Film Instructor Dov Simens

Dov Simens

Dov Simens, a touring Hollywood line producer and film instructor, is set to take the stage in Portland on February 7th and 8th at the Clinton Street Theater. The workshop is a part of the MovieMaker Institute sponsored by MovieMaker Magazine. This class will be Simen’s first appearance in Portland.

How did you get started as a film instructor?
It was 1986. I had been line producing feature films for Roger Corman, and a fellow line producer, who was on a panel at UCLA, got a four week job in Singapore and asked me to replace him. I did, and after the panel the dean of UCLA asked if I would like to present a low-budget filmmaking course. I did. It was highly successful and I was approached to lecture on independent filmmaking at USC, and then at NYU, which I did. It was then 1990 and I had taught at the three top film schools in America. I decided to go independent, forming my own school, the Hollywood Film Institute, with weekend intensives for adults.

What is the biggest misconception that holds aspiring filmmakers back?
They think that filmmaking is an art form and that Hollywood, a massively profitable industry, does not know what it is doing. In fact, filmmaking is truly a business: it’s called “Show Business,” and Hollywood does know what it’s doing. Filmmaking is a business, and everything costs something – and 95 percent of first-time filmmakers have little to no idea how to rent a camera, buy expendables, hire a crew, cast affordable talent, pay for insurance, secure locations, and negotiate a film permit.

What does it take to be a successful filmmaker? Can it be taught?
Common sense. Passion. Work ethic. Talent. You must first have a great idea that is realistic to make on a minimal budget. Then you get the great idea made into a great script with minimal locations. Then you must secure that minimal budget and work 15 to 18 hour days for three to four weeks straight and forget about exhaustion. Plus, you must make this movie uniquely different (that’s where your talent comes in) and get it into the right film festival, at the right time, with the hopes that the proper buyers (acquisition executives) are in the audience – and then turn it over to Providence.

What’s the hardest step of getting your first film made?
The hardest part is getting real! Getting the great script, that takes place in one-location that can be made in one to three weeks with a minimal crew. I truly believe that once one gets the great script, that takes place in one location, the money will come. When the money comes the movie will get made. The great no-budget script, with 40 to 50 scenes, three subplots, great dialogue and a solid resolution is not the most expensive thing to get, but it is the hardest thing to get.

What have you seen change in the industry? What has stayed the same?
I’ve seen changes in the last 20 years – including cheaper cameras, digital technology, more revenue streams, government financing programs, on-demand profits and massive product placement revenues. But what has not changed is that writers are still writers, actors are still actors, crew is still crew, distributors are still distributors, exhibitors are still exhibitors and investors are still investors.

Do you have any favorite “ah ha!” moments during your course?
When I give the formula for screenwriting and show how to adapt it for your movie, that’s a big moment. Eyes really light up Saturday morning when they learn directing and selecting shots in only 30 minutes. The next “ah ha” comes with budgeting on Saturday afternoon, when everyone learns what everything costs as you make a feature film from soup to nuts. Then comes Sunday, when the class learns the secrets and tricks of attending and winning film festivals and securing a distributor. The final and biggest “ah ha” comes Sunday afternoon, when I teach a very simple method to finance your feature film. I’ve always loved seeing Quentin Tarantino, Will Smith, Queen Latifah, Christopher Nolan, Rutger Hauer – all of these pros who attended the course – sit in the back row with crossed arms at first, and then after 15 minutes of information they uncross their arms and for the next two days take voracious notes. Plus, I am always amazed when studio executives from Warner Brothers or Paramount or Sony, or TV executives from NBC or CBS, or cable executives from HBO or TNT or SYFY take the course and write 20 to 30 pages of notes.

Tell us about a filmmaker or some films that embody the method that you teach – in other words, who should your students look to as examples?
I teach the film business, so I love any film that makes a profit. I love teaching people how to make profits with their dreams. Now, as for examples for who my students should look to? Roger Corman. Quentin Tarantino. John Sayles. The Coen Brothers. View every famous (and obviously wealthy) director’s first feature film. Only look at their first feature – that is exactly what I will be teaching how to make, on the weekend of February 7th through 8th.

Who should take your course?
Anyone, whether pro or amateur, who has not made a feature film that made profits, and wants to. I believe that every single person in Oregon who either wants to be or is a writer, director, actor, editor, composer or businessman would benefit from the course. Whether you’ve worked on Grimm or Portlandia or you barely have a YouTube channel, if you want to write, produce, direct, or even star in a feature film, you should be in this course.


For more information or to purchase tickets, go to

Josh Leake
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Josh Leake

Executive Director at Portland Film Festival
Portland-based producer and director Josh Leake is the founder and executive director of the Portland Film Festival, which MovieMaker Magazine named one of the world's "coolest" film festivals. He produced "Glena," a feature length documentary that premiered at Slamdance ’14 (now available on Showtime and VOD). His film "Emptys," a short documentary about people who collect beverage containers as their principal source of income, won first place at Tropfest New York. With his production company, Mindpollen, he's currently developing an adaption of Chuck Palahniuk's "Lullaby." Follow him on Twitter @joshleake and @portlandfilm.
Josh Leake
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