all your own, and that are worth getting to see and enjoy. What all of us need, myself included, are the support and the tools to unleash our talents.