The Biz /// Filmmaker Carman Ho shares her film industry advice in Q&A

Still from 'Undertow' short film written and directed by filmmaker Carman Ho

As part of our recent series of Film Production BA workshops on the business of the cinema industry, filmmaker Carman Ho joined tutor Jon-Carlos Evans and his students for a live Q&A. Read our round-up.  

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Honesty, vulnerability, interaction, disconnection and grief. If you are inspired to research any of these ineffable concepts, film is arguably the best medium in which to do it. A visualisation of the visceral, it has the power to draw in the spectator like no other, to stir deep emotion at the very moment it is experienced. It is precisely these five concepts that drive Canadian filmmaker and photographer Carman Ho’s fascinating work. Her award-winning short film, Undertow, is just one example – an incredibly moving portrayal of a couple’s mounting struggle with depression.

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“We live in a world where we’re connected in so many ways...but at the same time we’re disconnected,” Carman told our Film Production BA students in a recent internal online Q&A session. “For me, it’s interesting to explore the different ways of disconnection and the relationships between different people… Mental health is very important because we don’t talk about it enough, and it’s always shown in a negative way.”

Hosted by tutor Jon-Carlos Evans, the session was part of ‘The Biz’, a series of 12 workshops which introduced our students to the wider business of the cinema industry, emerging and ancillary technologies, and the peripheral worlds of new media and video art – all the while initiating invaluable professional connections.

Jon-Carlos once told us that he “worked in almost every position on the film set, in order to become a more understanding, creative and diplomatic creator.” Carman took a similar path, cutting her teeth in lighting and assistant direction. During the session, she was kind enough to share a great deal of the wisdom she’s acquired over the past several years on set: advice on finding inspiration, working within creative and financial limitations, building a network, negotiating collaborations, setting boundaries, seeking feedback and more. She also talked about her creative process and personal inspirations.

“It’s important to have chemistry. You could work with the best, but if you don’t connect, it’s not a fun time at all.”

Touching on one of our favourite topics at Catalyst, collaboration, Carman said, “It’s important to have chemistry. You could work with the best, but if you don’t connect, it’s not a fun time at all. The most important thing is having a good atmosphere, building a team that you trust and understanding each other’s skills.” 

Carman spoke about one topic most fledgling creative professionals struggle with: payment versus exposure. “Figure out your boundaries,” she suggested. “In the beginning, doing a lot of projects helps you figure out what you’re interested in, or to build connections. But before you take on a project, you should consider what it gives you. Will it enhance your career, help you to build connections or to try something new, or earn you money?”

Still from 'Love Lucy' short film, directed, written and edited by filmmaker Carman Ho

Above: Still from 'Love Lucy', writted directed and edited by Carman Ho. "After the death of her childhood friend, Lucy, Tess visits Lucy's grandfather to get closure but he has alzheimer's and confuses her with Lucy."

When Jon-Carlos asked Carman what inspired her to become a filmmaker, she said that she was most influenced by storytelling and the process of translating it to the screen. “The thing with humans is that we’ve been telling stories since the beginning of time,” she explained. “The cave people painted on the walls, a lot of indiginous people passed on stories orally. For me, I really liked this idea of passing on stories. It just felt natural to kind of combine the visual aspect and the oral aspect.” 

“Think about what exactly you are trying to tell and whether it will connect with someone.”

Carman also finds a great deal of inspiration in the work of other filmmakers. Pablo Larrain and Chloe Zhao were two names that came to mind. “When it’s possible, it’s important to attend film festivals because you see all these fresh voices from all over the world,” she advised. She also stressed the importance of finding stories that you want to tell. “A lot of filmmakers forget about that,” she continued, “they get distracted by tech… Think about what exactly you are trying to tell and whether it will connect with someone.”

More industry insight

Keen to learn more about the film industry from the experts? Head to our recap of freelance cinematographer Kevin Klein’s Q&A session.

Cinematographer Kevin Klein, guest interview Catalyst Berlin Film Production BA