July 24, 2013

'Do What You Love. You'll Be Better at It': Making Choices in Your Film Career

It's hard to follow your dreams. For every thousand kids that want to be an astronaut, there are only a very few who actually end up in outer space. This is true for any endeavor, especially indie film, where the ratio of effort to reward can seem daunting (i.e., it might take years of working away with no reward to finally get your film made, or your script sold.) It's all about making choices, and over at Chris Jones' film blog he has a great post on making choices related to your indie film career, as well as an excellent and inspiring video. Click below to learn how to make the choices that will lead to a fulfilling life and career.

Whether you're a painter, a writer, or a filmmaker, in order to turn your passion into a viable career you'll have to make some tough choices -- choices that are usually high-risk, but also high-reward.

In a previous post, I wrote about a great book called The War of Art, claiming that an artist is a professional, and that in order to be a professional, you have to treat your passion like a job, even if it's not paying your bills. In this video, Tom Kelley, a writer and entrepreneur, talks about meeting Francis Ford Coppola, who told him, "Do what you love. You'll be better at it."

Coppola explained to Kelley that he loves wine, so he has a winery, and loves food, and has a restaurant, and uses all these ventures to finance his movies. And he does what he loves, because when we do something we love, we tend to put more energy into it, and the results are better. This makes intuitive sense, but it's sometimes easy to overlook. Kelley says when thinking of our lives and careers, we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • What am I good at?
  • What am I born to do?
  • What will people pay me to do?
  • Who am I going to work with?

Venn Diagram of Success

When you think of what you're good at, beware of the "curse of competence." You may be good at typing, but is that what you really want to do? And what are you born to do? Some people are great at math, but it's not what they're born to do (i.e. it gives them no pleasure.) These questions help put us in the right mindset for making good choices.

As Chris Jones says:

You know most of the time we pass through life, allowing circumstance or others to make choices for us. In many ways it’s inevitable, it’s simply too hard to swim against the current all the time, and those who do, usually burn out. The trick is making the distinction between what is, and what is not, important to you. And then make an active choice, even if you have to swim against the current to do it.

What do you think? What sacrifices have you made to make your dream come true? Do you agree with Chris Kelley's thesis? Do you have any strategies to share that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments!

Link: How To Make Tough Film Career Choices -- Chris Jones' Blog

Your Comment

26 Comments

Excellent advice. It happens that 2 days ago I told my friend (and left hand) that I'm planning to start a film company, he said "im giving up on the dream man..its so sad..." Sad indeed. I realized that I have been expending all this money in equipment like 5d Mark III like buying a candy for a store, (I can't even pay my bills!)
To think that all this time I have been in love without noticing it is a little shocking. Would I stop doing what I do because it is hard? ---I don't know, let me make that movie and let you know.

July 24, 2013 at 7:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Edgar

July 24, 2013 at 7:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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J Light

You do realize what the onion is right?

July 24, 2013 at 11:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Hussain

That's the point. Saying "do what you love" is easy when you're already a success. Most people who "do what they love" end up with a hobby and a bunch of credit card debt.

July 25, 2013 at 8:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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André

Maybe a more accurate mantra is "Follow what you love." You may never get there, but you can at least tell yourself you haven't quit. Some people are happier when they quit chasing nearly impossible dreams, some are miserable. If you can enjoy the twisting paths to your goals, you're more than halfway there.

July 25, 2013 at 4:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I worked in the past as a laundromat assistant, then IT administrator for several small businesses (1-20 employees) in 1998 I started part time making film and doing video production, in 2006 I went full time, now I have a studio with the largest free market permanent green screen studio in Northeast Ohio and I live comfortably. (I don't spend much)... I do a lot of nonprofit work including co-founding the Cleveland Asian Festival, etc..I love what I do, I enjoy what I do, but the trade off is less income situated... Now that I'm thinking of my old age. I am afraid that maybe I do not have enough to honestly ink I can retire. That perhaps is the downside, spending time doing what I love, yes I do them better, but the price to pay may hurt my chance to really retire from it.

July 24, 2013 at 8:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Johnny Wu

Figuring out how "career" plays into the world of ART has always been a struggle. A great book I highly recommend is, "So Good They Can't Ignore You," by Cal Newport.

It doesn't just focus on art-driven careers and looks at the whole spectrum of what equates to happiness and success, must read for those searching :)

July 24, 2013 at 10:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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MarkDavid

Money and time (how old you're) plays a big factor in this?

I'm not as young as some of my student peers in this game. They can afford to take chances, and see where things pan out. I could do the same, but if things fail, I'm looking at entering middle age with exactly what I have now - nothing. Do I settle for a little less, so I can have something put away for retirement, or do I work follow my dreams and have a horrible old age. That's sobering reality.

July 24, 2013 at 11:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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drake

The main cause of death is retirement, sir. Keep doing it even in your old age. Why do people HAVE to retire?

July 24, 2013 at 11:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabriel

In old age, sickness often lead to forced retirement. It's not as simple as you make it out to be.

July 24, 2013 at 11:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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drake

In old age, I'll make sure sickness will kill me first if it thinks I'll stop doing what I love just to take things easy.

July 24, 2013 at 12:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabriel

maybe you make it harder than it is.

July 24, 2013 at 12:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabriel

oops, sorry, double comment. :/

July 24, 2013 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabriel

When he was getting out of the AF, my husband looked around at what choices were needed in careers & decided to use his GI bill for electrical engineering. It took a long time to accomplish since he also had to work part time to support our growing family (four at the start & now eight), but as time passed, he accomplished all the things being mentioned above. His career has supported our family, but not controlled it. His passion is for God & our family, he is the assistant pastor at out church, & enjoys bowling, & spending time with friends too. That decision to make the school career choice happened more than 30 yrs ago & it hasn't disappointed him. :-)

July 24, 2013 at 1:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Sandy

Sandy,

I love your comment. I am encouraged by it. Thank you for posting.

July 26, 2013 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I'm currently thinking of leaving my comfortable government video job and going on my own to films and videos on my own. The government video is stifling to me. I'm the only one in my job that didn't have a strong TV background. I had more short film experience than TV.

The tough part is, my wife would have to work full-time in order to have affordable health insurance. My two kids would need childcare. And I honestly wouldn't make as much money as I am now. It's a tough decision, but I do wonder "what am I born to do?" I desire to do more creative and personal projects. I have very little time and energy after work and family to that now.

July 24, 2013 at 1:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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John

I'm currently thinking of leaving my comfortable government video job and going on my own to produce films and videos on my own. The government video is stifling to me. I'm the only one in my job that didn't have a strong TV background. I had more short film experience than TV.

The tough part is, my wife would have to work full-time in order to have affordable health insurance. My two kids would need childcare. And I honestly wouldn't make as much money as I am now. It's a tough decision, but I do wonder "what am I born to do?" I desire to do more creative and personal projects. I have very little time and energy after work and family to that now.

July 24, 2013 at 1:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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John

Make a decision and go for broke, don't half-ass it like the guy who does 1 hour a night after work when his brain is mush.. Also younger doesn't always mean better. Stereo-typically younger people have less responsibilities and less financial obligations but they also have less life experience (which is very important in storytelling) and less surety of their own abilities & goals.

If you have the ability to change some things around in your life then just shut-up and do it. Unless you want to wonder "what if" forever. I sure as hell don't.

July 24, 2013 at 4:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Bry

Youth Vs. Character. Excellent point to address. A quick story,

Two Musicians:
Youth: Friend of mine started playing guitar at 12 and got quite good. Extremely talented but never quite buckled down. Lucky for him his talent saw his band travel around the country doing small gigs, but nothing really materialized and he moved on in life. He still regrets not taking it seriously.
Middle Age: My friend's dad (works a white collar, high stress job) decided to pick up the guitar at 46. Due to the work ethic he's crafted over decades he was playing as good as my friend was playing in less than 3 years. By the fifth year he was one of the best guitarists I've seen in person.

Now, the middle aged fellow didn't make a career out of it (yet), but he never wanted to in the first place. This is just one case where the writing was clear on the wall: good character (work ethic, persistence, discipline, etc) will do more for you than youth and talent ever will. All the time.

July 24, 2013 at 6:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

Awesome article. I've read all 3 of the author's series.

I think you really have to decide what you want and go from there. Do you want a comfortable, fairly predictable life that affords you to enjoy it? Family? Go to sleep with a clear mind (ha! never happen no matter how much money you make). Or would you rather take a risk, follow a dream and suffer the consequences?

Something to consider...
- We all die. Cancer, old age, accident, whatever. Retirement (to me) is a trap. I'm not saying dismiss the notion and live a careless existence. That's not what I'd call a responsible course of action (even more so with a husband/wife and kids, etc) nor would I recommend it. But if you assume you'll have the health (or be alive at all) to do the things you've been wanting to do at 60+... well then I feel bad for you.
- Fortune favors the bold (not the stupid). I was bold (and a bit stupid) in making my feature film with my life savings... five grand at the time, haha. Fortunately I walked away with a sale, press, professional contacts, job opportunities and the best f**king feeling I've experienced in my brief existence. Fair trade for 5k? Bet your ass. Had I waited 'just one more year' - much like my film school colleagues - I'd still be in the same place.
- Perspective. What's the absolute worst that can happen? You're 20 and embark on a film career that fails and you struggle for 40-50 year (if you're lucky enough to live that long)? Life is so incredibly short and fragile that I couldn't imagine compromising for the sake of HOPING things will be okay along the way. Live intensely - a cushy life half lived is a sin.

I always ask my elders (people 26 and older) what they think, feel, learned about life. Everyone had a 'play it safe and think of the future" mentality. The people 60+ said, "Play it safe and live in the present."

Time to punch the clock at my day job, pickup a Monster and finish the final draft for my next film. Check us out on FB, "Feed The Gods." (Shameless plug for my contribution to the conversation, hehehe)

July 24, 2013 at 5:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

Would you mind providing a link for the other 2 articles from the author, having trouble locating them.

October 29, 2013 at 2:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jason

Please send me a working link Brock - srvdplas(@)gmail.com

July 24, 2013 at 9:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Sico

Really? Isn't working? Balls. Here.

https://www.facebook.com/FeedTheGodsMovie
Should be able to search "Feed The Gods" in FB search and a tab for the page will pop up.

Here's a link to the film I sold to Phase 4:
https://www.facebook.com/HemorrhageMovie

July 24, 2013 at 11:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

Brock...you're an inspiration...why in hell
aren't you writing stuff for this site....
do you shoot your movies on 5D...

July 25, 2013 at 8:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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sammy

Haha, thanks man, I appreciate that!

, I guess I've never been approached to contribute to NFS but then again why would I be? I haven't been able to really prove my experience until my film got its first window of release in June. I'd love to throw in what I could. The sites been a pretty huge help for me so far, seems only fitting to return the favour.

And Hemorrhage was shot on a 7D, but with the blackmagic on its way (and a few contacts with red packages) I may branch out. Very awesome time to be shooting.

July 26, 2013 at 1:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brock

Why not do both things? Multi-task :) I work full time in Information Technology, about 17 years in fact. It pays the bills. And yet I'm acting and filming. I'm newer to filmmaking, however I received 10 film fest and other awards so far for my web series project which is going to TV soon, called "Day Zero". We're no budget and everyone is a volunteer.

You tell me if I'm on the right track by checking out my season 2 premiere episode, "Requiem": http://blip.tv/dayzerotv/day-zero-episode-2x1-requiem-6620210

July 25, 2013 at 7:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Cal