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6 Filmmaking Tips From Marc Turtletaub

The producer behind such films as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Loving’ has made the leap to directing—and he’s learned some lessons along the way.
Puzzle Raf
By  · Published on August 9th, 2018

The producer behind such films as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Loving’ has made the leap to directing—and he’s learned some lessons along the way.

Marc Turtletaub — not to be confused with Jon Turteltaub of The Meg and National Treasure fame — took a long and winding road to become a film director. After attending business school and then law school, Turtletaub worked for 20 years at The Money Store, the subprime lending company founded by his father. He built up the company and then sold it, taking his $700 million profit to Hollywood and becoming a producer.

Turtletaub co-founded Big Beach Productions with Peter Saraf and went on to produce films including Little Miss Sunshine (which earned him an Oscar nomination), Loving, and Safety Not Guaranteed. Recently, Turtletaub made the jump to directing (his second feature, Puzzle, is now in theaters, and we recommend it). Although his directorial career may just be getting started, he’s an established industry veteran with plenty of quality advice to show for it.

Here are six of his best filmmaking tips:


In a recent interview with MovieMaker magazine, Turtletaub spoke about the difference between being a producer and a director, and a key skill required to excel in the latter position:

“The difference between directing and producing, for me, is when you’re producing you’re talking to one person at a time. You’re talking to the director during the shooting of the film, you’ll sometimes talk to the editor, definitely you’ll talk to the writer. But it’s one person. When you direct you’re talking to 125 people, all at once. That’s different. It’s not hard to listen to one [person]. When you have 125 people, that’s a different dynamic. As I’ve matured I’ve learned how to surround myself with talented people, cast and crew, and the biggest thing is just to listen. It’s like the old Ernst Lubitsch story, you get all these great people around you and get the hell out of their way.”

Don’t Go For The Gold

In an interview with AMovieGuy.com, Turtletaub was asked about awards and whether or not accolades factor into his moviemaking considerations. He responded as follows:

“You can’t make art thinking you are going to win an award or not. With ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ we won 2 Oscars, for screenplay and for Alan Arkin. So we’ve had honors and that’s all lovely, but you can’t go into a story or a movie looking for that to be your outcome. You go into it trying to tell an authentic story that will touch people. If it does, that is the payoff.”


In an interview at Medium, film critic Nell Minnow asked Turtletaub how his winding career path — particularly his time as CEO of The Money Store — has influenced the way he directs. He had this to say:

“I’ve had a strange life, not just career, and I’ve had a lot of experience in a lot of different things. What I think I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is how to collaborate. People who are leaders in whatever endeavor and become successful over a long-term learn how to encourage other people. That’s something you do as a director. You encourage others, whether you’re a parent doing that and leading your children or whether you’re running a company, you’re encouraging.”

… But Remember Your North Star

Turtletaub recently made an appearance on the WGN podcast The Download with Justin Kaufmann to promote Puzzle, and he brought up a similar point to the one made above, but added an important caveat (at around the 5:38 mark):

“I think a big part of [directing] is sort of navigating, not losing sight of what your North Star is as you’re making a film, but also being open enough to listen to all these talented people that are around you. And we all see the crawl at the end of a movie, of those 120 people that worked on the movie. There’s a lot of smart people that have been doing this for a long time and the key as a director is to be open to listening to many of those ideas without losing[…] sight of what your North Star is.”

Don’t Rehearse

While you can find Puzzle in theaters now, his directorial debut, 2013’s Gods Behaving Badly, is difficult to track down (it only screened once, at the Rome Film Festival, and was never released). In a recent interview with RogerEbert.com, Turtletaub says that even though he wasn’t thrilled with the outcome of his first effort, it taught him a valuable lesson that inspired the signature element of his directorial style:

“[‘Gods Behaving Badly’] was my film school, as I put it. I rehearsed the hell out of it, and I think I took some of the life out of the performances. There are some really good parts of it, but overall, it could’ve been a lot better, and that’s because I drained some of the life out of the film. After that picture, I directed a short that I didn’t rehearse. Instead, I made adjustments after the first or second take, and I had the same approach when making ‘Puzzle.’ Especially when you have consummate actors, that type of direction allows them to bring in what they’ve prepared without me mediating it or interpreting it. We talk about it, but then they bring it in themselves.”

Pick The Story That Speaks to You

A New Jersey boy, Turtletaub spoke to local East Brunswick paper the Home News Tribune (in print on July 29, 2018) about Puzzle and gave this golden rule for deciding what films to pursue, either as a producer or a director:

“I think every story we tell, if it’s any good, if you end up making something that’s good, it has to resonate with you. It has to have a truthfulness for you.”

What We Learned

Turtletaub’s directorial career may just be getting started, but with nearly 20 years as a producer and a self-professed lifetime of film fandom under his belt, he’s well-versed in moviemaking and has the words of wisdom to prove it. There are many paths to becoming a film director, and each one has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. And as Turtletaub’s story goes to show, there’s definitely something to be said for the longer, more scenic route.

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Ciara Wardlow is a human being who writes about movies and other things. Sometimes she tries to be funny on Twitter.