Peeling Behind "Instructions for Living"

Meet Sarah.


Sarah's thoughts are for dreamers and for those brave enough to go.

If you're tempted to follow BIG dreams even when facing BIG risks, you're going to love hearing Sarah's heart and being introduced to Instructions for Living.

Sarah's debut film, Instructions for Living, tackles painful realities head on. 

This featured film (that is preparing to make its festival debut) and her experiences are the focus of our conversation, even though she has so much more knowledge to offer entrepreneurs, dreamers, and hustlers.

FUN FACT: Sarah was one of the first people I met while at Auburn University. Those first connections while navigating new waters stick with you. 

Enjoy this Peeling Behind as you go inside the mind of a brave, director /producer and 100% great human.


1. What was it like seeing yourself on IMDB for the first time, and what does Instructions For Living mean to you?


I actually just teared up reading this question.

Four and a half years ago, I was a girl from Alabama who didn’t really like herself, in the car with her Dad, driving out to the west coast with a camera and a dream.

I didn’t know anyone in LA. In a lot of ways, I built a new life from the ground up.

When I saw Instructions for Living on IMDB, it felt like the culmination of a unique recipe that has come to make up my life: sacrifice, courage, heartbreak, hard work, and a little bit of magic.

A true testament to the fact that the risk is worth it, and if I can do it, anyone can.


Boss Ladies Pictured: Morgan Owens  @himorganowens  (Co-Writer, Producer, Lead Actress). Sarah Heinss  @sarahheinss  (Director, Producer, Co-Writer, Editor, Actress). Maggie Hart  @hart4film  (Producer).

Boss Ladies Pictured: Morgan Owens @himorganowens (Co-Writer, Producer, Lead Actress). Sarah Heinss @sarahheinss (Director, Producer, Co-Writer, Editor, Actress). Maggie Hart @hart4film (Producer).


2. Did you always know the right title? What about the look/design of the film poster?


I actually was set on the title before Morgan and I ever wrote the film.

I’m a big "title person," probably stemming from my background in blogging and working for Buzzfeed. I recognized the significance of a title to communicate tone and feel, and make people want to hit “play.” The look of the poster was born more out of necessity.

We took some promotional photos while raising money and one of them ended up having the tone/look we were aiming toward for the film. We wanted the poster to feel similar to the poster for the film Like Crazy.




3. What did you do at Buzzfeed and what did you learn most while you were there? 

I originally started at Buzzfeed, working in their Video Producer Training program, but eventually went on to produce/direct some of my own content. You can see videos I either directed/produced or acted in here:


The Buzzfeed work is VERY different than the tone of my movie, but it’s cool to see how we evolve. 

I learned more at Buzzfeed than I could ever put into a 2 liner while working there, but I think my biggest takeaways are these 2 things:

1. The thumbnail and title of a video pulls more weight than you could ever imagine on content going viral.

2. I don’t care about making content that goes viral. 



4. Where do you look for inspiration and growth? Has anything unexpectedly inspired you recently?


I find a lot of inspiration from fully participating in life and, in some ways, letting it happen to you.

Life can be really heartbreaking and we have a tendency to want to push those experiences down or pray them away, but I find that the most inspiring moments can come from acknowledging and sitting in that pain.

As far as practical inspiration, I love Pinterest and the stock film website Film Supply. You can type in different moods and find great and inspiring clips, especially during the writing phase. 


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5. How would you encourage the creative person reading this who is discouraged to overcome and find inspiration? 


Here’s the core question I like to ask: "What is it you want to do? Truly."

No financial or other restrictions? Do you want to be a painter? Do you want to direct features? Do you want to write novels? It usually takes some digging to get to the bottom, because we constantly suppress what we really want. We are scared we will look stupid if we say out loud, etc.

Then I ask, “Why do you want to do that?”

The "why" is absolutely critical.

Because if you like the IDEA of something, find something easier that you like the idea of. If you’re in it for the money and the fame, there are easier ways of making money and though fame is a fine thing to want (I guess), it’s ultimately not fulfilling (I know due to all my fame) sarcasm*.

However, if you want it because nothing makes your soul come alive like your chosen artistic craft, that you feel it is a calling worth sacrifice and heartbreak, then you must continue. 

I think a big problem is that we see the end goal and how far we are from it and think “Well it will take years for me to get there.” Yes, and the time will pass anyway so you might as well be also pursuing something you love.


Also, no single video has inspired me more than this one during times of discouragement.



A lot of times we think we have been pursuing something forever when really we have only been thinking and talking about it forever. And we haven't taken one single step toward what we actually want.

If you want to make movies, make one small movie with friends and your iPhone.

If you want to write, you need to actually write something and show someone.

If you want to go back to school, do graphic design, learn to cook, photography, under basket weaving I DON'T CARE....decide on one small step toward that goal.

You don't need money to start.

You don't need connections to start.

You don't even need the talent to start.

You just need the first step. I could go on and on. But seriously, watch that Ira Glass video.


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6. What do you hope someone feels after watching Instructions For Living?


My hope would be that people would feel that they could have the worst imaginable thing happened to them and still end up ok.

Life is still worth living. 



7. You are Director, Writer, and Movie Star. What have you learned about balancing all your job demands and life outside of work?


Ha! “Movie Star.” Funny.

You know, a mentor and very old family friend once looked me in the eyes and said “In your work and in your life, be as Sarah Heinss as possible.”

That’s not to tout an individualistic mentality, but more to hone in on what makes me "me" and not to shy away from that because it might not have mass appeal. 

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8. What “Instructions” would you offer business owners after you’ve launched this crazy movement and film?

You don’t need me to tell you this, but branding is absolutely critical.

Branding is the split second decision people make and decide whether or not they do or don’t want to see your film.

It’s also the split second choice to visit or not visit your website. It’s the thing that makes people say “Aw that looks cute!” or keep scrolling. Branding is everything. And so is having a brand story worth telling. 


9. Alright, how can we watch Instructions for Living?

We are screening publicly for the first time October 21st @7:30 pm at the Twin Cities Film Festival.

From there we will look forward to taking the film to other festivals and ideally gaining a distribution deal where the film would end up on a streaming platform online.

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Wow. Right?

Sarah's words are medicine for complacency. It's inspiring to capture a glimpse into a passionate pursuit of your dreams.

If you were inspired, or read something you loved:

I know she would love it.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sarah. We can't wait to see Instructions for Living soon! 

Here is the official trailer of Instructions for Living.