Meet award-winning filmmaker and director Joshua Butler, whose long list of film credentials include writing and directing the acclaimed short Will Work for Food, guest directing The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and State of Affairs, and most recently directing the upcoming show Limitless (CBS) and the film, House Not Home (Showtime). Insanely modest and levelheaded, Joshua defies every Hollywood stereotype, and brings a fresh voice and an immense talent to all of his work.
Read Joshua’s insights below, and connect with him on IVY to learn more and get involved!
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What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
For me, the biggest challenge was deciding at eight years old that I wanted to direct movies, and never changing my mind or having a back up plan of any kind.
How did it all start?
When I was eight years old, I saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey in a beautiful theater in Long Island. I came out of that move to feeling like I had just been to Jupiter. I thought: if that’s what movies can do, then I want to do that.
That same day, for my birthday present, I got an old school video camera—the old heavy kind, tethered with a 50-foot cord. I had a collection of rubber and plastic ducks (400 of them), all with names written in sharpie on their bottoms. I decided to write story lines and entire plays for these ducks, giving them voices and different personalities. And after that, it seemed like a logical extension to go from duck plays to duck movies…..
So, yes, my first films were of my rubber and plastic ducks. If you erch any of these films—and hopefully no one ever will—you will have to please ignore the fact that a human hand is walking them around and bouncing them up and down to make it seem like they’re speaking.
Obviously Stanley Kubrick was the goal, but rubber ducks are where I started. I eventually graduated to humans.
Out of all artistic mediums, what inspired you to do film?
Film has an incredibly immersive quality to it. It hits your eyes and your ears, and if you’ve seen some of John Waters’ movies, it can sometimes hit your sense of smell as well. Film incorporates a lot of different art forms into one: the art of narrative, storytelling, photography, music, sound design, and performance. There’s an intensely voyeuristic quality of it all. You’re allowed to stare directly into someone’s life story without having to look away. If you’re an empathetic human being, there’s nothing like watching a movie and being viscerally impacted by the images.
Obviously, I love other forms of media, like stage plays. But in stage plays, for example, your eyes can go wherever they want to. As a filmmaker, I get to tell you where to look and how I want you to see it. I can mold performances. Instead of having you fifth row center in the audience, I can get you right in front of someone’s face with a close up. The impact is like no other in the world of art.
In a novel, you as a reader see the movie in your brain. Your movie is going to be different than the movie of the person sitting next to you reading the same book. As a filmmaker, I have the power to reach inside everyone’s collective brains and show them the movie that I want to show them.
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What are all the invisible ways in which a director influences a film?
The power of a director comes from all the things you don’t see when you watch a movie. Most films you shoot have anywhere from twenty to one hundred times more footage than actually makes it into the film. You could spend an entire day working on a scene that in a movie will go by in three seconds. Those thirty seconds are what matter, not the hours of footage it took to capture it. You choose the finest, most elegant sequence of shots and try to find the very best of every actor at every moment. You want the cumulative effect to be the most impactful that it can be in that particular scene. If you do that in every scene, you’ve made a huge impact as a filmmaker.
Obviously, film is a collaborative art form, so you want to hire people around you who are going to bring their own creativity into the process. You need to create an environment where everyone can feel like they’re being the most creative they can be. It’s important to be in control, but to also allow the invention and creativity of others to elevate the project, so it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The very last day at USC Film School, right after graduation, the school sends you to a career counselor, who says one thing to every student when they leave: “It’s all about networking.”
As a film student who had just spent four years at an esteemed institution, it was difficult to hear, because you kind of expect that a school like USC would make it easy for you to enter the industry based on its connections. At the time, I resisted that message because it was so simple, and yet I look back on it as the best piece of advice I ever received. It is all about relationships.
It does not matter how talented you are, or what your college diploma says, or what amazing films you’re making in your apartment. You need to be out there making sure that people know you’re talented. The more people you know, the better the chance you have at succeeding in a business where often, it really does come down to access.
What’s been your favorite IVY moment?
The thing that made me immediately fall in love with the concept of IVY is that as an organization, it does not limit membership to one specific field or community. Up until I joined IVY, I had been a member of so many different groups and networks of people, but they were all centered around one discipline: film. As a filmmaker, this is the first time I’ve ever been invited to events and have been able to sit with talented people in other fields who are not only great to know socially, but also make you see how that this is a world where all of our various disciplines are crossing over in ways we’re not even aware of yet.
The world is becoming increasingly interconnected with the internet and social media, and art forms are often morphing and merging. The lines between art and science are blurring. Business and publicity and marketing are becoming a very important part of a creative person’s life now, so it’s exciting to be growing a new network of people in my life. I don’t know how those relationships will impact me yet specifically, but I know that they will be essential in the next few years to my continued growth.
How can IVY members get involved, or help support you?
If there’s anyone who is interested in being part of the production—crew members, observers, or supporters in any way, feel free to reach out! It might be interesting for IVY members to see how this all gets done.
Joshua Butler is an IVY Member (LA). Connect and collaborate with him on IVY. To learn more about IVY, please visit www.ivy.com.