November 4, 2015

It's Time to Let Go of Perfectionism & Embrace Making Bad Films

"Have no fear of perfection -- you'll never reach it." - Salvador Dalí

We spend far less time creating art than we do perfecting it. It's true -- how many hours have you spent trying to get your edit just right? How many drafts of your screenplay have you written since the first one? How many tweaks? How many slight adjustments? How much of your creative life have you spent making what you have just a little bit better?

But, when enough is enough? When do your attempts at perfecting your film actually become a detriment to not only it, but your creativity and future as a filmmaker as well? This is a topic Simon Cade of DSLRguide tackles in the video below:

Clearly there's a need for a bit of artistic perfectionism. We all have a vision of what we want our work to look like, sound like, and feel like, and getting there sometimes seems as simple as just taking a little more time to iron out the bumps and cleaning up a few messes. Of course you always want you work to be as good as you can possibly make it. However, as a perfectionist myself, I know that unbridled perfectionism can often get in the way of actually making films, not to mention my resolve for being creative.

In fact, I truly relate with Cade when he says that his perfectionism has made him not want to do a project altogether. There are countless ideas for films swimming around in my head, but my desire to make them perfect often keeps me from sitting down and writing the scripts, gathering the materials, and shooting the damn things -- you know, because I don't have the time, money, camera, tools, or talent I need to make it exactly how I want it.

And the films I have made are oftentimes too cripplingly embarrassing to show others. (How many of you can relate to that?!) All of those amateur mistakes -- gaping plot holes, poor compositions, and bad edits; it makes one crave perfection all the more. Ira Glass put it perfectly when he described "the gap", the space between the work we're currently making and our ambitions for that work. Yes, we all want to make work that reflects our visions and our good taste, but in the beginning, and even years and years afterward, your work isn't going to be up to snuff -- especially to you. According to Glass, the only way to bridge the gap is to work and work and work until, hopefully, your work catches up to your ambitions. 

In the end, waiting until you have the skills, tools, time, and money to "perfectly" make what you want is probably the worst thing you could do. Perfection is not only unattainable, but it's not even emotionally appealing. The films I consider "perfect" are so imperfect, technically and narratively. But that's just it -- sometimes it's the accidents, the mistakes, and the foolish choices we make that give our work the humanity that will reverberate most with audiences. Because we're imperfect creatures after all. We're bound to make imperfect art -- and we're bound to see ourselves in imperfect art.

Art is the mirror we hold up to the world and it will, without a doubt, reflect a big, beautiful mess of imperfection. How perfect is that?      

Your Comment

27 Comments

...I think a big problem with many amateur/Indie filmmakers is their LACK of perfectionism. People are aiming way too LOW with their projects. They produce what are essentially "junk" films, and then they wonder why nobody is beating down their down with a dump-truck full of money.

Even something as simple as good audio ( which is really not that difficult to produce if you have a good foundation in the fundamentals of audio recording ) escapes so many Indie filmmakers.

I really wish there were MORE perfectionist filmmakers in the world, who would have enough sense to NOT release "junk" films, who would work on their craft until they could produce something actually worth watching.

...It took Indie filmmaker Shane Carruth nine years to make his second film ( "Upstream Color" 2013 ) after winning at the Sundance Festival in 2004 with his first film "Primer", a film made on a budget of $7,000. His second film also won at Sundance.

Produce something worth watching, or keep working on your craft until you can.

November 4, 2015 at 3:29PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

You'll get there someday, tiger.

November 4, 2015 at 4:03PM

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Pat Heine
Producer.
164

I support your comment. But I think you skipped the part where maybe some people are more talented than others, more experienced. I mean, at the end, we are all different, and we all have different skills and different meanings of "good" and "bad". My point is, it's all about closing that GAP, you don't start as a pro, you fight your way through that. So lack of perfectionism is a natural form in order to grow from your mistakes.

November 4, 2015 at 4:16PM

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Tommy Plesky
Director / D.P / Editor
1936

>>>But I think you skipped the part where maybe some people are more talented than others, more experienced.

I can count the number of actual geniuses I've met in my life on one hand. Most of us don't have this kind of talent.

As for experience, I've also met some very experienced people with absolutely no talent at all. I know someone personally that spent $700K producing two Indie feature films that even Ed Wood would be ashamed to put his name on. They were just beyond bad.

Every Indie filmmaker should ponder this question...

"Is there an audience for the films that I produce ?"

Because if you can't answer this question with a resounding YES, with some actual proof to back it up, then maybe you need to re-evaluate the films that you are making.

November 4, 2015 at 4:59PM, Edited November 4, 4:59PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

I just need an audience of one. Me. A lot of artists produce bad stuff before they produce hits. You need to practice to get good.

November 5, 2015 at 6:06PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
526

I totally agree with the idea that you have to be prepared to be really bad before you can eventually become very good. I just think that we should keep the bad stuff to ourselves and the people we work with, and only show the work that we are truly proud of.

Francis Ford Coppola started his film career by making a feature length porno movies...

http://goo.gl/3SYcst

November 8, 2015 at 11:31PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

I cannot disagree with you enough on this.

I think you should only make the film for yourself to begin with, learn to make films you love, not what other people love.
In finding that you can produce films you love, people will learn to love them too.

No one will love a film or bare to watch a film that starts it's viewing with "Hi I'm Mr. X and I made this film, it's a piece of garbage but watch it anyway"

Make films YOU want to watch, and maybe you'll get an audience.

I don't think you should make art for the sake of it being viewed by anybody other than yourself.
If you're creating for somebody else I think you've lost the point altogether.

December 8, 2015 at 1:11PM

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As I understood him it is not about being ashamed because of bad results. It is about trying to reach for good ones! There is always the difference between aiming low and being unfortunate. Nobody will hate you if you produce something bad. You should simply learn from your mistakes and try to be good throughout your whole career.

November 11, 2015 at 3:11PM

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Benjamin Skorov
Somehow all of it, Hobbyist, Essayist
347

I feel you, but really think those people producing garbage and wondering where the praise is, simply don't have what Ira talked about -taste. Many people pursue creative endeavors because they're inspired, which is nice, but inspiration doesn't necessarily mean they have they eye (or possibly self esteem) to acknowledge what they're doing isn't actually good.

*Edit -I see you addressed this later, nm.

November 13, 2015 at 11:26AM, Edited November 13, 11:29AM

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"Art is the mirror we hold up to the world and it will, without a doubt, reflect a big, beautiful mess of imperfection. How perfect is that?"

LOVE this

November 4, 2015 at 3:32PM, Edited November 4, 3:32PM

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Rachel RC Scott
Writer/Director/Producer/Editor
227

I think perfectionism can be paralyzing at times.
But, producing poor content and aiming low can be equally as paralyzing if you aren't giving it your best.

It's all about balance.

November 4, 2015 at 4:25PM

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Mariah Harrison
Editor
98

very well said. balance is the key, and the reason I made this video was to try and restore the balance from so many things telling us that perfection is the only option.

November 4, 2015 at 4:53PM

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Simon Cade
Filmmaker
228

>>>I think perfectionism can be paralyzing at times.

I agree totally, but many Indie filmmakers aren't producing anything that is even vaguely close to anyone's idea of "perfection".

Producing something that is significant requires a great idea, a lot of hard work, and enough time to figure everything out.

>>>But, producing poor content and aiming low can be equally as paralyzing if you aren't giving it your best.

It may not even be about giving it your best, but realizing that you don't have the skill set necessary to complete a project. So you either develop the missing skill set before you start your project, or you find collaborators who can handle the parts that are beyond your own ability.

>>>It's all about balance.

I think a big part of it is being open to honest feedback, accepting this feedback, and using it to work on the areas where you need to improve. I think this is the path to becoming a professional, because if you can't accept honest feedback, then you will NEVER get better at your craft.

November 4, 2015 at 5:20PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

How do you know you need 'that right person' to supplement your deficiencies if you never learn your deficiencies. I think your heart is in the right place but your brain isn't. "Filmmakers should know what they need to work on -- work on it -- THEN make a film." Then maybe Scorsese shouldn't have made Who's That Knocking at My Door... and Boxcar Bertha. And Kubrick shouldn't have made Fear and Desire or even The Killer's Kiss, for that matter. Each one of them should have developed their skillsets and came to the plate ALREADY a heavy hitting professional.

I cannot agree with that. "Keeping it tucked away" and not putting yourself out there, taking risks and all the rest that comes with practice is a poor way to learn. Creating any kind of career is based on making mistakes, noticing where you need to improve, learning the wrong and right ways to do something -- all of it is necessity and that requires you try (and possibly fail). Also, understand that when you're given an opportunity you can't simply finish something, notice it isn't up to your standard (or what you deem 'acceptable' or 'perfection') and tell your investor, "Hey. So yeah, this isn't something I'd say is perfect nor do I think I nailed the audience I was after. How about we don't release it because I should probably develop my skillsets to make it really work." Haha.

Believe it or not, but the majority of poor films are not made so intentionally.

--> "I really wish there were MORE perfectionist filmmakers in the world, who would have enough sense to NOT release "junk" films, who would work on their craft until they could produce something actually worth watching."
I'm sorry, but that tells me you've likely never made a film. Making films, junk or hit, IS working on the craft. Your statement is so blatantly off the mark that I'm stopping myself from getting too invested in the conversation.

November 4, 2015 at 10:29PM

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>>>How do you know you need 'that right person' to supplement your deficiencies if you never learn your deficiencies.

Any self-aware person knows what they can and can't do when it comes to film production. Yes there may be things you've never tried, but nobody picks something up and on their first try produces expert level work.

I remember when I first started to shoot video after spending 10+ years in professional photography. I knew that most of my photography skills ( shot composition, lighting, color correction, directing people in front of a camera, etc... ) would translate to the world of video, but I knew nothing about recording audio, I knew nothing about video recording formats, nothing about video color space, nothing about camera movement and stabilization, nothing about video editing, etc... So I had a pretty good idea about what I could do and what I could not do given my skill set at the time.

Because I am mostly self-taught, it took me about one year to figure out how to produce good audio for my video work. I went through buying and selling a lot of audio gear to finally find something that could produce the sound I was after.

>>>"Filmmakers should know what they need to work on -- work on it -- THEN make a film."

I think most of us know what skills we lack, so our choices are to...

1- Throw caution to the wind and make our film no matter how crappy it will be. ( yes you will learn lots by doing this, but I would not want to subject anyone else to have to watch the results )

2- Work on our missing skill sets until we reach a point where we are competent enough to make our film. ( so you might spend a year like I did to figure out how to produce good audio )

3- Find collaborators that have the skills that we don't have. We work together, a good film gets made, and you realize that you either have to master these missing skills or plan to continue working with collaborators for future projects. ( this is probably the best and most productive path provided you can find collaborators to work with )

>>>Believe it or not, but the majority of poor films are not made so intentionally.

I think most people know what they are not good at, but some people will go with option 1 that I listed above, because they really don't care about the finished quality of their film, they just want to make a film no matter how bad it is. These are films that should be made but NEVER shown to anyone outside of the production crew.

>>>I'm sorry, but that tells me you've likely never made a film. Making films, junk or hit, IS working on the craft.

I disagree. If you suck at audio, you need to focus exclusively on audio until you can produce good audio. Don't try and learn how to produce good audio while making a film, because your focus is diluted while you are working on dozens of different things at once, and by the end of your project you may still have crappy sound that ruins your finished product.

Imagine if people learned to drive this way. Where they just bought a car despite having terrible driving skills, and then set out on road trip where they are having six accidents a day. By the end of the road trip they are still a crappy driver, maybe a slightly better crappy driver, but they still don't know how to drive.

November 5, 2015 at 3:29PM, Edited November 5, 3:36PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

>>>>>>>>Any self-aware person knows what they can and can't do when it comes to film production. Yes there may be things you've never tried, but nobody picks something up and on their first try produces expert level work.
So you admit that sometime people do things ‘for a first time’, but their folly is that they expected to be pros? Your argument is that people SHOULDN’T do something until they’re very proficient at it. My point is that you don’t get to be proficient at anything without practice.
It sounds like you went through much trial and error yourself to A. Find out what you’re poor at. B. Find out what you’re good at. C. Get better at both A. and B. Do you see how your argument of ‘don’t do it ‘till you’re good at it’ is self-defeating and paradoxical?

For my first film, Hemorrhage, I had zero people qualified to do the job. ZERO. (I live in a city with a closed system of available people). My two leads were a dinner theatre stage actor and a 15 year old high school girl (to play someone 10 years her senior). 2 high school students to hold a boom and press record on a Zoom recorder. A metal-head buddy with sound editing gear. The list goes on – point being, only I had any amount experience in film production, and even mine was only a few shorts in filmschool and PA hours watching a parking lot. I shot, wrote, edited, color timed, directed, produced, etc, with 7500 bucks… It was hell and it was NOT a perfect movie. But we premiered at Fantasia International Film Festival, sold it to eONE and got worldwide distribution – hell, even earned some money and some great reviews! I was ‘proficient’ at NONE of the above skills. Some I did better than others, but a far cry from ‘what I thought was perfect’ -- it never stopped me from making the film. Luckily people saw the film and responded well: http://variety.com/2012/film/reviews/hemorrhage-1117947965/ Does that happen all the time? No. But a guaranteed way for me to fail would be to never jump in the deep end. Hemorrhage pushed me into my next, FEED THE GODS (XLrator), and now onto my 3rd. Do, fail/succeed, learn, do again. Making my film gave me experience, confidence, industry contacts, money, publicity, respect and a means to build towards a bigger and better film.

Making a film and driving a car is apples and oranges. “Woops. Didn’t get good audio that day. I’ll have to reshoot and figure out what I did wrong.” BOOM. Lesson learned. Repeat. NOW… if said person shrugs and moves on then yes, they’ll make a shitty film. If they choose not to learn from their mistake then that’s their issue – the problem is not in them trying. You keep saying, “Get better then do it.” Well how about, “Get better by doing it.” I don’t know how these shitty films you speak of get screened to an audience, but that’s neither here nor there. Perfectionism is a fallacy that can stall, stagnate and kill your productivity. And productivity is the only thing that will lead you towards ‘perfection.’

November 5, 2015 at 7:39PM

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Given the number of people making films today, I don't think you can expect to get by with a sub-par skill set. So you work on your skills until you can produce something that is watchable, or find the people you need to fill in the gaps.

Audio is something I harp on because it's an area where many new filmmakers tend to skip over, and it definitely ruins the final product. ( and it's not that hard to learn how to produce good audio if you are willing to spend some time figuring it out )

A month ago I was invited to the premiere of a friend's first feature that he spent $30K making, and probably a couple of years of his life. The film had some serious flaws, and it was painful to have to sit in a theater for all 2 hours of it. The audio was horrible: too noisy, too loud and distorted, too faint and unintelligible at times. Every shot had a different color balance, different contrast, and different exposure, which stood out like a sore thumb every time they cut to a different angle or a tighter or wider shot. And worst of all, the full 2 hours should have been cut down to about one hour, but my friend did his own editing so every shot was sacred to him and he packed in all kinds of overly long and useless shots that did absolutely nothing but bore the audience.

You could fix the audio, fix the color correction, and get somebody else to edit the film down to 60-70 minute length and it would be an entirely different experience. It wouldn't be a masterpiece, but it would make the end result watchable. But knowing my friend, he's probably going to do nothing to fix it, and will try and get it on the festival circuit, which I think is a dead end given it's current state.

November 8, 2015 at 11:57PM, Edited November 8, 11:58PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

May I suggest another example? I am an (semi-)professional violinist. You know what I had to do, to become a good musician? Practice. Yet that is no reason to perform complete pieces all day long. That's rather pointless. You won't learn a thing. The right way to attend that is to practice. And by practice I mean PRACTICE. There are great ways of focusing on a very specific problem and work on it. Simple, reliable and usefull little tasks, which will improve your skills over time.
For me it is just the same with filmmaking. If you have no idea how your new camera works you don't just get out and go to your filmset to work on your film. You take it to the park or anywhere else and just play around. You collect experience and you get used to it. And then you start working on serious art.
Nobody says that you shall stop creating films because you are not experienced enough. The only thing he is pointing out (and so am I) is, that you can learn outside of your next main project ;)

November 11, 2015 at 3:42PM

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Benjamin Skorov
Somehow all of it, Hobbyist, Essayist
347

Great post.

For most people, it's not a choice between making an imperfect film now or a perfect film later - it's the choice between making ANY film now, or no film later. I know some very talented people - more talented than me at the moment - who are paralysed by their fear of making something less than perfect. Years go by and they still haven't made a feature and there's a danger they never will.

Fuck that - get on with it and make your film. A couple of years ago I had a script that was getting some attention. We had a tiny amount of money, and I was advised to wait a year and see if we could raise a healthy budget. I said no, and made it anyway, for peanuts. It's cheap, it's inventive... and it's a feature - a tangible end product, rather than a daydream.

Don't worry about how good your first feature is - just worry about making it. You'll learn on the way, and you'll have a feature under your belt. If you've done it once, you can do it again - and better.

Our feature is at www.facebook.com/dsrmovie or www.dontstoprunning.co.uk - along with some posts on how we did it.

November 4, 2015 at 5:33PM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3035

Well said Alex,
The thought of making your first feature perfect and waiting for a little more money is crippling. You take the advice of others because you want your first feature to be perfect. Then before you know it years pass by. Just last year I talked to my producer partner about making a "throwaway" film and it didn't go anywhere because he wanted to over plan it. We have made almost a hundred shorts in total and I know that we will produce a film better than most of the stuff I see appearing on Netflix.

November 6, 2015 at 2:01AM

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T. Huff
Director, screenwriter
154

MAKE IT! Make that throwaway film and finish it within six months from now. It'll be worth more to you than waiting a few years.

November 7, 2015 at 8:47AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3035

If you want to learn to let go: practice yoga.
And not just some stretches, but the whole package: relax, sun salutations, different postures, breathing exercises, meditation. (And if you are wielding a camera on set, you'll notice your back will become stronger as a bonus...)

I've seen very talented people get paralysed by perfectionism until the deadline was so close they had no choice, but to act. As a result it was not perfect at all, but often more than good enough.
When there is no deadline, the real danger is staying in that daydream...

I've seen beginners being so paralysed by perfectionism that after 4 or 5 years they still made nothing except for some meaningless 10 seconds shots to check some camera setting.

You should always do your best, but you should also realise your 2 man crew can't compete with The Dark Night or Star Wars (I'm not saying these are perfect movies, btw, but I really like them :-p ).

I've also seen talentless people just doing what they love, although they have no clue it's not as great as they think it is.
"Knowing how good you are at something, requires the same skill as actually being good at that something" is one of my favourite John Cleese quotes, because it explains why very talented people can be so hesitant and why nitwits are blind to their own shortcomings :-p

Making is part of learning.
So fail fast, learn faster :-)

November 5, 2015 at 1:37AM, Edited November 5, 1:37AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9019

I've always taken the attitude if you're going to do something, do it properly. But I think that's different to perfectionism. I'm not going to shoot a film if I'm not going to try and get the lighting, sound, etc to a decent standard. But those are just technical things. My issue is, deciding if an idea is "good enough" to pursue, and perhaps this is another side of the same coin.

November 5, 2015 at 7:37AM, Edited November 5, 7:37AM

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Matt Carter
VFX Artist / Director / DP / Writer / Composer / Alexa Owner
399

Love everything about this post. One of my NFS favs for sure. Perfect.

Maybe ;)

Some great comments too.

November 5, 2015 at 10:28AM, Edited November 5, 10:32AM

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I totally embrace bad films! My movie Space Trucker Bruce ( https://youtu.be/kcOaAqGBWLo ) is kind of bad in that I made the sets out of cardboard and didn't really know how to write a movie or make one. I learned along the way and I think the end result is decent but I feel I could have done better. I went through the common filmmaker stages of realization: 1.) I released it thinking it was great, 2.) then after watching it with an audience (they liked it ), I thought it was crap, 3.) Months later, after watching it a few times, I liked it again. Best to just get out and make stuff. it's fun.

November 5, 2015 at 6:02PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
526

...Sometimes you come across a film that is bad in a very campy way, which like Kitsch is it's own art form. Think "Rocky Horror Picture Show", "Eraserhead", "Buckeroo Bonzai", or any of the Troma films. I would even put some of Ed Wood's films in this category, which might have been unintentionally campy, but they are still a hoot to watch.

November 9, 2015 at 6:02PM, Edited November 9, 6:02PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32247

This is so true. Without someone there to remind you to stay focused on the entire project you can get focused on little details of perfectionism. You can only sustain that for so long though and you have to decide if you want a "perfect" unfinished film or an "imperfect" completed film.
Looking back, I now understand that my first attempt at a feature "failed" (it was salvaged into a short) because of my perfectionism. I was so picky about all the details and I didn't keep the larger picture in view and I just burnt out with the whole project.
I wish now that I had just been more sloppy with it. Just got things done. People are very forgiving of flaws in your first feature if it works well on other levels.If the story is good or it shows them something they had never seen.
In fact nowadays flaws can be looked at as a look. Recently I showed my that film I mentioned to someone and he asked me what plug in I had used to get that "great bad 16mm look" and I said "bad 16mm".

November 7, 2015 at 12:55PM

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Something that I would add is not just practice, but focused practice. Choose one skill and work on it until you get comfortable. Not expert, but comfortable enough to do it easily. Then focus on the next skill.

I've found that my paralysis is mainly because I see a large number of things that I lack. If I am focused on a specific thing, I can ignore the deficiencies in other areas and be satisfied that I improved what I was working on. I've noticed this with my shorts. Every time I watch them, I notice the specific skill I improved on and I don't feel as bad about not being perfect. The next one will be better in two areas. The next one in three and so on. Eventually I will make a film where I am good all around and then I can work on being great one step at a time.

November 15, 2015 at 12:14AM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
331