Saturday, February 27, 2016


When you begin any journey worth taking, there are things no-one tells you...

They don't tell you that for every person like you, following an enlightened path, there is another who is doing this for all the wrong reasons. Fame. Money. Glory. A void within themselves that needs to be filled.

You don't hear that the reason most people give up when chasing their dreams, is because they realise that you have to work insanely hard just to get to the start line.

It's never mentioned that avoiding the big risk, hoping instead to work up to it incrementally until you impress someone who grants your big break, is exactly the approach that will see you stalled in limbo.

No-one advises you to embrace your inner weirdo. Your nerd. Your geek. They tell you to tone it down. To dampen the very thing that makes you unique.

And finally, never a syllable is uttered that indicates the most difficult circumstance to navigate is not aggressive derision, nor unending praise, but the silence of solitude.

Does any of this matter?

Yes. The above truths may seem like generalities, but they are hard earned, I promise you.

And they all have sharp teeth if ignored. A real impact, not a philosophical one.

If, for example, per every genuine artist like yourself there is another person with an agenda grounded in hubris, how likely is it that you may cross paths? What damage could this person, motivated by self-satisfaction, do to your work, if their true desires only become clear once you're already collaborators?

Bound together through the complex legalities of copyright. A nightmare.

For argument's sake, let's say you avoid one of these personality types.

Free of the encumbrance, you put ten years into your fledgling career, with notable successes along the way. But all of your victories are in a non-saleable form of screen content (e.g. short films). One day, you get a call. A meeting that could lead to a larger opportunity.

Feeling enthused, you arrive to the meeting early. As the discussion unfolds, however, one fact becomes abundantly clear.

In the eyes of the wider world, you are still a beginner.

Your ten years were all to deliver you to this point, where you're finally offered what is considered your FIRST opportunity. That's right, FIRST.

And it's at this juncture, with the last ten years of effort still fighting to be recognised in your mind and your pride, that giving up seems like an alternative to a road this long and this arid. My hope is that anticipating the moment to come, and it will, should help cushion the blow for you.

So, let's assume you've survived. You have reached the starting line. The boulder is starting to move, if only a little.

Your next choices, the possibilities, now stare back at you. Like puppies waiting for adoption.

You're not only out of your comfort zone, you're into another zone entirely. Falling. You start grasping for a familiar shape as a hand-hold.

Like making another iteration of the kind of work you've made numerous times before; perhaps just slightly larger in scale. Avoiding the biggest risk altogether. A figurative lottery ticket: "Maybe this one will get the breakthrough I need." The hope of being noticed by a benevolent film mogul.

But here's the cold truth: you're stagnating.

The big risk, whether it's the low budget feature length film or its equivalent, is the risk you MUST take. Not should. Not maybe. MUST.

You can take the word of the Duplas brothers when they tell you "the cavalry isn't coming", or Seth Godin telling you to "pick yourself", or you can simply accept when I say that Hollywood et alia, does not care about short films. If you've made enough short films to have found your creative voice, then avoiding the big risk of a sale-able feature film project, with another short you hope wins an Oscar, is a road to nowhere. Particularly when you realise that 90,000 short films were made in the last ten years in the U.S.A. alone.

Toughen your hide. Claw, bite and kick your way out of limbo, by taking on the work that scares you.

You have evolved.

You've picked yourself. You're ready to have some skin in the game.

Except now the advice is coming from all directions. And it's all saying the same thing: conform. Beige-ify. Lose the rough edges of your character. Fit in.

Some simple advice: f**k 'em.

You've come this far because you're weird. Unusual. Special.

Now you're going to shave off those interesting parts of your character, to be one of the cool kids? Meanwhile, Guillermo Del Toro is a geek and Steven Spielberg is a self-proclaimed nerd.

Your inner weirdo is what makes you special. Destroy it at your peril.

Until at last, having travailed the many pitfalls and promises, you're in the wilderness now. Taking on the scary (exciting) projects. The boulder is gaining momentum.

So why is it so quiet?

Because no-one is cracking the whip at you.

Out here, you realise how conditioned we are from childhood. We need the noise. The praise for a job well done. The blame for a missed opportunity. The complexion doesn't matter, as long as there is stimuli.

But now, you're in a vacuum. You're working for yourself. Sure, you get the occasional signal, but it's so binary: either a pitch is accepted or rejected. A spartan wasteland in between.

This void can be dangerous. It steals your motivation. Siphons your focus.

How can you survive?

Practice. Daily.

Focus takes practice, that's what I discovered. The parts of your brain that developed an addiction to third party feedback, can be reconditioned with routine.

But it takes discipline. Setting up an office and going there everyday, on your own volition. Painting every day for eight years. Setting aside a weekly moment to write a newsletter.

Sharpening your wit and your work until, with good timing and patience, the feedback finally comes. From your audience.

That, however, is the end of the road.

For the rest of you, taking the first steps or well along, I hope you find your way through the tribulations.

You'll be surrounded by platitudes as you forge your own path.

But it's what they don't tell you, what you have to discover for yourself, that will light the way.

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