Every Sunday, I send out my Micro-Budget Weekly newsletter exclusively to my e-mail subscribers. Each installment consists of a single article, containing actionable tips and advice for true independent filmmakers looking to hone their craft, increase creative output, and make a living doing what they love.
While the vast majority of these articles will only ever appear on the Micro-Budget Weekly (in e-mail form), every so often I will re-publish one here, as I am doing today.
So without further ado, below is a popular installment released just a couple of weeks ago –
Can you commit to working on your film career every single day?
Recently I’ve been thinking about the immense amount of effort, time, and dedication that it takes to succeed as a filmmaker. Filmmaking – and more specifically directing – is a craft that requires such a wide variety of skills and talents that simply can’t be taught, and can only be developed through years of persistent, focused effort, and an uwavering ability to keep at it even when the going gets tough.
People often ask what the one quality is that a director needs to succeed. That’s an extremely difficult question to answer, since there are so many qualities a director needs to possess to even have a chance at success… But when I’m asked that question, the only answer I feel comfortable giving is: Consistency and dedication.
I truly believe that every skill you need to have as a director – from technical know how to leadership skills – can only be fully developed by actually getting out there and working. It doesn’t matter what kind of project you’re working on, or where your starting point is… If you pick up a camera and shoot a film, you will learn. If you do it again and again and again, you will master it.
At first, you learn what not to do. You make loads of mistakes (some of which are expensive, others just plain embarrassing), but eventually something clicks. You learn whatever creative, technical, personal, or business lesson you need to learn and you move on. One step further along the path to success. For this reason alone, just getting out there and doing it is crucial.
But until you actually take a project from concept to final product, you don’t really know who you are as a filmmaker yet. You don’t know how you work best, what types of stories will ultimately be most important to you, and how to share your voice effectively. So it’s not just the small lessons you learn along the way, or the technical know-how. It’s the big ones too – like answering the question: What do you really have to say?
Honing your craft as a director can take decades, if not a lifetime, but you can reduce the years it takes to achieve success simply by making a commitment to work on your career every single day. That’s the one and only piece of advice I give to myself or anyone else that asks how to improve their odds of success.
There are a million and one technical skills and soft skills to develop that all play a role in your ultimate success. But every single one of those elements will be learned organically, simply by doing. The key is to ensure you are carving out as much time for yourself as possible to “do” every single day.
Creative jobs (like directing) are really the only ones that people seem to think they can do well with no real experience or dedication. People often assume that you are either born with talent or not, and if you are lucky enough to be born with it, well then that’s all it takes.
But it’s not. Consider professional athletes… It goes without saying that any pro athlete likely has innate athletic talent. But so do a lot of people that aren’t pro athletes. And what separates the professional from non-professional is focus and dedication. The person that rests on their “talent” and never challenges themselves will be outdone by the individual who wakes up every day with purpose and puts in the work, even when they don’t want to.
Sometimes I hear filmmakers complain, groaning about how – “I’ve been at this for 10 years and haven’t made any progress”. Usually I’ll respond (in the most polite way possible) by asking questions to determine how that 10 years was really spent. As they start to answer those questions, they can’t help but get it.
That is because most people tend to falsely believe they are working harder than they actually are. In any given year a filmmaker may feel that they have put forth a tremendous effort toward their career, but if you were to objectively monitor them and see how much time they are actually spending, it likely wouldn’t amount to nearly as much as they imagined…
They might spend a few weeks here and there really intensely working on a script, production, or edit, but leave many days, weeks, or even months in between projects completely open. We all tend to do this. To some degree I think it’s human nature to want to hit a career target as quickly as we can – even if it requires an intense burst of energy – but this often leads us to burn out quickly and take a lot of time off after the fact.
So after 10 years, someone who works this way might wonder what they are doing wrong if they haven’t yet found success, even with a decade of hard work under their belt. But if they were really to tally up the amount of days or hours they spent working on film in that 10 years, it might only amount to a measly few months.
The fact that they haven’t seen any results after 10 years has nothing do with how many years they actually put in. It’s the quality of those years. The amount of time per day (and the amount of days) that was spent being creative, versus procrastinating and focusing on other distractions.
It’s been said that 80% of success is just showing up. I tend to believe that wholeheartedly, and have seen the results in my own life and career.
For years I would sit around and wait for inspiration to hit before writing a script, or wait for the perfect moment to go out and make my next film. This led to a massive amount of downtime in between projects where I wasn’t developing my skills, cultivating new relationships, or moving the needle toward my bigger picture goals.
I’ve since learned that if you wait for inspiration, you’ll be waiting a very long time. Success is about showing up every single day, even when you don’t want to.
What you do with that time is up to you, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter what gets done on any given day. One day you might be writing a script, the next taking a meeting, and the following editing a scene. Sure, you want to focus your efforts, but that focus will happen organically when you work on your career every single day and let it speak to you. All you have to do is show up, get to work, and be conscious of your results. Over time you will naturally narrow your focus while slowly chipping away at a mastery of the craft.
Personally, I still have a very long way to go in achieving many of my goals as a filmmaker. But I can say with certainly that I have achieved far more in the past 1 – 2 years than I did in the previous 5, simply by not wasting as much time. I have busy periods in my life and obligations to deal with just like everyone else, but at the very least I try to carve out some time every day, even if its just an hour or two, to stay on course.
So as we wrap this up, I’ll leave you with one question to start the new week off with:
How can I find time to work on my career every day this week, and for every other week to come?