Filmmaker Joel Gonzales has an interesting history with the Film Connection. After graduating the program several years ago, he launched a successful career in the film industry, largely beginning with the connections he made during his on-set time as an apprentice, then continuing into jobs with known organizations like Summit Entertainment, Universal and Artists in Entertainment. But several years into his career, understanding the power of mentoring and on-the-job training, Joel reached out again to the Film Connection and asked to become a mentor!
Today, Joel mentors Film Connection students by involving them in film projects through his production company, Think Dreamer Productions based in the Los Angeles area. In a recent conversation with us, Joel weighed in with helpful insights he’s learned about having a common-sense approach to the film industry, as well as why he decided to become a mentor—and even taking a moment to talk about some of his current students. Below are some choice quotes from that conversation.
ON HOW WORKING ON-THE-JOB HELPED LAUNCH HIS CAREER:
“The mentor I had…it was like he threw me on set, and I just did what I did, which is connected with people. I networked, I hustled, and after my first movie that I worked on with him…I connected well with the AD on the project, and she liked me enough that she brought me on two more films with her as an AD trainee. And I just took that knowledge and I ran with it, and after I started booking my own features and music videos as an AD, I moved up to a line producer, and then I just started doing my own films.”
ON HOW HE CAME BACK TO THE FILM CONNECTION TO BE A MENTOR:
“I went back to Film Connection like a year ago, and I and I thought to myself, ‘Well I have experience that I could share.’ And I hounded them a little bit, and they finally came around to say, ‘Okay well we’ll give you a couple of mentees.’ And I think they liked my attitude with my students because I take it seriously…I have two mentees working right now…I took them on jobs right away.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAYING TO YOUR STRENGTHS:
“When I started in film school, I wanted to be a director. I realized I don’t have the patience for it and I don’t have that kind of, that eye for it, and I decided, you know what? My strength is producing, so I stuck to producing.”
ON HOW HE PLAYS TO HIS STUDENTS’ STRENGTHS:
Joel Gonzales and FC apprentice Mo Zhang
“Well, Mo [Zhang] is a really good . . . her strength is she has a really great eye for editing. She is very driven in wanting to understand every aspect of becoming an editor. So that’s what I have her doing now. She’s cutting out some promos videos for me she is cutting highlight reels for my other company. So that’s the approach I’m taking with her. Daniel [Bernstein], he is a really good writer. Now he came in as a directing program, and obviously I kind of saw his personality skills, and a lot of times [when] I would talk to him, he was always telling me about these stories and this sci-fi genre that he was really into. So I started kind of guiding him more into writing, because he was already writing stuff like that. I said, ‘I think your strength is a writer, not as a director yet. So why don’t we focus on you writing your own stuff and then gradually we’ll move into you directing?’ So my approach with him has become more helping him develop his writing skills.”
ON HAVING A COMMON-SENSE APPROACH TO A FILM CAREER:
“I tell every film student [that] think’s they’re going to be the next break-out director or producer—I tell them stop focusing on that, just do the work. Just do good work, make projects you enjoy… I’m not Mr. Hollywood. I’m not going to promise to get you on a James Cameron film; you’re not going to be on Jurassic World. I’ll put you on set on my music videos, my features, either for hire or something I’m producing. I will put you in front of people that if you know how to network and if you’re really are serious about this, you can make a go of it.”
ON MAKING THE MOST OF A FILM CONNECTION APPRENTICESHIP:
“One thing my mentor told me: “You’re going to get out of it what you put into it.” And that’s one thing I continue to share with [my students]. If you want to be a director, directors find materials to direct. If you want to be a writer, writers find material to write about. If you want to be a cinematographer, then get with the director, get with the writer. Come up with a short film, come up with a music video, come up with a web series. I open up my resources to them that I have. I have two edit bays here in my office, I have one in Burbank. I have camera gear. I have some grip equipment, I have a lot of great contacts that give me stuff on discounts. So I [tell them], ‘If you’re really serious about doing it, then the tools are there.’… I went through the program, and here I am producing films for hire and producing my own films. I am a good example of you get out of it what you put into it.”
Learn more about Think Dreamer Productions on Facebook, Instagram and thinkdreamerproductions.com