Independent filmmaker

Andrew Holzschuh is a Dallas-based filmmaker with a stunning portfolio of compelling short films. Naturally, I had to meet Andrew, as I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for visual storytellers. Shortly after some minutes into our chat, however, I discovered an energy that spoke volumes beyond his work: the very genuine drive he possesses to inspire personal growth within his audience. Drawing inspiration from both external and internal sources, Andrew attributes much of his accomplishments to spending time outdoors, as well as building better relationships. Here’s a glimpse into his approach to work and adventure.

You started trying your hands with film back in high school. What was it about film that you wanted to heavily get involved with? I actually had gotten into photography first, and eventually started dabbling with stop motion. At the same time, too, I was playing around with my parents’ point and shoot camera that could shoot videos. I always just liked shooting, and was always making videos with my friends. 

Towards the end of senior year of high school, I was really focused on figuring out what I wanted to do. I knew I enjoyed photography, but what I really loved about film was its storytelling aspect. With film, I could communicate an idea or a perspective that I couldn’t with photography, or even words. I wanted to tell stories, and it just felt right to pursue film

When you begin on a project, does the fear of audiences not liking your work ever cross your mind, or do you create in your own direction – regardless of what audiences might think? Absolutely. I think this is a fear that most of us face. In these kinds of careers, I think with anything that we make, we’re all ultimately searching for acceptance. Being an artist, it’s a real battle for me, trying not to make something that other people like, but making something that I like and doing it for myself. There are some who are able to do this; to create purely for themselves. I think that’s a beautiful thing – I’d love to be able to do this myself – but I’m still working on it.

A compilation of Andrew’s 2015 portfolio, ranging from client to personal work.

Some might argue that social media is an essential tool in a filmmaker’s work. From our previous chat, you seemed to disagree. I’d love to know further about your take on the use of social media. Well, it’s obvious that social media is very beneficial in its ability to reach a large number of people. At the same time, though, that’s only one side of how I see the use of it. That’s the side where you’re able to connect with others in your space, which I think is important – especially as a freelancer – to have some kind of social presence. It’s also very convenient, and it makes it much easier to meet people who you typically wouldn’t run into on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, there was a time when I was so caught up in what people thought of me and my work on social media. The amount of followers my work had, the likes, all of it. Ultimately, as an artist, I don’t think those things should matter. I’ll use social media every now and then to promote client work, but other than that, I’m very happy with my relationship with it. The way I see it, “community” defined by social media isn’t authentic community. I value real life relationships so much more than I do online comments, and those relationships have a much more profound effect on my work than online connections.

What is the one mistake you think most independent filmmakers make, regardless of experience? Haha, I’m not sure about this one. In all honesty, I wouldn’t completely describe myself as a filmmaker either. One reason being is because it’s such an overused term, and another is because I don’t think you’re truly a filmmaker unless you actually create films for people to watch as entertainment. But I guess that brings me to a point: I think one mistake people make is when they don’t create stuff! People are so focused on learning at the next conference or waiting for the next new tool to come out, when they should understand that real growth comes from simply creating with your craft and working with what you have. Go get yourself a camera, some basic equipment, and start making stuff. 

At times, I’ll fall into this mindset myself. At this point in my career, I would really like to work with a full production, cast and crew, and a more traditional form of production. However, I haven’t had that opportunity, and sometimes I’ll think to myself that really sucks, but when I have a moment of truth, I’ll remind myself that everything I need in order to tell a story is right here in front of me. I can make something. 

So many people get caught up in certain types of aesthetics or certain levels of production that comes with higher-quality films, that it makes them think they can’t create without having those things. The reality is, having those resources at first aren’t going to force you to grow as an artist. Creating with a lack of resources may not turn out great at first, but you definitely learn to get more creative with what you have.

“Creating with a lack of resources may not turn out great at first, but you definitely learn to get more creative with what you have.

A City is a Poem, a short film exploring the less know about corners of Dallas and its people. Created by Andrew in collaboration with award-winning American slam poet Joaquin Zihuatanejo.

How do you find it best to overcome the obstacle of feeling creatively stuck? I definitely feel this way a lot. If it’s a personal project, I sometimes find that it helps to step away for a while and start on something else. If it’s client work, however, I’m still learning to handle this in the best possible way.

I like to use the “sandbox” metaphor to approach times like these. The metaphor goes something like this: as a kid, if you open your backdoor into your backyard and see a sandbox for the first time, you would immediately run over to the sandbox to build a sand castle. Because as a kid, that’s exciting and unfamiliar, right? However, as you get more familiar with the sandbox, you’ve been playing with it for a while, and someone asked you to walk over to build a sand castle, it’s not as exciting anymore.

So my take on it is to find any way at all to not look at projects as a job. I want to take that pressure away, look at it as a privilege that I get to make whatever I want, and have fun doing what I love. It’s kind of shifting into that “I get to” mentality versus the “I need to” one.

Tell us a little bit more about you and Kristen’s six month journey on The Pacific Crest Trail. What were you drawn to about this sort of adventure, and what was your biggest takeaway from it all? I had learned about the trail before we got married, and thought it was really awesome. I just thought it’d be cool to hike for six months and be in nature for that long. When we got married though, things were settling down and I definitely didn’t want to go alone for that long. I also wasn’t going to make her do it with me, ha. But then we got to a point where we were talking about getting away from Dallas for a year or two and moving to Hawaii. Ultimately something about that just didn’t feel like us. One night, after realizing we definitely were not going with the Hawaii plan, I brought up the idea of hiking the PCT. It just felt right to both of us.

As for the takeaways, there was a lot I learned. Mainly though, we learned how much our relationships meant, especially with our friends and family back at home in Dallas. As I said earlier, prior to the journey, we had planned to move out to the west coast after finishing the trail. As we were approaching Washington, however, I remember all we could think about was coming back home. Our friends and family had been so supportive throughout the six months, and it all kind of implemented the idea that geography really isn’t everything. People are so much bigger than geography, and the journey really cemented that.

“People are so much bigger than geography

4 pairs of shoes, a timelapse of Andrew’s shoes through the PCT.

I’m a big fan of your short film, Touch. How did this project come about, and what were you hoping to accomplish with it? I really just wanted to make a short film. Long term speaking, I definitely want to be able to call myself a true filmmaker and make actual movies. If I was going to do that, I knew I needed to begin making short films. Touch was my first push towards that direction. I had the time earlier in that year to create a short film, so I immediately took up on that opportunity. I didn’t exactly know how I was going to do it, but I just dived in and figured it out along the way. I launched a Kickstarter campaign for support. 

The topic of pornography addiction was one that I’ve found many men could relate to. No one ever talks about it, but when I meet with other guys and engage conversation with the topic, I see that it resonates with them all in some degree. I thought it was time to spark a conversation about pornography addiction. I didn’t care if the film itself didn’t reach a large number of people, I just want to be able to make a living doing what I love. I want to tell stories, spark conversations, and inspire growth in the people who do take the time to watch. If my short film was able to inspire just one person to head in a direction of growth, I would have accomplished my job.

Touch, a short film about porn addiction.

Your final piece of advice to an aspiring independent filmmaker? Again, start making stuff. I can’t stress this enough, but there’s really no excuse. Get yourself a camera if you don’t already have one, and go shoot. If you want to call yourself a filmmaker, go shoot. Even if you have to do so with your phone, make as much as you possibly can and learn to work with what you have. The rest will fall into place.

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