Youth Filmmaker, Shantal Freedman, Shares Advice for Students

By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Shantal Freedman

Director Shantal Freedman

Youth filmmaker Shantal Freedman (A Strange Day in July, Ticketed) shares her advice for students who are looking to study filmmaking in College, and shares her professional journey in the film industry.

Your career in the film industry began at just 14 years old. Tell us how you got involved in the business?

I was always very creative. My parents were very supportive through each and every interest that I developed growing up. It started with piano lessons and drawing, than gardening, than back to drawing and painting, then horseback riding, then back to piano lessons, then guitar lessons, then writing lyrics, then making slide shows for friends and for school (I loved doing digital visual presentations in school. I think I was the only one who enjoyed putting pictures and music and making them look nice!), then finally, combining all of these experiences, I moved on to filmmaking. And it stuck! I believe that filmmaking is the most powerful form of communication. It’s visual, musical, dramatic, comedic, sad, and exciting. It’s a universal language.

Universal Music published a song you wrote while still in High School. How does a teenager accomplish such a feat?

I just always had to shoot for the stars. I also think one of the things that helped me push so hard and never give up was the fact that I was so young. It’s harder now than back then because now I have all of these other elements of life and responsibilities calling for my attention as well. When I was younger, it was easier to be able to focus all of my energy on these things. You have so much available energy as a kid, and I channeled that into specific areas. One of the things I used to do was send my lyrics to bands and A&R executives, my press kits to labels, etc. I would go on all of the music sites and search all of the artists. When I came across someone I liked, I messaged him or her. I once had this guy email me back 6 months after I emailed him my lyrics. He said he loved them and wanted to write music to it. He then got signed with Universal Music Group in the UK. The point is that no one is too small and no opportunity is too little. I can now say I wrote lyrics for an artist that was signed to Universal because I sat for hours every night emailing people big and small.

Your second film The Child was a music video with a narrative. What did you find most challenging about that project?

My biggest challenge was the intricate and precise planning that happened between the script, music, and lyrics. I was really lucky because the composer that I worked with, Scott Reich, is my father. Asides from the fact that he is extremely talented and he brings the cinematic elements of his compositions to it’s highest potential; we also had a really great connection. We were really in sync with what each other was thinking and doing. This is most ideal form of collaboration. So it could have gone horribly as it was a task that required a lot of work and attention, but instead it was very fulfilling and rewarding.

The writing for the short A Strange Day in July was exceptionally good. Where did that story come from?

It’s based on a story that Andrew Freedman wrote when he was 12 years old. It’s about the need to accept the difficult things in life and find a silver lining. I really identified with the youthful aspect of it. It was only because of the innocence of being a child that the main character was able to push through. He let his memories and imagination guide him. I’ve found in my life that the way to get through a lot of difficult times is to tap into your inner child because sometimes adults can let their heavy thoughts and feelings weigh them down and they forget to dream.

We first met while I was working at (NFFTY) National Film Festival for Talented Youth. Do you find it hard for people to take young filmmakers seriously?

Sadly, yes. I remember when I was starting to network both in the film and music industries; I would always keep my age a secret. There was this band that once hired me to write lyrics for them, and they wanted to continue the collaboration in person by coming to their city. They had a small house that they were renting out but their manager offered for me to stay there for free. At that point I was 14! They had no idea! I made up some excuse instead of saying that would pretty much be impossible. As a matter of fact, every time I ended up telling someone in the film and music industry how old I was, their response was always shock. In a way it was flattering that they thought I was so much older (as if being “older” or an “adult” is actually a compliment when you think about it), but on the other hand, I didn’t like the attention it put on me and I just wanted to be viewed as an equal and not an exception. I wanted to be seen for who I am and not for my age. There are so many extremely talented young filmmakers out there capable of so much.

Shantal Freedman on set with Sharni Vinson
Shantal Freedman on set with Sharni Vinson

This question comes up quite a bit in our industry. Do I need a degree to get a job in film production?

I hope not! Haha! But in all seriousness, I don’t think you need a film degree. I think all you need is passion and a drive to make it. Degrees are becoming less and less significant because people are acknowledging more and more that there are creative forms of intelligence that aren’t necessarily sitting in science class all day. That’s why I chose to go to the New York Film Academy in LA. Their program was so hands-on and we can make over 12 films over the course of two years. Some universities only have their students make 1 film per semester! And in a program like the New York Film Academy’s, you then have so many films to test out and practice your personal interests. I think that makes you a strong candidate. Of course there are some jobs that would need an official degree, but those jobs are the less creative ones. I guess what I’m trying to say is, your success in the film industry is not determined by your degree or what college you went to, but rather by your passion and energy.

Can you give us some insight into Shantal’s directing style?

I like to do whatever will service the story best. This actually connects to the question before about “A Strange Day in July”. That was the beginning of something that I still believe today. That film made me realize what kind of films I want to make and, except for one really depressing experimental film, I’ve been making films like that ever since. I strongly believe that we all need a little more laughter and joy in our lives.

Your short film Ticketed just got accepted into Cannes Short Film Corner. Congratulations! Can you describe the feeling after you got the news?

It’s really nice to know that people like the film. I just hope that it gives more people an opportunity to see it, and enjoy it. And I also hope it gives me the chance to show people what I can do! I’m trying to work out a way to attend the festival. I would love to create some opportunities for myself while I’m there and meet people who I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to meet. 

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