Is NOT Making Films One of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Filmmaking Career?
Filmmaking may be the most important part of your life, but sometimes a change of focus is needed to put everything into perspective.
Working is the key to success, right? You're not a very good screenwriter? Work. Your cinematography skills are amateurish? Work. Can't seem to get your project in front of an audience. Fuggin work, buddy! We hear this constantly; I have said it myself plenty of times: keep writing, keep shooting, keeping hustling, giving all of you simplistic axioms like, "If you're not working, you're not trying."
What a load of shit.
Okay, to be fair, working is important and yeah, you need to work in order to actually do filmmaking, but what if working isn't the solution to your professional obstacles? What if the solution is actually—not—working—like, literally putting your camera down and walking away from it? Before you hurl your keyboards or laptops or phones or Bedazzlers or whatever it is you have in your hand at the moment, watch this fantastic video by Simon Cade of DSLRguide.
I'll admit it, I'm a workaholic. For the first three years of my career, you couldn't pull me away from my computer—not on weekends, not on my days off, not on Thanksgiving or Christmas or my anniversary. I'd be up at 8 AM writing and wouldn't close my laptop until 2 or 3 in the morning. I even woke up at 4:30 AM out of a dead sleep to find breaking news about a new Sony camera and wrote that shit right then and there.
I was ferocious! I was killing it! And I was super duper depressed.
Yeah, I know, I'm getting real on you now, but this is a topic we don't often talk about in the indie film community (because feelings) even though it's something that we all face at some point. It's not just about depression or ennui or anxiety, it's about believing the lie that working non-stop like a machine will result in a quality product because a lot of the time it doesn't.
Maybe right now you're on the upswing and you're hungry and motivated and hustling like crazy with awesome results. That's excellent! However, for those who are starting to lose their momentum, your product might be losing quality because you're running on fumes, and the answer may not be pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Your dogs are tired as hell! They may need a rest.
I remember a couple of years back. I was on the shitty end of my second all-nighter, hadn't slept in easily 40 hours, and had to finish some pretty important work. I was staring at my computer trying to put words together in some kind of intelligible fashion, but not only could I not form a single sentence but my eyes just could not focus on the screen. I was doing the whole cartoonish "am I really seeing this" thing, rubbing my eyes and widening them, but all I could see was a bright, fuzzy blob in front of me. I was tired and I needed some rest—not just for the night, but for a season.
I had a moment of clarity: I want so badly to focus on my work, but because I'm not allowing myself to rest, I'm unable to. Seasons of great rest, in my experience, result in seasons of great focus.
Burn out is a real thing and giving yourself the permission to rest is absolutely crucial if you want to stay in the game. Toughing it up won't cut it. Sometimes you need to walk away from the thing you love to be able to truly love it. Resting and focusing on other things is not you giving up on filmmaking, it's allowing yourself to find that which nourishes you so you can have the energy, the drive, and the passion to return and work harder than you ever have before.
Besides, even machines require maintenance every once in a while.