“The Constant is the Story”: David Lickley on Breaking Into the Film Industry

David Lickley didn’t start out as a filmmaker. In fact, he got his Masters Degree in Biology from the University of Alberta. Over his career, he’s worked as a director, writer, or producer on over 40 nature films and science documentaries. He documented Jane Goodall in Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees, brought Morgan Freeman onboard to narrate Born To Be Wild, and has made 6 films in IMAX.

David will lead DOC Institute’s New Visions Incubator DOC Institute’s New Visions Incubator in Sudbury, helping young filmmakers to gain the resources, creative materials, and pitch documents to get camera-ready. The application deadline for New Visions Incubator is March 26, 2017.

We reached David in San Francisco to talk about his latest project, how every film has a “dealbreaker” shot, and his advice to young filmmakers.

Tell us about your most recent project. 

I’m working on a project called The Flyer in San Francisco — it’s a 5-minute 3D film. We’re just about to start filming. I’ve done big-budget 3D films and small-budget videos and shows for planetariums. The one thing that they all have in common is a sense of story. There’s a sense of progression. It doesn’t matter what kind of doc you’re doing, as long as you can bring sense of structure and story to it.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from this project? 

Learning to be flexible. Every project is different. Our cameras change from project to project. The way we shoot it depends on who is seeing it.

Technology is changing. That’s been the challenge of my career. For emerging filmmakers, the next ten, twenty years will be similar — the rate of change will be huge. But the constant is the story. At the beginning of any new tech, just seeing something in a new way is cool. But after the tenth time, it’s no longer cool. People want more. They want to learn something or experience something or follow a story.

What’s your proudest moment as a filmmaker?

Every film has those “dealbreaker” shots. The shot that people will probably remember. Those are the ones that you go, “Yeah, that was worth it.”

For Mysteries of the Great Lakes, it was a thousand sturgeons spawning in the river at the same time. It was such a spectacle. The fact that we have cameras on the water, on cranes — we got all that on film and built an entire documentary around that concept.

If you could go back & give advice to yourself as a young filmmaker, what would you say?

You never know where your path is going to take you. There’s that famous line – if you come to a fork on the road, you take it. When opportunity arises, you need to be prepared to jump in and try different things. Because you don’t know where it’s going to go.

If you really want to do something, you have to stick with it — don’t be surprised at where it might take you. Just do something interesting.

What would you recommend to young filmmakers trying to break into the industry today?

The challenge is building up a portfolio of what you’ve done. The New Visions Incubator, this kind of program is the perfect opportunity for someone to develop the first phase of a project that could be their signature piece. That gets other people to say, “I’m going to give this person a chance at something else.”

Humans are visual animals first. Our most developed sense is our sight. You really absorb info when you see something. When you put picture and sound together, it’s really, really powerful. It’s a powerful medium. That’s not going to change, no matter what the technology is.

The deadline to apply to the New Visions Incubator is March 26 before midnight. Apply now!