I’ve been thinking a lot lately about certain “every day” concepts and sayings as they apply to the realm of film production. That’s a pretty broad topic that has the potential for a great deal of navel-gazing. I’ll keep most of the less productive thoughts to myself and pass along a few practical insights. The last blog entry was targeted at producers; this one is probably more applicable to people who are starting out.
Eat a balanced diet… everything in moderation… strike a happy medium… balance is the key… balance your budget… the list of things you’re supposed to balance is pretty much endless. You can easily go crazy trying to balance your life. Many of my friends do. I’m not innocent here, either – I neurotically count calories, weigh and measure calories vs. exercise, worry that I spend too much time in front of the computer, etc.
But balance is not a goal, but the result of a process. Ask an actor to “be sad” and you’re asking for a result direction. Try it yourself. It’s impossible to do effectively. Instead, try thinking about a person you loved and lost – to a breakup, or sickness, or death. Odds are you’ll feel pretty damn sad pretty fast. Balance is the same thing. It’s not something you can “play”. Your bookcase is balanced because it was built to carry a load of books without tilting over. Even so you probably had to put index cards under it (especially if you live in New York, where the concept of level floors and walls don’t exist). For something to be balanced, it has to be motionless (or move so slightly as to be effectively motionless). Every time you take a step you unbalance yourself. On a moment-to-moment basis, you will experience something in your life that will cause you to swing out of equilibrium (balance).
Especially if you plan on directing or producing a film, you can’t try to live a balanced existence. Instead, try to live a focused one. Put a small number of goals together. Work towards fulfilling them. Plan. Build momentum. Obsess. Trust that if you veer too far down the path, other forces in your life will constructively pull you back from the brink. Your spouse, kids, pets, friends, coworkers – they will rightfully complain if you neglect them too much. You can then refocus on them. But don’t try to serve them all equally at once. You will lose out, your projects will lose steam, and you will be unhappy – which will, in turn, make your spouse, kids, pets, friends, and coworkers unhappy.
This is not a license to make a mess out of your life. That is the ultimate in unfocused thinking. A focused person is ultimately more effective (though possibly not as nice to be around) as a balanced person.
Oh boy, do I hear this one a lot. You have to be realistic. Have a backup plan. Don’t expect too much. People want to help you, they really do. No one wants to see you do an Icarus and go splat on the ground, particularly the people who care about you. Even your competitors don’t want to see you fail outright – just maybe not do as well as them. But here’s the problem. Realistic thinking isn’t always the best option. Sometimes it actually gets in the way.
Anyone thinking realistically about entering the film and television business would just pack up and do something else. The wages aren’t great compared to other industries (better than publishing, worse than IT, much worse than legal and investment banking); the hours generally suck; the toll on relationships is high; and the talent pool is ALWAYS going to be larger than the available jobs.
And yet… movies get made. All the time. Under the most improbable circumstances. Many of these will end up playing a few festivals and won’t get much further than that, but a few will find an extended life somewhere. And the truth is that no one knows ahead of time what will hit and what won’t. Modern studios hedge against this in a variety of ways: by just saying no to “risky” projects, by creating slates of projects to offset losses, or by focusing on broad-appeal franchises. But the fact is that every success is a bit of an outlier, a statistical anomaly. Given that, the real question is – why wouldn’t you go into this business? A field based on improbability can be a lot of fun! Along the way, you can learn a lot. Filmmaking is a deep medium, something that combines art and engineering, has many facets, is constantly changing, and will challenge you endlessly.
Work Hard And You’ll Get Ahead
This is true, as far as it goes. Bust your ass as a PA and you’ll probably get hired again… as a PA. But if you want to move up the ladder, you have to show some initiative, and a willingness to do work on projects for no money to get credits. And every time you step up the ladder, expect a pay cut. So it’s not enough to work hard. You also have to be smart, to consider how each project you work on will benefit your career in the long run (or at least the medium run).
Again, this is mostly true. If you’re in a time crunch, everything feels pretty horrible. You always think “we really need one more week to put this shoot together.” But you can’t always wait for the stars to line up; you have to start production sooner or later. And sometimes more time just means more slack. Sometimes there’s nothing a like a fire to get people focused.
Use Good Judgment
Okay, this one I agree with. Beginners often forget good judgment on a film set. I know I did. I think I know why. A film set appears to be a new phenomenon; therefore, the old rules don’t apply. But sets aren’t that exotic – really, it’s like being in any other fast-paced work environment, just with long hours. Safety concerns should still come first. Don’t talk to people if they’re trying to focus on something (unless what you’re talking about pertains to that). Walk, don’t run. Don’t guess – if you don’t know how to do what I just asked you to do, please tell me rather than try to please me and screw it up. Don’t drive without a license. Eat something before you pass out. Be polite but leave the actors alone if they look like they’re focusing on something.
Okay folks, that’s it for now. I should have some news soon on Found In Time soon. There’s a lot happening but I can’t talk about it until it’s a done deal. See you next time.