April 11, 2016

The Paradox of Choice: How Limitations Can Help You Make The Best Film Possible

Have you ever walked into the ice cream store, saw 35+ flavors, and just couldn't decide? You walk away feeling worse about your chocolate mint because maybe you should’ve gotten the rocky road instead.

Now, think about the last time you tried to sit down and write a script. You had 200 different ideas and you had to pick one“But they’re all so good!” you said. You choose, and you get this overwhelming feeling of regret; there's that pain in your stomach that you’re missing out on a better choice. 

Why?

Psychologists call this the paradox of choice. When overwhelmed with too many options, one of two things happen. We either constantly think about those other things we didn’t choose (i.e. you’re still swiping on Tinder, even while you’re on a date), or we end up doing nothing because we can’t decide between the options.

But scripts, ice cream, and dates are one thing. What about the general filmmaking process?

Work with what you have and not with what you don't​​.

Paradox of Choice: Gear

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Everywhere, everyone is talking about gear— lens, cameras, tripods, mounts, rigs, and everything in between. The choices are never ending, and with the internet you can search endlessly for the best possible deal on equipment.

“Should I shoot in 4K? What about a gimbal vs a Steadicam? And, I don’t know... Should I rent or buy? I mean, if I get LEDs it’ll be less hot, but they’re more expensive, and then I have to think about color balance....”

The best way to get out of this is to focus on story. Gear should secondary to your characters and your narrative.

Apply the Principle of Positive Limiting

Artificially limit your own choices so you can become more satisfied when you do make a decision.

A good way to start this process is by asking yourself these questions:

  • Would my story be interesting even if I shot it on a cell phone?

  • How can I utilize the gear I already have and still get the job done?

  • Do I need more gear or do I just want more gear?

Action Step

Get a piece of paper and pencil and write down a general catalogue of your gear. After that, look through it and find what bare essentials you would need in order to shoot your movie. 

Paradox of Choice: Screenplay

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Which one of my 20 scripts should I finish? Are my plot points exciting enough? Do I have enough material for a short or feature?

Plus, what about all those other stories you could be working on? Some of them might be better, right? 

Action Step

Choose one script. Just choose it. Yes, you might be missing out, but so what? Even Christopher Nolan didn’t want do Batman at first. He had Batman at first. He had Inception in him for years, but he knew it would be better to focus on one project at a time. (You can always go back to your other scripts later.)

Ask yourself these questions:

  • If I focus on one thing right now, are those other ideas gone forever?

  • Do I really want to stop what I’m working on now to pursue some new idea (when I know that multitasking is a myth)?

​​Try a tactic called The Someday Technique: Get a folder and name it “Someday Folder.” Write down all your ideas that you haven’t fleshed out yet and put them into this folder. Then file it away until you're done with the project you chose to work on. Psychologically, this will help you deal with the paralysis of choice.

Paradox of Choice: Casting

You can only cast for so long before your project loses momentum. Sure, you can look at audition footage again and again; you can put up more casting calls; you can even expand your role from a 25-year-old black male to a 20 to 65-year-old any-gender non-racially-descript human just to get more choice.

But at the end of the day, you just don't have time. How do you decide which actor is the best of the worst?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it worth feeling bad for something I can’t control?

  • How can I make the best out of the actor/actress I choose?

  • How can I direct this person to get better results?

Action Step

Write down three things you like about your actors. Then write down three things you think they should work on. Are the things they need to work on something you can help them with? Realize that if you got someone else, you would be making a new list of problems. Work with what you have and not with what you don't.

Paradox of Choice: Funding

Funding is sometimes the hardest part for indie filmmakers. No one seems to know where to apply for grants or who to talk to about them.

You don’t want to ask your parents or friends for money, but maybe crowdfunding would help? But then, do people know you well enough to give you $10,000 to shoot a post-mortem documentary about your recently deceased cat? And do you fund it yourself, or do you seek investors? Choices, choices, choices. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the best film I can make with what I have now?

  • If I had zero funding, how much of my own money could (and would I) put in?

  • What’s the absolute best movie can I shoot with that amount of money?

Action Step

Write down the top three people in your life who you think would give you money for your film if you asked for it. Now put fake tears in your eyes and approach them. (Kidding! Well, not really....)

Come up with how much you would want to ask for and combine it with how much you personally want to spend. This way, you can figure how much money you could have access to right now before you start going to sources outside your immediate circle.

***

The paradox of choice is a tough nut to crack, but by narrowing your choices down to the essentials, you can fix this problem and be ahead of 90% of other filmmakers.

What’s your biggest psychological barrier to filmmaking? Is it too many choices? The fear you’re not good enough? Let us know in the comments below.     

If getting your film funded or figuring out how to overcome your own psychological barriers so you can make your first feature interests you, get your free Filmmaker’s Toolkit at indiefilmTO.com.

Main article photo source: Flickr Creative Commons

Your Comment

13 Comments

This is a great post! This podcast perfectly dovetails into this. I highly recommend it.
https://soundcloud.com/creativepeptalk/082-creative-vaccine

April 11, 2016 at 11:56AM

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John Carlo Rocchetti
Content Creator
74

Hey. Thanks for the feedback!

It's good to see someone responding to the stuff I'm writing in a positive way.

Thanks for linking the podcast as well, I'll give it a listen!

April 11, 2016 at 2:05PM

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Pablo Carranza
Writer/Producer/Creative Director at IndieFilmTO
105

killer post!

April 11, 2016 at 3:55PM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1243

Thanks!

April 11, 2016 at 5:05PM

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Pablo Carranza
Writer/Producer/Creative Director at IndieFilmTO
105

Wow! What an amazing article. Perhaps one of the best I've read in here for quite a long time. You have really pointed out the whole truth I go through as an upcoming independent Kenya filmmaker. Gear and an extra one too, location, are my worst areas of dillema. I'm always there, picking one then feeling its not the best then going back and picking another and start comparing it to the previous one blah blah..by the end of three months, am still stuck there at the same place. Thanks for the action steps, really practical and on point. Currently I'm working on my My RODE Reel competition entry and this has just come through at the right time! On funding though, its quite a challenge for starters who have no gear, no name, no 'people we know' and no portfolio. Its always hard to access funding fron outside, unless your good Samaritan passes by. But we are coping and the best days ahead are just signalling us. We keep the hopes up! Thank you No Film School.

April 11, 2016 at 12:19PM

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Samuel Wanjohi
Director • Writer • Editor
84

Hey. Thanks for your feedback!

It really feels nice to hear that you like my article. I think this is the best one I've written so far.

In terms of the funding, I agree. It's so tough to get funding and here in Toronto, even though their are TONS of grants, the paperwork itself can be daunting. Honestly, It's all a matter of how you present yourself and keeping your business face on the same time as your artist face. As anything else, people want to invest in something they feel is a sure shot and it can be tough if you you are trying to get money for your first film.

Again, thanks for your feedback! Much appreciated.

April 11, 2016 at 2:04PM

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Pablo Carranza
Writer/Producer/Creative Director at IndieFilmTO
105

I agree, choice is a killer.

I've been saying that I'm going to make a short for years but always found a reason why I couldn't.
So I limited all my choices (which are all just barriers) to make it happen.

One actress, location-my house, no crew except myself, no more than two nights filming and no lights except the light from a phone screen.

When I'd set these restrictions in place it made it so much easier to write a script and get the thing shot.

It was far too easy to put things off because something or other wasn't right but the truth is I was scared of failing.
The excuses I was making were all just fear disguised as indecision.

It feels great to finally have my film (almost) finished. My only regret is that I managed to lie to myself for so long.

.

April 11, 2016 at 3:09PM, Edited April 11, 3:18PM

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Jerry Lesnick
Director
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April 12, 2016 at 1:36AM

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entrar
93

Spot on article. Some of the best work is done with limitations. Limitations inspire creativity, clever work arounds, and force you to pick style. I recently started doing some short projects floating around in my head using nothing but a GoPro and the Splice editing app on iPhone. This forces me to really pick the best shots and concentrate on not spending so much time in post, but getting things done during shooting. Once again, killer post.

April 13, 2016 at 2:09PM

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Dustin Bilthouse
Creative Director
86

The problem with No Film School is the Paradox of Choice: "Should I read this article first, or should I read that article first?" Too many choices NFS! You have no idea how many browser tabs I have with NFS stories waiting to be read.

April 14, 2016 at 12:16PM

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Haha too true. I get the weekly email from them and I always open up 10-20 tabs--and of course they all have long videos attached that I must watch at some point so I just leave them up forever.

April 18, 2016 at 9:45PM

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Tom Doherty
Filmmaker
195

A great reminder and inspiration--thank you! Limitations should be embraced! The "Someday Folder" is a good idea for a label.
The bottom line is to choose daily to take action and move forward with your idea. I am definitely guilty of working on too many things at once--or not at all! I feel unsure about which idea I should be developing or I am insecure about my writing so I just jump back and forth between projects. I also feel an imbalance because I want my next project to be a feature but it is so challenging and complicated to write that I sometimes think that I should just focus on a short so I can move forward with something new sooner for that instant gratification. But then when will I ever work on my first feature film? It feels like a vicious cycle at times but I just have to power through it--and articles like this (though they can aid in procrastination as I took time to read it all and write out this comment) provide some necessary motivation.

April 18, 2016 at 9:41PM

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Tom Doherty
Filmmaker
195

I always seem take time away from my writing schedules to read articles loosely about writing... Anyways I had been writing with glass ceilings in mind like budget, gear, location. It allowed for a quick turn around and quickly made short films that have been mostly successful. That is smart writing for sure, write for immediate shoot-a-blility. I've switched techniques now after about 5 short films and I'm writing knowing I don't know how I'm going to pull off some certain scenes at all but I'm writing anyway, trying for feature length. I've finished the outline portion recently, and let me tell you fellow screenwriters, at this stage you feel very motived to start the actual scripting (dialogue) started. I'm going to start mine today. You should too.

April 29, 2019 at 7:13AM

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Graham Uhelski
Director of Photography/Video Editor
546