Living the dream is an expression you hear thrown around a lot, but dreams don’t often come true in the blink of an eye. Steadfast resilience can get you far on the winding road that leads you to where you want to be.

Sean Carter is a storyteller who has worn many hats, all of which play a role in how his personal narrative lead him to direct feature-length films.

Let’s get to know you a little! Who is Sean Carter, where is he from, anything about yourself we oughta know?!

I’m one of the few people in Los Angeles who grew up in Los Angeles. And I’m a new Dad to a nine-month-old baby, so life is very chaotic and exciting right now.

Did you ever have that “aha” moment when you knew deep down that you were destined to be a storyteller?

I’m a total child-of-the-80s filmmaker cliché. I got a camcorder when I was ten and promptly abandoned my previous dream of being a marine biologist. I spent almost every day during the summers of my teenage years making really cheesy thrillers in my backyard. I’ve had all kinds of phases since then, my pretentious drama phase, my popcorn action movie phase, but it kind of seems fitting that the movies I’m making now are the closest in tone to what I was making as a kid.

One of VIMBY’s favorite Sean Carter memories was the 1888 Mills shoot down in Griffin Georgia. Can you tell me about that experience?

The funniest part of that shoot was being in such a cinematic location. All those giant machines billowing steam against rusty old backdrops. A lot of my favorite B-roll shots got left on the cutting room floor because I was too tempted to shoot it like a horror movie, and it was supposed to be a happy uplifting story. But I always loved it when VIMBY would just send me into someplace cool with a camera and say, have at it. That freedom really puts you into a great creative mindset.

Do you have any other favorite VIMBY memories/stories?

My first project was a profile on a musician, Cook Classics. He lived near downtown LA and the day before the interview I roamed around the city shooting B-roll of various urban textures. So in the interview I asked him if the city inspired his music. At first, he didn’t really see much of a connection, but I really wanted to use this footage, so I asked the question four different ways, and he eventually caught on and described how different textures of the city could spark a creative idea. That sound bite opened up a whole buffet of editing possibilities because then I could just intercut any cool shot I got of the city — a shopping cart, a man with a cane — with footage of him making music. On one hand, it was kind of a cheat, but on the other, I feel like it got to the heart of the guy’s music in a way that seemed really fitting.

With a lot of your more recent projects living under the horror umbrella, I’m wondering how big of a role does Stephen King play in your approach to telling scary stories?

Stephen King is at the apex of all my creative influences. I got in a lot of trouble as a young junior high school student for reading his books under the table while I was supposed to be looking up at the teacher. But I just devoured his stuff ravenously, and my whole approach as a filmmaker is informed by that kind of storytelling. It’s not just a bunch of scary scenarios. He really puts the focus on his characters and makes them grow in powerful and relatable ways throughout the course of the story. Take out every scary moment, and you’d still be totally interested in what these people were doing.

Suffer The Little Children is by no stretch a typical Stephen King novel, it’s actually a short story! What challenges excite you about adapting and directing his short story into a full-fledged feature film?

I feel like the writers of Game of Thrones must have felt when they ran out of books to adapt and suddenly had to start filling things in on their own. It’s really exciting to have this amazing source material, but once it runs out, you still have to keep telling more story, and now you’re trying to match the quality of a master storyteller. That’s a really daunting and exciting challenge. I can’t imagine trying this without having been so inundated with all of Stephen King’s books growing up. That at least makes easier to put myself into that mindset. But you have to find the right balance of confidence and humility to try and pull something like that off.

STLC won’t be your first time directing a feature-length film. Keep Watching, which comes out on Halloween this year, was your first horror feature, how did that experience equip you for this next project?

Going from shorts to a feature is definitely like going from sprints to a marathon. But beyond the endurance test, most of the learning curve comes from understanding the protocol and procedure of a larger crew with professional expectations. Knowing when to go to the line producer, when to go to the UPM…navigating the gray areas between the propmaster and the art director….understanding how to please the agents of your lead actors. The egos involved work differently than they do on a short film, where people are just doing it for the love. Keeping these new things in mind takes up a lot of mental energy, and there’s way less space to be thinking about where the camera is going to go. But now that I understand these political dynamics more, I’ll be able to navigate them more subconsciously, and redirect more of my mental resources back to the creative.

With October coming up, and your passion for horror – got any recommendations for horror movies to watch this Halloween season?

Well, my movie Keep Watching comes out on Halloween, so I hope people are excited to go check that out. But aside from that, honestly, I just think everybody should go see Blade Runner and help that movie make the money it deserves!

Describe your progression throughout the industry and how it led you to directing?

Well, it’s interesting, because of my journey, I’ve become such a big believer in the 10,000-hour rule. Having picked up a video camera when I was ten, I had almost a decade of practice with camerawork and editing by the time I graduated film school. So right out of college, I was able to use my short films as calling cards to get industry attention. And I was feeling really confident…dozens of agents and managers and producers all wanting to know, “what’s my next project?” So I knew I’d have to become a screenwriter, too, so I could say, “Here it is. I want to shoot this.” But I wasn’t prepared for how challenging it would be to write a good screenplay without the 10,000 hours of writing experience.

The scripts I was writing had all these imaginative visual moments, the kind of things a director writes for his camera, but they weren’t cohesive. They didn’t have the discipline a more practiced writer brings. And it becomes a long decade in my twenties as I tried over and over again to get it right. The agents stopped calling, and I paid the bills by becoming an editor.

My classmate Jonathan Liebesman was having a big successful directing career, so I jumped on board some of his feature films as his editor. Films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and The Killing Room. But I realized editing features was sucking up all the time I had to write, so I left the more lucrative editing career and became obsessed with just maximizing my free time to join the ranks of the thousands of other young men sitting at a coffee shop in LA writing screenplays, but I knew I just had to grind it out.

And that’s where a place like VIMBY really benefited me. It gave me the freedom to make my own schedule and to stay laser-focused on my craft. And now I feel like the 10,000 hours of writing experience is starting to really pay off and I’ve been able to use that skill to jumpstart the feature directing career I hoped for.

You’ve got quite a few filmmaking disciplines in your toolkit, how do those inform your directing?

It’s great to come into directing having done almost every crew position before, particularly having spent a lot of time with cinematography and editing. So I’m always very sensitive to the experience of the crew, and it certainly helps me to be very specific and technical about what I want. But the luxury of having done things yourself can also sometimes make it challenging. When you’re used to being the cameraman or the editor, you can just turn your analytical brain off and live in a very “right-brain” creative space.  But when you’re the director, it’s all about verbalizing to somebody else what you want, so you’re having to leave that right brain visual space to get into the verbal skills of the left brain. And there have been many times when I picture the rhythm of the scene in my head — and I’m in a kind of trance — and I just want to grab the camera or the editor’s keyboard and do it myself, because once I start trying to verbalize it, I’m already starting to lose the feeling of what I’m describing.

It’s like setting an alarm clock so that you can wake up and tell someone what you were dreaming, but then trying to go back to sleep and finish the dream. The back and forth between hemispheres often made me feel a little shell-shocked. But it’s so essential to allow your crew the space to bring their own talents and ideas to it. So it’s absolutely worth it to let them take the reigns and do what they do best. And no matter how challenging, dreaming for a living is still the greatest thing in the world.

What does the future of Sean Carter look like? Any new gigs coming up beyond STLC, or passion projects you’ve got in the pipeline?

I’ve got several things in the pipeline I’m really excited about. It’s frustrating to have to keep things under wraps until things get officially announced, but I can say more opportunities are coming up that might allow me to really explore unique angles on traditional horror genres.

That sounds pretty awesome, plus I love mysteries! I’ll be sure to stay tuned. Any advice for anyone wanting to direct their own feature someday?

Over the years, I’ve noticed that there tend to be two kinds of people, the extroverts — people who know how to open the door of opportunity — and the introverts — people who know what to do once the door is open. Most people struggle because they’re usually not good at both. Some people are great at networking and getting meetings for themselves, while others are great at quietly sitting alone and learning the craft of filmmaking. So my advice is to figure out which one you are and to start working on your weakness.

I’m an introvert. It was easy for me to be alone for long stretches and study movies, read voraciously and stay up all night writing, shooting, or editing. But if I didn’t go out of my comfort zone, if I didn’t insert myself into a Hollywood social scene, it would have been very difficult for me to generate an outlet for that. I ultimately got my first movie because people I knew socially were willing to take a chance on me. But had I not spent two decades being comfortable working alone for very long stretches, I wouldn’t have been able to seize that opportunity and make a movie that could eventually be purchased by a studio.

So I say embrace and maximize what comes easy for you, but know that your willingness to embrace the part that doesn’t come easy for you is going to be what separates you from everyone else. How far are you willing to go past your pain threshold?

Honestly, this town is such a crucible, that I have to say, it’s not worth it to a rational mind. You have to be a person for whom making movies is your only option. If you think it might also be rewarding to start some other kind of business, trust me, you’re eventually going to want to do that. If you’re amphibious, stay on land. But if you can only survive in the water, then you’re going to have to grind through a lot of muck to get to the fresh water. But once you do break through — whether it’s months, years, or often, decades later — then, finally, the rewards can be well worthwhile.