This post was written by Izzy Stevens.

But what if you could bet on your own success? What if you had far more sway in your career than you thought? 

As an assertive four-year-old rocking leadership shoes too large for her awkward feet, I relished ordering my school friends to act out violent death scenes from Titanic (whether they liked it or not). 

So it seemed in the cards that I’d someday become a film director. But I came to it by way of an unorthodox acting career. One which had some lucky early success in TV and film, only to spit me out into film school, where I found true love behind the camera.

As it goes, a few years later, I was about to bounce into production on a feature film when the pandemic hit. 

I took a right turn somewhere between waiting in the Trader Joe’s line for pickle chips and staring into the abyss of isolation, and I officially became a creative coach. For filmmakers.

Why? Because I...

  • dig helping creatives execute their vision
  • deeply craved community during lock-down
  • and cannot sit still

Most importantly, I was surrounded by talented actors who craved the confidence and skillset to make their own films but didn’t know how to go about it. 

I knew I could help.

Over the past four years, I’ve built a production company and coaching practice helping upwards of 60 filmmakers go from script to screen, which has taught me a whole lotta delicious wisdom juice about my own career. 

Indie Spunk PodcastCredit: Indie Spunk

In celebration of the newly released indie spunk podcast [get me into your ear holes here], and in the hopes of empowering you, dear filmmaker reader, I felt the desire to share some of that sweet, sweet juice—those key elements that seem to separate the successes from the ones who stop before they get there. 

(Notice I didn’t say failed? In my opinion, failure isn’t really a thing.)

This brings me to number one on my list of key qualities that my "success story" filmmaker clients all seem to have in common.

1. A Longevity Mindset

Let’s nip this in the bud up top. Thinking short-term leads to burnout, inconsistency, reactive creativity (i.e. trying to replicate what worked for someone else before), and expecting it all to happen overnight (or on your first or second film).

I’ve heard many talented creatives say, "I’ll give it a year, and if I don’t make it, then I’ll try something else or go back to school" and just… why? Don’t. If that’s genuinely how you feel, don’t waste the year. Go to Cambodia instead and drink your weight in Lemongrass Margaritas and Angkor Beer.

But if you love (or could learn) to zoom out and think of the big picture? It’s a good sign. 

The trick here is to bring a practical approach to your long-term endeavors. 

These days, there are a few phrases that seem to roll off of my tongue as regularly as this one: “The project is your classroom.” I love this reminder that our success as directors, writers, producers (and everything in between) manifests by being process-driven and being curious. 

cameraman on setStay curious.Credit: KAL VISUALS

This is the kind of mindset that helps you get out of your own way. To get out of perfectionism. To take action. It’s the difference between those who try for one year and those who know that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

I must admit, I myself am quick on the trigger. I wanted it all yesterday. I’d absolutely dig getting my door banged down by A24 execs screaming, "We will pay you anything you want to direct this buzzy film sensation!" I’m hungry to be on set every day, to get to collaborate on that kind of a high level, and with money to spend. 

But the house can’t stand up without a solid foundation. If I focus too much on that ego-driven vision, I might not ever make a move or a movie.

The short of it is, don’t let the need for success drive your career. The festival laurels, the awards, the Deadline articles, and the accolades are fun for everyone, but the pot at the end of that rainbow ain’t filled with gold. It’s empty.

Come back to the process. Stay curious.

Also, my clients who slow their roll and get super intentional seem to, oddly, go faster.

2. Getting Visible

Ever danced around the idea of sliding into the DMs of that industry connection you wanna make but closed the phone and ordered donuts instead? I have. Avoid, avoid, avoid. 

Or maybe you’ve struggled to send an email to someone in the industry that you want to know better? Or felt unqualified to crowdfund, pitch your idea, or call yourself a writer/director/filmmaker? 

Many of my clients are women, non-binary folks, identify as queer, or are in cultural groups traditionally underrepresented in media. It’s a no-brainer that being seen can feel dangerous or unfamiliar. 

A client of mine was so afraid of crowdfunding her film because she thought no one would donate. A month later, she finished her crowdfund campaign with double the funds expected and twelve offers from creatives to work on the project for free. The power of putting yourself out there is unbelievable. 

But even I struggle with this one. Filmmaking sometimes feels like asking everyone to bet on you while standing naked in the town square.

It’s vulnerable. You have to own your ideas.

working on set"You’ve got to bet on yourself"Credit: Rendy Novantino

How can your work be acknowledged if no one gets to experience it? You’ve got to put it out there. You’ve got to bet on yourself and be okay with everyone not "getting you" because it means the right people can.

On the other side of putting your work out there, is an authentic human experience that allows other people to see themselves, too. It's an excavation.

So many of us feel that we’re unworthy to tell our stories or that no one will get us and our ideas.

I say, let them not get you. Let the people who need your art, find it. 

This is your loving nudge to finally reach out to that person your gut has been screaming at you about. 

3. Sticking With It

Doesn’t sound so sexy, but this really is the quality that matters most.

Now, on the surface, this might seem like I’m repeating myself on point Numero Uno. Yes, it bares underlining that your staying power matters—on the podcast, I’ve been lucky to interview industry veterans who’ve been around the bend for years and years and years, the one thing that keeps coming up? Those who stick with it inevitably succeed. Again, science.

But here’s what I mean by Sticking With It.

Have you ever heard of the Paper Clip Test? It’s this creative experiment where people are given a paperclip and told to write down as many uses for it as possible. Essentially, everyone first comes up with the same 5-10 ideas. This is the same for our creative ideas.

The first 5-10 ideas you have, or I should say, the WAY the idea occurs to you to execute it? Every person and their dog might as well have the same idea. It’s not all that interesting.

What's your story?Credit: Etienne Girardet

That’s not to say the idea itself isn’t valuable.

It just needs development. It needs your idiosyncratic voice. It needs your stamp.

That takes time, it takes trust in yourself, and it takes persistence. 

As a coach, I see a lot of ideas roll through the brains of my clients. I see many of them doubt their initial ideas as "not good enough" or be quick on the trigger to make it already that they miss the experience of digging deeper and diving under that surface. 

There’s a belief in many of us that if the creative process gets hard, or we feel out of flow, then the project is failing.

But that’s exactly when persistence pays off. If it’s getting hard, it’s getting good. Stick with it.

You’ve got this.

This post was written by Izzy Stevens.

The indie spunk Podcast is out now. You can catch it here on Apple or here on Spotify.