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How do you separate your role as writer if you’re also directing or producing your work?


For this question, we turned to Chloé Zhao, who is known for wearing multiple hats on her projects, such as the recent Oscar-winning film Nomadland, on which she is credited as writer, director, editor, and one of the producers. In the Sundance Collab event Chloe Zhao on Finding Your Way as a Filmmaker, Zhao shares that she doesn’t tend to separate these roles as “It’s almost impossible in small films because you try and write something that you can pull off.” What she means by this is that, if you know your budget constraints, you can write a movie that is more likely to get made sooner. According to Zhao, you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to wait four years for someone to give me money, or do I want to make this film in four months?”

One example of how to put this into practice is working with non-professional actors, as Zhao has done in multiple films. Instead of waiting for a budget that supports A-list talent, she suggests that you can “write your scene so this [non-professional actor] can be a version of themselves and give you the more authentic performance.”

Working this way doesn’t mean that the story should suffer or that you shouldn’t have a strong emotional arc for your characters. In fact, Zhao uses it to her advantage. “Limitations are my best friend,” she asserts. “When I don’t have limitations, I’m completely lost.” She says at the beginning of her process, she writes down some of the limitations regarding cast, location, or crew and keeps them in mind while writing. No matter the parameters, “There is a good story in every situation. There’s a human story in every situation. I think it all depends how long you want to wait for your masterpiece to come out. I’m impatient.”


Watch Chloe Zhao on Finding Your Way as a Filmmaker to hear more from Zhao on more on this, as well as how to build and sustain a career as a filmmaker, how to choose the right project, select your key collaborators, and organize your set to create a productive and positive environment.

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