How much time is spent in the film community talking about success? Most of it really. “Here’s the camera you need to succeed.” “Here’s the software you have to use.” “Follow these 5 steps!” It’s clickbait galore, appealing to your need to see someone who did something, decide how you measure up, and what they did that you didn’t do. It makes me wonder, how much time do we spend talking about failure? Why is that? It’s probably because failure isn’t sexy. Failure sounds, well, like failure. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s how we grow. The muscles you used to learn how to walk had to build up enough strength to support your body weight, but that required you to keep standing up and falling back down again. I don’t think failure gets enough attention. Out of failure comes strength. Success is something we can all appreciate, respect, and reach for, but failure is what binds us all together. In that we are one, and that’s special.
Sometimes the best art is birthed from failure, or even within failure (as we see it). Have you ever created something and wondered if there’s anything there at all, only to have someone enjoy it? You didn’t even know what you had! In typical artist fashion, you couldn’t help but beat yourself up and question everything about everything. That’s the struggle. Are you chasing art? If so, you’re chasing struggle too. We forget that. I forget that.
When was the last time you felt like you were in a position to fail, when your life actually facilitated the luxury of failure? It’s odd to think of failure as a luxury since it’s something we don’t normally desire, but since it’s the road to success, being able to do it and do it often is apart of the equation. When was the last time you experimented, just made something for something’s sake? After making three features and helping market dozens of others, I find myself reaching backward. It’s been a while since I felt the freedom to just, create. Writing is as close as I can get (for now). I’ve seen so many exhausted by the short films they’re planning, putting all of their eggs in that basket. “This short will or must lead to X.” “This thing must cause Y, otherwise why do it at all?” I think that’s birthed from the anxiousness we all feel, and I think that’s good (to a degree), but if we’re not careful I think it can betray why we love doing this in the first place. Filmmakers have an interesting problem compared to other artists. As accessible as it is today, it still can’t compare to holding a sketchbook in the park. I regret letting my drawing skills fall by the wayside. I spent hours a day with a pencil and paper as a kid. Now that I’m head over heels for film, what’s the filmmaking equivalent of a sketchbook? Why can someone else scribble on a note pad but someone in the film community is made to feel dirty about it? Whatever happened to scribbling? Doodling? I think the technology and software we have today is a gift. We can just grab a camera and a few friends, shoot something, toss it together, and see if it works. Why does everything we touch have to turn to gold?
I’m married with two kids. I have a mortgage, two cars, and lots of debt to pay. Some say that’s the American dream, but (save my relationships) it’s more like the American nightmare. I’ve spent the last 7 years trying to turn 30 years of debt into 10. If I play my cards right (not the ones I’ve had the pleasure of cutting up), I’ll be out in 8. Take it from me, don’t put yourself in a position where trying things becomes too costly, or where the weight of everything else makes failure a death sentence. It’s not worth the cost. I do think we have to hit the bottom (often) to gain the strength to reach the top, but that doesn’t mean make it harder on yourself. Making art is hard enough. To quote Jay Duplass on a recent episode of the Off Camera podcast: “A movie is like a giant evil monster that threatens to destroy you and your entire life.” Don’t make it harder than it is already. Art requires failure, failure requires risk, risk requires time (as opposed to money like we so often associate it), and time isn’t something (in the end) you can buy more of. Treasure your time experimenting. Figure out ways to goof around with your friends, testing out new ideas with no pressure of success. Find freedom in that, and toss something if it doesn’t work, or release it. No biggy! You might be wrong, so be wrong. Learn and try again. The fear of making something bad or mediocre keeps so many from making something at all (myself included). Get the bad ideas out of your system. Do it proudly! When a baby stands up we cheer, and when they fall we chuckle, encouraging them to get up again. Sadly, we often lose that perspective when we get older. Falling down on your butt becomes a source of severe embarrassment or self-pity. Don’t overburden yourself with the pressure of thinking that everything you make has to be some sort of magical key to your future. Life can be a sick game sometimes, where youth gives you all the energy to accomplish what you want without the perspective to know just how much time you have to figure it out.
Be open to failure. Cherish the opportunity, chase it. So what if you have to make 1000 bad things in 1000 bad ways to find out what you’re good at. That’s all apart of the journey. Give yourself room to find your voice, have fun, and don’t box yourself into an environment where the simple joy of “doodling” feels impossible, or even worse, irresponsible. I fight it everyday, the walls of a boring prison threatening to clamp down on my middle-class suburban life. If you love art, don’t be seduced. Fight like crazy to get your art made, wherever you are. If you fail, no worries. Stand up again. We’re all with you.