Diane Bell – Like a Patron Saint of Indi Filmmakers

Diane Bell – Like a Patron Saint of Indi Filmmakers

Masha Savitz- Culture Dish #5

If you secretly, or not so secretly want to make films, but think, “Who am I to make a film, I don’t have any connections in Hollywood, I didn’t go to film school, I don’t know how to write a script, etc. etc. etc., than Shoot from the Heart might be for you.

Shoot from the Heart, a book and online film academy were created by award-winning director and writer Diane Bell who draws from her own experience of conquering self-doubt that eventually and triumphantly made way for her first feature Obselidia.

Produced by her production company Rebel Heart FilmObselidia premiered at the Sundance film festival in 2010 and won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and Cinematography Award. In 2011, Obselidia received two nominations at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Her other films include Bleeding Heart (starring Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet) and Of Dust and Bones.

Part trailblazer, part cheerleader, part guru, Diane Bell, addresses the “I cant syndrome” and lays out a comprehensive plan for how you can, targeting those who feel alienated from the filmmaking enterprise because it just wasn’t what they were exposed to growing up because it feels out of their grasp.

(Photo Courtesy of Diane Bell)


Bell’s approach is as much psychological as it is technical, addressing the inhibiting beliefs or debunking the prohibiting myths that might keep us from participating in the career that might be waiting for us.

Q: You seem to come from a very spiritual perspective or from a physiological philosophy of filmmaking, hence the name of your book and Academy, Shoot from the Heart, is that your intention? Is this is a unique way to approach filmmaking? Please expound.

I absolutely believe that as a screenwriter or filmmaker, you will do your best work when you take action from your intuition and inner guidance, hence the title Shoot From the Heart.  Too often, we’re focused on the results we want to achieve and we’re looking for validation outside of ourselves, instead of trusting the process and validating ourselves. When we make that leap, to me: that’s when the magic occurs and you have a shot at making something truly special.

I don’t know that it’s a unique way to approach filmmaking, but it’s certainly not conventional!

I’m sure it’s connected with the fact that before writing and making films, I spent years practicing and teaching yoga and meditation.  Making a film, creating art, to me these are also spiritual practices. Everything is!

Q: Why are you so passionate to help others make films? Why is this so important to you?

I didn’t grow up thinking that making films was possible.  I didn’t believe that I could be a screenwriter or that my voice mattered.  But through a lot of persistent inner work, I broke through my own internal obstacles and not only became a professional screenwriter but also went on to write and direct three features (so far!), including one that won two awards at Sundance and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.

If you had told me that would be possible when I was in my twenties, I would have laughed at you.   I wish someone had been there to say, “yes, YOU can do this”. That’s who I aspire to be in other people’s lives – the one who says, “yes, you can and here’s how, so quit with the excuses and do it.”

So many of us feel the calling to write or direct, but self-select out of it because it seems so frightening or overwhelming.  “Who am I to make a movie?” is a question I wrestled with – and my answer for anyone who is asking it now is, “who are you not to, if it’s your calling?”

It’s my life purpose to empower others with the practical information as well as the inspiration they need to do the work they were put on this planet to do.

Q: What was your process to creating a filmmaking Academy? What are some of the experiences that lead you here?

It’s been a long, organic journey that started in 2014.  I had just finished making my second feature, BLEEDING HEART, and I felt depressed.  Despite the fact that the film had a much bigger budget than my first film and had name actors in it (Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet), I had a very difficult time making the movie and didn’t love the results.

It made me realize that so many of my choices with that film had been based in fear.  I’d signed a contract to make it knowing the producers and I weren’t a great match but was motivated by this thought, “this is the right thing to do for my career, suck it up.”

As the dust settled, I realized I’d forgotten the most important thing when you’re making an indie film: ground all your choices in love, and you can’t go wrong.

I realized that so many aspiring filmmakers get caught up in the same false traps – and this is why they weren’t succeeding.  They were buying the lies that films have to be made a certain way. They were waiting for permission, and if it came, often compromising their own integrity and vision to do what was right for their careers, as they had been told to do by “industry pros”.  Of course, many never get permission at all and just spend years trying to get their movies made. The result? Mediocre indie films, broken dreams and jaded hearts.

I decided then to create an intensive weekend workshop in which I’d share everything you REALLY need to do in order to have epic success as a self-starting indie filmmaker.

I taught these workshops sporadically over the following years and honed the material.  That became the basis of my book on indie filmmaking, SHOOT FROM THE HEART, which in turn provided the foundation for the online course.

By this time, I’d also started teaching screenwriting live in classrooms, and have subsequently created an online course on that too.

(Photo courtesy of Diane Bell)
(Photo courtesy of Diane Bell)

Q: How is the information that you offer, in your book and classes, differ from all the books and on]line classes out there. Why is there a need for what you offer?

All the information I share comes from a place of integrity and authenticity, meaning it comes from my own honest experiences.  I don’t teach theory. I teach real-world, nuts and bolts, how to make it happen yourself information along with a heavy dose of “if I can do it, you can too” inspiration.

When I decided to make my first film, there were a lot of books on guerilla filmmaking (ie no budget) and a ton on the conventional path (ie get name talent and secure foreign sales), but there were none giving me the information I needed.  I wanted to raise the money myself, pay everyone who worked on my movie (including myself) and make a movie that had a real shot at standing out.

That’s what I did (I raised $140k and the movie premiered at Sundance), and that’s what I teach.

The information I share, I haven’t seen anyplace else.  It’s a unique approach that can be used by anyone, anywhere.  It demystifies the whole process of making a film and gives you a clear actionable plan.

I also felt that so much of the way filmmaking was being taught was very macho and pretty intimidating for women.  The young dude who wants to be the next Chris Nolan had a ton of resources to refer too, but if you don’t fit that mold filmmaking can feel like a party you’re not invited to.  I wanted to change that and empower other kinds of voices. We need other voices to be heard, and this is my way of contributing.

Q: Is the book enough for someone interested in making a film? Who is a good candidate for the extensive Academy courses?

The book is an awesome place to start if you want to actually make a movie.  It will give you the fundamentals you need to make it happen. It will also totally inspire you.

The online academy takes the material in the book and goes 10x more in-depth.  It’s an epic resource to get your film off the ground and flying. There are 25 video-based lessons that cover every stage of making a movie, tons of samples and references, and best of all: group coaching calls with me in which you can share your challenges and triumphs and get the support and accountability to make sure you achieve your goals.

In addition to the main filmmaking Academy, so far I’ve created two further courses, Write Your Screenplay in 8 Weeks and Sell Your Screenplay.

A huge variety of filmmakers and screenwriters sign up  – from those who have never written or made any films before and have zero experience in the industry, to those who have written and directed prestige movies in the past but are looking for support, community and inspiration.  Really it’s for anyone who wants to make a movie that has a real shot at standing out and who wants to have an awesome time doing it.

Q: What are your aspirations for SFTH Academy, and for yourself in the next few years?

I used to always dream about winning an Oscar.  I still think there’s one out there with my name on it (screenwriting, FYI), but my dream just now is to see someone else up on that stage, clutching their award, and thanking me for helping them achieve the impossible.  That’s my goal.

Q: In one of your videos, ‘What it takes to succeed as a filmmaker’, you said at the end, ‘it’s so much more than making movies. Please explain.

If you feel the calling to make movies, you might think it’s a selfish or frivolous thing.  But it’s not.

Our desires and dreams are in our hearts for a reason, and if we follow them, we’ll do the work in this lifetime that we were born to do.  We’ll grow, we’ll heal ourselves, transform ourselves, and in doing this, we’ll help heal the planet. So yes, I think it’s about so much more than making movies!

The end result of the journey of making a movie, the possible awards and acclaim and money – these are nothing compared to the gift of who you had to become to make the movie.

If it’s part of your life calling – and if you have the courage to listen to it, a life more magical than anything you can imagine will be yours. And you’ll impact other lives in ways you’ll never know.

To me, movies don’t just reflect our reality, they help create it.  Your voice, your unique, once-in-eternity perspective matters. The world needs your unique voice, it’s there for a reason – otherwise, you wouldn’t feel the calling.

(Photo courtesy of Diane Bell)
(Photo courtesy of Diane Bell)

So my passion and my life purpose are to help those who feel the calling, to give them the practical tools they need as well as the inspiration and support.  I am deeply honored to do this work. It feels like everything in my life has led me to it.