We live in a world of instant gratification. If we want something, we want it now. We don’t want to wait.
We also live in a world where we measure success in dollars and cents and in the numbers of likes or followers on a social media page. External validation is everything.
As filmmakers, what this means is that we often feel an incredible pressure to succeed – both quickly and visibly. Success for our movie means: a major festival premier, critical acclaim, a distribution deal worth millions of dollars, 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. We want that success fast. We want it now, with our first film, with our second. We don’t want to wait, and we feel that we can’t. We suspect that if we don’t achieve incredible success from the start, we’ll never get there or that we’re not good enough.
The pressure this creates on beginning filmmakers is intense. There’s a reason that most filmmakers don’t make a second film, and to my mind, it’s less to do with the fact that they are not given the chance again…but that they don’t want it. When they didn’t knock it out of the park the first time, they pack up their dream and go home. They feel like a failure. The doubt kicks in.
But here’s the deal: to master any art takes practice. It takes humility, perseverance, commitment, passion, determination and time.
Sure, there are some filmmakers who make brilliant movies first time out (Orson Welles being the patron saint of this select club). But they are the exception, not the norm.
Most great filmmakers took years of practice and made many, many films before they made the films they are most recognized for. Alfred Hitchcock had made 21 relatively unremarkable movies before he made The 39 Steps – and it was another 19 more movies before he made Rear Window. Ingmar Bergman had made over a dozen films before he made The Seventh Seal. Abbas Kiarostami had been making films since 1970 before achieving international acclaim in the 90’s with Close Up. Look up the careers of Kieslowski, Haneke, Ozu and many other indisputable masters of filmmaking and you’ll see the same pattern: years of work before making the films they are most well known for.
If our aim, as filmmakers, is to make great films, we need to be patient with ourselves. We need to find the circumstances by which we get to continue to practice our art and we need to commit to our path no matter what. So our film doesn’t get into Sundance, so it doesn’t get critical acclaim, so it is widely derided or completely ignored…it doesn’t matter. We must keep making films.
First we must remind ourselves: no one knows anything. I recently read an interview with Francis Ford Coppola where he talks about how badly received Apocalypse Now was when it came out and how now it is considered a classic. But at the time, he was despondent, suicidal. So today no one appreciates the film you made, but truly, in the future it may be different. Your film hasn’t changed, just the perception of it. Don’t base your own sense of the value of your film on the opinions of others. You’ll know in your own heart its true value.
Second, making a not so great film isn’t a crime. Studios with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend and hugely experienced cast and crew still manage to do it on a distressingly frequent basis. If making a great film was simple, they’d have mastered it by now. If in your heart, you’ve made a film that wasn’t the success you hoped for, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Learn the lessons you need to learn and move on to the next one.
Third we must remind ourselves, if we were just in it for the money or the acclaim, we’d have chosen very different paths than being filmmakers. We’d have become bankers. We’d have become game show hosts or reality TV stars. We became filmmakers because deep down we feel the need to tell stories. We are artists. So screw the money, screw the acclaim; focus on what matters. Let’s tell the stories and keep telling them as well as we’re able to. Let’s learn from our mistakes and grow and develop our abilities. Let’s forgive ourselves for not getting it perfect every time.
If you’re serious about being a filmmaker, let your New Year’s resolution be this:
I’m going to find a way to make my next film no matter what, and I’m going to keep making them no matter what.
Commit now to tuning out the noise of being focused on results and on what other people think, and to tuning in instead to your own heart. To tell the stories you need to tell. To explore the process of making your work and making it the best you are able.
Let this be the year that you fly as a filmmaker, because you take all the risks, instead of shying away from them.
No matter what.
PS if you’re feeling stuck or blocked as a filmmaker, that’s what we’re here for. Check out our free PDF on Raising Finance for your indie film, and contact us directly with questions.