Be Stubborn About What You Want, But Flexible In Your Methods
I’m gonna be honest. When I first set out to write this article, I felt like a complete fraud. What can I possibly have to say about making moves in the film industry? I’ve only just started my career, and while life may move fast, I’m still barely one level above being a “nobody”.
And that’s how I felt this week. This week, my career wasn’t going anywhere. I was not going to “make it”. This week, I did not see the successful, strong woman I know I am pursuing her passion to a degree that she would be proud of. Instead, I was staring down a dark tunnel of doubt and despair brought on by the impending rejection I knew was coming.
I desperately needed an HIH moment. These are also the moments that my mother profoundly likes to say, “Get your head out of your ass.” To quit being so focused on yourself and your setbacks instead of what’s going on around you. If you want something, just do it.
And if you’re trying to make it in this business (or any industry really), it’s as simple as that.
Just kidding. I wish.
This is a complicated field with no linear paths to greatness and very little sense of certainty when you first start out. If what you’re looking for in a career is stability in a steady, well-paying job, I hate to admit it but this probably is not for you. The life of a new filmmaker is usually incredibly fast-paced, unpredictable and unconventional. BUT, it’s also exciting and if this is what you’re passionate about, it really can be just incredible.
Who are you? What do you want? What are you looking to accomplish in this industry? Who do you want to become?
These questions are...a lot. But I get asked them all the time by my mentors, directors, producers, my grandma, etc. Realistically, we don’t have it all figured out right now. We don’t have to.That’s insane. People spend their entire lives discovering who they truly are…which makes it kind of difficult when you have answer it in an elevator pitch of yourself in a make-or-break meeting with a producer or an actor you hope you’ll impress. Let’s phrase these million dollar questions a different way. For example, I love writing. In times of despair or self-doubt, I ask myself: what would my life look like if I quit writing? I'd be miserable. So I keep writing because the alternative would be horrible.
If you’re unsure, know that you can change your mind anytime. Like I and many members of our HIH family have stated consistently, there’s no such thing as a linear timeline and everyone moves at their own pace. So don’t overthink it. Give it a shot and go from there. It’s so simple and we all know this but it becomes hard to hear through all the noise caused by self doubt and the pressures brought on by a need to adhere to societal norms. You might fail the first ten, twenty, one hundred times you try something. But, ultimately, you have to pursue what you are passionate about for yourself. With luck and time, you’ll achieve your goals, and if not, you’ll know you’ve at least done what you love.
And then you take those failures, learn from them and go for another round. Which brings me to...
Handle Rejection like the Badass You Are.
Let’s put rejection into perspective. It's a blow to the ego but you can't assume that the rejection means you suck. You need to believe in yourself in the long run. Focus on why you love what you’re doing and put it in a mantra that you will keep telling yourself over and over again. Having a support network helps - people to encourage you to keep on keeping on. Have a personal cheerleader or two in your life. My mom might be harsh sometimes and overly straightforward, but as a result, I’m pretty tough and I don’t give up very easily. You can borrow her if you want.
Most importantly, learn from this. Yes, it’s common sense but I can’t stress the importance entering this industry ready to learn because it is constantly changing. I’m not just referring to how most of us probably no longer have cable and the #MeToo movement. Put time into getting ahead of the trends and really understanding the inner workings of its politics.
Master the Art of Networking. Build your team of champions.
This speaks for itself. Networking is always either a fun little breather from the actual work or the most tedious part of the job. As a writer and an aspiring producer, I attend one or two events per week, have two meetings a week if not more, and am constantly sending out emails to writers and show runners who inspire me. You need to build your network of champions. Everyone in this industry knows how difficult it is to get your foot in the door. We all have to help each other here. And when the time comes, you’ll have a sturdy, supportive foundation to build your dreams on.
Now, the actual conversation part can be a bit difficult… I used to think I was amazing at it, until a much-more successful friend pointed out that I was just making forgettable small talk and that if I really wanted to get anywhere, the conversation should go something like this:
“Hi, (Academy-award winning Producer)I really admire you and I want to be your assistant. Can I have your email?”
“Sure, do you have something I can write on?”
This really happened! So, there I was all over-confident thinking networking is a breeze as I’m sweet-talking so-and-so about our similar tastes in wine. Little did I know, I could have sped up my career by five years had I been a smidge more direct with all of these connections. Walking into a room unabashed and ready to take control of a social situation like this is HARD but it is an art form, and like any art, I promise the more you practice the easier it gets.
If You Want to Make something, Make Something. Put in your 10 000 hours
I’m often referred to as a “good starter”. Ugh. I’ll admit it. I start way too many projects. They may be promising or even actually amazing ideas. But that’s all they are - ideas. Then, as the cycle goes I spread myself too thin, stress out over spreading myself to thin and I don’t finish anything. I’m sure anyone who’s overly-ambitious can relate. So, my message to you and to myself - Finish something! Then do it again. The more you do, the more you know. And then use that to build your brand.
These days, you’re so much more likely to get someone’s attention if you’ve already started putting your work on a platform. At that point, they know it doesn’t matter whether or not they hire you, you’re just going to keep going and keep advancing. That will increase your value exponentially and more importantly, your skills.
You’ve probably heard this before — Malcolm Gladwell says: “10 000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become world-class in any field.” That’s roughly 20 years if you’re working an hour and a half per day. Generally, you’ll want to commit about 4-hours a day - or so one of my mentors keeps telling me... but c’mon who the hell has time for that. I do try and write at least an hour per day. But when I’m out of creative juice from working all day and I can’t write, I draw or I research for one of my projects. If that doesn’t work for you, read a book, watch a movie. Netflix and chill with a critical eye. Think about what improvements you’d make if you were given a percentage of creative control. Lately, I’ve even found storytelling inspiration in gaming. These might have nothing to do with the projects I’m working on but, in a way I’m still putting in the hours to practice my skills. When you can, work smarter, not harder.
Remember those champions I mentioned? Here’s one last piece of advice from another one of mine - a fundamental that encapsulates all of the above.
Be stubborn about what you want but flexible in your methods.
To recap, ask yourself:
- Who am I? Who do I want to become? What do I love?
- How do I handle moments of rejection and self-doubt? How can I grow?
- In this roomful of experts, where do I fit in? Who inspires me?
- When will I be ready - when will I be good enough? When do I start?
- What if it doesn’t work out? What if it does?
I said it before - who am I to tell you how to make it in the film industry? Yeah, you definitely shouldn’t listen to me. More than half the time I don’t know what the f— I’m doing and I just sort of roll with it. But the truth is - that’s pretty much how this industry works.
No one ever really knows when or if it even is going to work out - if they’re going to “make it.” Life is pretty crazy with small windows of success that you might just one day be lucky enough to notice. What I can tell you is that I love what I do. And when the occasional frustration subsides, I remember that I am talented, resilient, resourceful, adaptable, and pretty freaking scrappy if I say so myself.
And if and when you get overwhelmed, remember the six best doctors in the world: Sunlight, rest, exercise, diet, self-confidence, and friends. (Steve Jobs) Thanks for listening!