filmmaking lessons
Divine painting (Credit: Eric Green)

There are worse ways to spend the summer than reading the printed works of John Waters. The legendary cult film behind Hairspray and Polyester, as well as beloved personality, is a man born to type and speak the truth through filth. From his movies to his books to his stage shows, he inspires with his authenticity, and he entertains with his showmanship.

Presently, fans and newcomers can enjoy one of the Academy Museum’s finest exhibits to date, “John Waters: Pope of Trash.” The exhibit is an inspiring trip through the works of John Waters, including Pink Flamingos and Serial Mom. Simply go.

I just finished and adored one of his most recent published books, “Mr. Know-It-All.” In it, he dispenses plenty of wisdom about filmmaking, which at Immersive Media, we wanted to share with our readers.

filmmaking lessons
Hairspray costumes (Credit: Eric Green)

Prepare For Backup

“You should always have backup plans. No one career lasts forever. If you can’t get a movie made, write a book; if the book doesn’t sell, go on a speaking tour. You gotta stay out there. Meet your public. Press flesh. Hold babies. Do selfies. Sign autographs. When you’re out, you’re at work, get used to it. ‘Sorry to interrupt,’ fans sometimes say, but they’re not. They paid for that outfit you’re wearing, didn’t they? They have the right to have a photograph with them. You are never ‘off’ in show business.”

filmmaking lessons
Cry Baby costume (Credit: Jack Giroux)

How To Pitch

“A Hollywood pitch is like turning in the ultimate homework assignment to strict teachers. Public speaking is one of the few things I was ever taught in school that I actually used later in life. And the Boy Scouts of America were right about one thing — be prepared. You can’t bullshit an exec in a pitch meeting. You have to know the whole story, especially the end. Come up with an ad campaign, too, just to let the studio know you realize they must market your film to the whole wide world. And if you really want some brownie points, pick up the restaurant tab at the follow-up meeting and say, ‘We’re all in this together.’ Believe me, they’ve never heard this before and the reward is much better than in school.”

filmmaking lessons
Hairspray casting call (Credit: Jack Giroux)

Have At Least Two Fans

“But suppose you’re still failing, struggling unsuccessfully to find your voice? You should ask yourself, am I the only person in the world who thinks what I’m doing is important? If yes, well, you’re in trouble. You need two people to think your work is good — yourself and somebody else (not your mother). Once you have a following, no matter how limited, your career can be born, and if you make enough noise, those doors will begin to open, and then, and only then, can you soar to lunatic superiority.”

filmmaking lessons
A prop from Serial Mom (Credit: Eric Green)

How To Direct A Star

“Movie stars want to be directed. The worst thing I could have ever have said to Kathleen [Turner on Serial Mom] as we approached a new scene together would have been ‘What do you think, Kathleen?’ Also, never leave a leading lady alone once she’s in costume and has been delivered to the set. She is why you got your movie made in the first place. Idle time for major talent can only lead to shit-stirring from the ignored and famous. Pay attention to your stars as if your life depended on it. It does.”

Filmmaking lessons
Promotional materials (Credit: Eric Green)

Love The Press

“Mid-career is the time to realize that failing upward is the only way to go, but it’s a tricky thing to pull off. Show business never takes place in reality; it combusts in the heat of the moment, so turn up the gas, light a match, and make your reputation explode. You have to love the press. Read it everyday. Make tabloid news stories from your personal soap operas. Pretend you’re on a talk show when you’re just home in your apartment. Try speaking in only sound bites for one whole day on your job. Once you understand how media works, then you both can use each other — one for free material, the other for unpaid advertisements. It’s a dance of of mutual exploitation where both partners win.”

Jack Giroux

In high school, Jack would skip classes to interview filmmakers. With 15 years in film journalism, he's contributed to outlets such as Thrillist, Music Connection Magazine, and High Times Magazine. He's witnessed explosions, attended satanic rituals, and scaled volcanoes in his career, but Jack's true passion is interviewing artists.