Tomas Leach: 13 Lessons From Making a Film with Saul Leiter

Returning to the ICA on Saturday 10 August after an immensely popular screening in June.

ICA Cinema

8 Aug 2013

Returning to the ICA on Saturday 10 August after an immensely popular screening in June, Tomas Leach's In No Great Hurry is an intimate portrait of pioneering colour photographer Saul Leiter. Tomas shares what he learned from the experience...

1 - Tell everybody

When I first thought of making a film about Saul, I started telling people. Then, when I was persuading him, I told even more people. And when I was shooting I told everybody I could. It made the film a real thing that had to happen. It gave me no chance of just letting it disappear. And it gave me constant feedback, inspiration and encouragement.

2 - Make room for the cat

The whole internet is built upon cat videos. Saul has a great cat (Lemon). So we put Lemon in the film. A lot.

3 - Don't show up empty handed

As a filmmaker, you often turn up in people's houses, tread your dirty shoes all over the place and then disappear into the night. The least you can do is turn up with an offering. I would always bring Saul coffee (he likes it hot and with milk) and maybe some cake. Like a pumkin loaf from the market on Union Square. That was a good one.

4 - Don't drink wine at lunch time

Saul once tempted me with a glass of wine at lunch time. It made me drowsy in the heat.

5 - Show the work

You might be overly familiar with it, but give a chance to people who are new to your subject's work to see it and enjoy it for the first time. And show it in as many contexts as you can...

6 - Let the person on screen lead where you go

The film is about them, not you. And to truly tell someone's story, you have to follow where they lead you.

7 - Enjoy the process

Films take a long time. You may as well have fun along the way. I decided half way through this film that if Saul said I couldn't use what we had shot, that it would have been a worthwhile experience anyway. I was spending time with someone fascinating, in a great place. All the stress and responsibility of getting a film made can weigh heavily on you if you don´t stop to enjoy what you are doing.

8 - Treasure the story you are telling and the person it belongs to

When someone gives you access to their life, to their most personal stories, you should treasure that. It's something to hold dearly and to make sure you treat with care.

9 - Let go of it

At some point you have to remember that you made this film for other people to see, not for it to live on a harddrive. You can fiddle for decades 'perfecting' something but it only really becomes a film once an audience gets to see it. Some people will hate it, others will love it and it's about giving it the chance to have an existence.

10 - Thank the people who help

Making a film is almost impossible without a lot of help. And not only in the obvious ways of lending you equipment, or working on the film. People who gave me advice, or encouragement or watched rough cuts along the way were so important. It's only right that their name is in the credits. The film wouldn't exist without them.

11 - Search out your audience

We self-distributed this film. We knew there were people who love Saul and his work, so we knew there was an audience. And we didn't want to wait for years to get it to them. We spent a lot of time nudging every single person we could think of who might like this film to watch it...

12 - Don't give up

Making films can be really difficult sometimes. Getting people to see it can be even harder. There's a lot of obstacles along the way and a lot of blank faces. You have to cling on to the original idea you had, the original flash that made you want to make this film. People can take ages to respond. Don't take it personally, just don't give up.

13 - Enjoy showing it to people

Watching a film I've made with an audience is the most nerve wracking thing I know of. But it's so important to do it. You're sharing your work with the world and you should be enjoying it. The opening minute of In No Great Hurry is funny, I think and whenever the audience laughs I get this giggly sense of pride inside.

In No Great Hurry opens on Saturday 10 August 2013.

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