Being a filmmaker, a writer and director (such as I am) is a lonely and isolated existence. You spend most of your time on your own, writing, imagining, trying figure things out, the script, the schedule. As directors and writers we exist on separate islands, we can see each other, sometimes, more so now with social media, but the sea in between us is foggy. So while we can wave across at each other from time to time, we can’t see what’s going on over there in detail. You have a lot of self-doubt. One day you will see a lot of people dock at someone’s island, there seems to be a party going on, you’re not invited and no ones coming to your island, unless it’s for a short film and they seem more like lost tourists looking for directions, who politely stay because they see your desperation and feel bad for you… or they flee.
Sometimes one of your fellow islanders gets to escape, they get to the mainland! Then you’re completely screwed. Then come all the questions, “What am I doing wrong?” Why can’t I get funded?” “Should I really be doing this?” “Is the island life for me?”
Those kinds of questions don’t bare fruit. You have to get passed them as quickly as possible and realize everyone’s journey is completely different, it’s not even comparable. We diverge so much, we can’t possibly arrive at the same place at the same time, and I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you. You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in the lurch.
Dr. Seuss was right, it happens, and can stay happening for a long time. For me, it’s been about 6 years. And that last part is the hardest (And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in the lurch.) because you know you’re the same person, you know you’re working on stuff, you know you’ve been trying to get stuff made all that time. But people get tired of hearing it, they get tired of waiting around, so they move on with their own lives, as they should. And the emails stop coming, the requests for advice stop, as if you forgot what you know, or mainly because you can’t seem to get anything done, so what use are you, and what could you possible have to offer, you’re not hot right now! The opportunities cease. You’re cold, and no one else wants to catch it. You’re in movie jail, or movie hospital, you’ve got the sickness we all dread, DOUBT. And it’s catching.
Doubt has killed more projects than anything else. It’s a disease of the mind, and it’s crippling. What’s the antidote? Simple - Work. Just work. Do something, anything. Action. Motion. These are key. It doesn’t have to be film related, but you have to get moving, you have to get out of the Waiting Place. We are predictable and fickle creatures we humans, particularly we artiste kind. We want validation, and permission. We want someone to say “Yes, this is good, now go make it.” That doesn’t always come, so lack of validation, no permission and growing self-doubt will end any career before it’s even taken a step toward a set.
Get out for a walk, get in the fresh air, a park, a beach, a hill, a forest… no, not Starbucks! Nature. We’re human. We’re part of this earth. We need air and trees and wind. It’ll wake you up. Then do something, anything, if you’re unemployed, get a job, something part-time, something to get you out of your own head and away from the heavy lump of clay that is your imagination. But keep the cogs oiled, keep writing. Keep imagining. Tackle the lump of clay one scoop at a time. There’s no rush. Stop rushing. Take it slow. Maybe take a small ball of clay, sculpt something that takes less time, less energy.
My problem is that I think too big, too complicated. I have a simple idea, but before I know it’s grown tentacles, that reach out and grab things, pull them in, then it’s too heavy to carry, too complicated to figure out. But I’ve had a lesson in scale recently. I made a short film with a group called Ablevision Ireland, who help young people with learning disabilities gain access to and experience in media; documentaries, news, and film. So I came along to help them develop this short, Little Fairy Tree. We didn’t have much money, we didn’t have much time, we had a relatively inexperienced cast and crew, and we shot on an iPhone. It was a real eye-opener.
First of all, it reminded me of how I made films as a kid, when it was just for fun, before all the rules and techniques and jargon got in the way. Then it was an exercise in time, and how to use it. We didn’t have any, I didn’t have any. Right now I’m a stay-at-home dad with 3 young kids, ages 9, 6 and 19months, my wife works full time and is out of the house 12 hours a day, so, time is not something I have, and with the energy it takes to manage them, I have ZERO left to be creative. But, here was a challenge I said yes to, and I wasn’t going to let them down.
We shot 2 hours on Tuesdays for a couple of week, an hour one Wednesday, a Friday morning here and there, we broke for Christmas and bad weather, and then had two solid Saturdays in a row to get it finished. All this over a 6 month period, and we made a film. Now, before this, I would have look at this script and said it was impossible. We needed a solid week blocked off, and I just can’t do that anymore. But, we didn’t need that, and by using the iPhone, and keeping crew to a minimum, less than minimum! We got it done.
So, here’s my advice, if you’re in the same boat, if you’re old has-been, if no-ones returning you calls, your emails, if your old film buddies have left you hanging on that pricke-ly perch. Draw a line under that part of you life. It’s over. You’re at the starting line again. Those people don’t matter. That way of doing things is gone. THIS, is Day One. But, it’s a better day one, because you have a ton of experience everyone but you has forgotten about. You’re going to crush it, and you’re going to surprise people again. But you’re going to do it quietly.
Start small. Don’t tell anyone about it, fuck social media, in fact, delete you facebook page, it’s sucking your life-force (yes, I’m aware I’ve link to this on facebook, but we know I’m right!) Come up with an idea you can shoot in one day, with two actors and shoot on your iPhone. So it has to be small. But it also has to be clever. You have to surprise and delight your audience. There’s something in this small, no budget, iPhone movie that elevates it. Three things to think about. The three Es. Entertain. Educate. Elevate. If you can entertain, you’re sorted, job done. It’ll go places. If you can educate as well, that gets people thinking, in nourishes the mind. Then, if you can elevate it, elevate your audience, make them feel something unexpected, surprise and delight them - that’s going to get them talking.
I can’t tell you how to do that, you have to do the work. But I bet you have an idea that could work. I bet you could rewrite it and add to it, and cook it down and down and down to a thick rich sauce that tastes amazing. That’s what you have to do. Let it simmer, be patient with it, take you time, taste it, add to it, taste it again. We’re old now, we can’t be rushing around anymore, our knees don’t work. Then, get you actors, find your one location, charge your iPhone, shoot it. Hit up filmfreeway, find some free festival, send it out. Be patient, it can takes months to get a bite. But it will, and you will succeed. Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 per cent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!…
Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!