We’re All Growing: Producer Alex Cirillo

image1As one half of Big Vision Empty Wallet and Big Vision Creative, Alex Cirillo has worked on numerous projects in film and TV. Along the way, she’s gained a ton of useful knowledge that’s sure to be of interest to the budding, stuck or striving creative.

In this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, I sat down with Alex and discussed:

  • Getting a head start in film by studying it in high school, and how the early support of a teacher helped Alex realize she might be on the right path
  • Building a network by working different gigs and internships
  • The importance of relationships to growth and success
  • The benefits of being a small team, and reasons for intentionally staying that way
  • Finding a way to make things work
  • Approaching film and TV as a media for both social change and vagina jokes
  • The most common mistake filmmakers make in pitching their projects

Stick around to the end to hear Alex’s one piece of advice for how to leap forward in your project or career. It’s simple, actionable and effective. Enjoy.

You can find Alex on Twitter, and learn more about Big Vision here.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

President Donald Trump and My Dog’s Poop: A Story of Acceptance and Hope

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There’s actually a (somewhat) reasonable explanation for why I have this picture.

As I’m sure was probably the case for many Americans, I had trouble sleeping last night. I couldn’t shake the anxiety and dread that grew part and parcel along with Donald Trump’s Electoral Vote tally.

My wife slept uneasily beside me, unaware of the impending doom but, as it often goes with her — somehow still aware. She tossed and turned and groaned and ground her teeth.

My wife is a Latina and a feminist who exited the polls crying yesterday, out of pride at having voted for a woman for President of The United States. I am a white man, and a fifth or sixth-generation Italian-American. I share her values of equal rights and representation for women and for all the races that make up our democracy.

We both suffer from anxiety and depression, and have dedicated much of the last several years of our life to advocating for a greater dialogue on mental health in America, and greater diversity and more accurate representation in the media.

I am not a Democrat or a Republican — in fact, I have no party affiliation. I am, however, a reasonable, compassionate human being who writes this from a place of deep disappointment with his country and fellow citizens.

When it became clear to me, last night, that Donald Trump was going to be elected as my next President, I stopped obsessively, desperately, checking my phone. I gave into fatigue, and slept.

My alarm went off this morning, as the same time it always does, and the first thing I did was confirm what I already instinctively knew — the worst-case scenario had indeed unfolded. A man whose principle political strategy was comprised of hate-mongering, and the exploitation of racial and sexist fears and biases, will soon take office as the 45th President of the United States.

What I did next might sound surprising — or perhaps not — it surprised me, a bit.

I shut off the alarm, I got up, and I went about my day. As I always do.

I didn’t wallow, and neither did I pretend that nothing had changed. Much has changed. I understand this. I also understand and would like to underscore the fact that, as a straight white male, this quick acceptance might come much easier to me than, say, a woman of color.

But I share all this because I think it’s of supreme importance that we accept this outcome and move forward as best we can.

Perhaps this is naive of me, and again, I think I’m only able to say it due to my privileged position — but I do not believe Donald Trump is going to prove to be the fascist that so many of us are afraid he’s going to turn out to be.

More likely, the next few years will reveal to all of us — his specific electorate included — the extent to which the man will lie and exploit fear in service of his own gain. This is how he has won, but it won’t serve him or us well as we go about the business of governing here and working with other countries around the globe in terms of international affairs.

I believe he will do much harm. I believe he’ll prove largely incompetent as a leader. And I do worry that I’m wrong in my estimation of the level of which he’s capable of pushing the hateful agenda espoused during his campaign — that he actually might have come to believe some of the venomous rhetoric he has co-opted from the far right of the Republican party, and turn it against minority populations in my country.

What Donald Trump will never do, however, is stop me from fighting. Neither will the results of this election distract me, for any longer than today, from my mission of doing what I can to make the world a better, more equitable place for the people whose anger and disillusionment I share — no matter their political affiliation, level of education, or how they might have voted yesterday.

I have expressed before on this site my belief that America is an abusive relationship with its economy. That much was made clear to us when this most recession swept through our population, hurting the average American more than anyone else, with little repercussions to those responsible.

Today, given that we’ve handed our Presidency to Donald Trump, and the remainder of our government to a Republican Party that has done little else but obstruct government for the past decade — I have to admit that this observation was incomplete.

It’s not just our economy. It’s our political system. Our culture. We’re so lost and desperate and confused and angry that we’ve just handed the most powerful position of influence in our country over to a man who cares very little about much more than himself and his own needs.

This is not a reasonable or an effective response to our very real — and shared — needs for identity, safety, clarity and fairness. Capitalism thrives on private interest, but capitalists, as a rule, dehumanize laborers and employees  into power and statistics for their own continued gain, with little regard for the health of the individual worker or the communities to which he or she belongs.

We have witnessed Donald Trump doing this to women. We have watched as he worked to establish his predecessor, President Obama, as an other, by calling his citizenship into question until such time as it no longer benefited himself to do so. It is a supreme, tragic injustice that a man with no real understanding or concern for the everyday American has catapulted himself into the White House by the power of millions of people with real fears and grievances, whose energy and voting power has been transmuted by cunning and misinformation in service of their own continued suffering.

These past few weeks, I have been waking up earlier, and taking longer walks with my dog. It brings me peace. Today, I made sure to stick to this routine.

Except, despite my acceptance and general hopefulness, I’ve been distracted all morning.

This is only natural. I’m worried about the lives that will be destroyed and lost before enough of us finally see the truth of all this for what it is. Forgive the silly example — again, white man of privilege here — but because of this distractedness I made an uncommon mistake this morning, and forgot to take a bag with me for picking up after my dog.

This does happen, sometimes. I always feel guilty when it does. I love my community and I try to do my part to keep it clean.

A few years ago, in this situation, before my own strides in acceptance and before I saw to the improvement of own my mental health, I would have either left my dog’s poop on the ground or attempted to pick it up with a leaf or a piece of trash. Either way I would have castigated myself for my mistake, all the way home.

Nowadays, instead, when this happens I keep an eye out for other dog-walkers. I ask if they have an extra bag. Much of the time, they do, and they’re happy to offer it. In this way, we’re collaborating to keep our neighborhood clean.

This morning, I was just realizing my mistake when I saw a young woman walking a black labrador just ahead of me. She was about the cross the street, moving away in the opposite direction. I asked if she happened to have an extra bag.

The woman stopped. She looked me squarely in the eye, and instead of answering the question she asked me — quite sincerely, in accented English — how I was doing. I got the sense that she was European, and not a citizen.

I told her that I was…distracted.

She expressed sympathy and gave me the bag. It was a simple gesture of solidarity and compassion, and I’m grateful for it.

But I’ve also been wondering at my answer — distracted.

Not terrible. Not hopeless. Not angry.

I feel distracted.

Because I have accepted the reality that Donald Trump is going to be my President. Whether we want to admit this or not, it’s the truth. And, while I am afraid of the damage he’s inevitably going to do — I have hope that not all is lost.

I’m going about my life.

In the process, I continue to feel my feelings. It’s not that I’m not angry, or struggling with sadness and disappointment. But I’m processing these emotions — at my own pace, to be fair to anyone still reeling from the results of the presidential race. To be honest, though, I’m starting to get the sense that this travesty is going to at least provide me with some extra fuel for the coming fights, of which there will likely be many.

As a realist, I never had much invested in this election in the first place. With the exception of a brief moment wherein Bernie Sanders seemed to have a shot, I never had much hope for an optimal result. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care, or that I wasn’t able to identify the clear better candidate when voting.

And yet, that doesn’t matter now, does it?

What matters now is that I  — and we — exercise caution. This mess we’re in has expressed itself numerically, in terms of the results we now have to live with. But, as time goes on and things inevitably get worse for the majority of Americans over the next few years, we must instead turn our attention not to remastering the numbers but the recovery of our collective spirit.

For myself, I plan to continue to work as a mental health advocate, as a resource for practical tactics and results-driven personal growth, and as a champion of diversity and or compassion.

There will be more pain. There will be more hate. We cannot allow it to distract us. There’s work to be done — hard work that we won’t often want to do, or that will seem hopeless. But it’s imperative that we show fortitude and courage.

It’s the only thing that can work.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

How to Move Your Career or Project Forward Right Now

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Greetings, Fellow Creatives! Today’s episode of the podcast is a bit of a clip show, but I think it will be very useful to longtime listeners as well as anyone new to Coffee with Creatives.

As many of you may know, I try to make a point of asking guests on Coffee with Creatives for actionable advice for anyone who is just starting out, or perhaps feeling stuck with any one project or in the career, or who is just generally on the look out for practices and tactics that might help them create and keep on creating.

That’s the goal of the show at large, and in this episode you’ll hear from some of my more popular guests in terms of:

  • One piece of advice they would offer to help you generate and realize your vision,
  • Getting your work made and/or seen,
  • Moving through fear,
  • The benefits of mindfulness,
  • And other important methods that go hand-in-hand with creating professionally.

If you enjoy this episode, here’s the full list — in order — of guests whose longer interviews are excerpted. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a new full-length interview.

Please consider sharing this episode on Twitter or Facebook if you get something out of it.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

It’s Absurd That We Die: Filmmaker Josh Seftel

joshua-seftel-and-john-cusack

 

Josh Seftel applied for a grant to make a film about toxic mold. He got the grant and made the film. After it developed a bit of a cult following, he started getting calls from Hollywood. Eventually, he would go on to work with talent like Ben Kingsley, Marisa Tomei and John Cusack.

On a separate day, he ran into an old friend on the street. Three years later, the film that resulted from that chance meeting would grace the front page of The New York Times web site.

Josh and I talk about all this and more on the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives. Head on over to iTunes to hear about:

  • Why Josh skipped on medical school to make films and produce stories, eventually leading him to work with such outlets as HBO, PBS and This American Life
  • The importance of gaining and nurturing a network across disciplines — and how that helped land his short documentary, The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, on the home page of The New York Times
  • How and why Morgan Spurlock got involved with The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano
  • Working in a morgue during college, and his longtime affinity for dark things
  • The benefits of getting up early
  • The importance of finding a mentor, and the one crucial thing you you should do in parallel while working for or with that mentor

Great talk. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. You can find Josh on Twitter. His site can be found here. To watch The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, catch it on Vimeo.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Sweet Dreams Inviolate

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I had sweet dreams last night. Two of them. Happy dreams, that moved at an easy pace and traded in real possibility.

I can’t remember the last time that happened. Definitely that easy pace isn’t something I experience very often — whether asleep or waking. Even past “good dreams” — they often flash by, even in memory.

It felt good, having a couple dreams where I experienced real clarity, in a way I could appreciate. There was no rush — just that clarity. What I saw and felt, I understood.

I’m going to give this feeling one more moment — because why not.

It felt good.

Good can be enough, sometimes, without have to analyze anything, without having to break it down. So, let’s live by example, today, perhaps.

Have a good day.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Daily Progress vs. The Perfection Method

ben

 

The sun’s rising. I’m drinking my tea. There’s a blanket over my legs and the dog is curled up beside me. For now, it’s quiet.

I was wondering what I would write about today, but that seems as good a start as any. I’m content.

Another week down. More words written, both here and in my new screenplay. Yesterday remained an up-and-down day for me. My brain was in a mood. That’s okay. I got through it. I took care of myself as best I could.

I talked to some friends, and to my wife. I asked for help. I asked for help — and my penis is still attached this morning, for anyone wondering.

As I suspect it might go for many, I have a tendency to collapse into the weekend. I think the main reason I found myself battling yesterday — was because I was tired. So I rested.

And I’m keeping a closer eye on the pattern. It’s no good to burn out early. I’m worried about that result, for myself. It’s happened before. I want better, now.

There are two main characteristics to being an independent artist. The first, obviously, is the independence.

Many of us gravitate towards unbeaten paths because we’re simply drawn there, must make our own trail, for any of a number of reasons. It’s important that we do this, for others as well as ourselves. I believe that.

But then there is also the complicated part of it. The necessity towards a sometimes unsparing utilitarianism, and towards sacrifice. Lacking context or proof of our reasons for going another way — we similarly lack the resources to give any one project as good as a go as we must, without trading in on our own body and spirit.

This breaks us down, I think, slowly, over time. It’s how many artists get swallowed up, become embittered. An embittered artist is perhaps as capable of committing as much damage, in their despair, as those that their work has or would have targeted in the past. Perhaps more.

One of the friends I spoke with last night brought up the idea of sustainability, a topic I’ve discussed here and on the podcast before.

The question we pondered was whether it was better to create a little bit, each day, refining and growing naturally over time — or to work exceedingly hard to perfect one big thing, perhaps over the same amount of time but in a way wherein we might be left understandably exhausted at the end.

Having tried on both methods, now, I tend to agree with my friend — that the first might be a better fit at present. There’s a great danger, when following the perfection method, to rationalize. It’s almost necessary.

I’m doing all this work to make this perfect, but once it’s perfect, then everything will fall into place.

Except that’s not a hard and fast rule. Further, we don’t get to decide what’s perfect.

That sunrise? This cup of tea. My dog and the chill quiet morning? Maybe that’s perfect.

If I were to make a little film for you, highlighting this same combination? Sure, perhaps it would come out “nice” — but it would might never capture the feeling I got, and perhaps was conjured in you, when we started off here.

Now, that’s a convenient example. My morning ritual isn’t inherently cinematic. But anything can be cinematic, with the right amount of work, the right talent applied. I could take up the challenge and direct and shoot and edit a short film about Morning Tea. 

But the amount of work it would take to do this flawlessly? The curse of filmmaking. Which by its nature depends very heavily on The Perfection Method.

I’m not setting up any grand revelation, to be clear. I don’t plan on quitting the game. I am exhausted by the game, though. I do have to admit that I find it much more soothing to make daily progress as a writer.

And yet, the highest spikes of traffic to this site (my hub as an artist) over the past three years, have been the releases of Multiverse, The Confession, and The Videoblogs. On its own, the separate site for The Videoblogs drew twice as many visitors in a few months than this site does in an average year.

So, maybe it’s about balance. And patience. Two characteristics that are quite new to my vocabulary. For most of my life, until now, I think I’ve confused perpetual frenzy with escape velocity. I felt that if I just worked a little harder, I’d be free and on my way.

But maybe it’s not a question of escape — of leaving the planet. Maybe it’s a long slow journey, to be savored even as certain legs take us up and along arduous peaks, and down into cold, rocky valleys.

It would make sense, this more earthbound analogy. It would explain the purer accessibility of the sun and the tea and the dog in the morning. It would place The Perfection Method into some approachable, quantifiable context. Such hard journeys aren’t usually taken alone — at least not by sane people — or in quick succession.

These two main characteristics of the independent artist — the freedom to work in new ways and towards new results, and the necessity of approaching this task with what’s available — they’re obviously closely related. But perhaps one can’t be leveraged in support of the other.

More likely, they’re two legs of a stool, with patience and balance making up the remaining two legs. Removing any one leg to buttress another won’t work. It will just throw off the effectiveness of the whole thing.

More to ponder.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

 

It Doesn’t Matter What You Think You Know

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Sometimes even a sight like this isn’t enough to help me pause.

Sometimes, when I’m irritable and don’t know why, I stop and take five slow, deep breaths.

I don’t even know if I was capable of performing this task before I began meditating a few years ago. I likely would have stopped around breath number three — “OKAY I GET IT ENOUGH!”

But there’s a vast difference between “getting” something and giving over to it. There are facts and then there’s the appreciation of said facts.

As thinking, feeling humans, we absorb and experience information in primarily in two ways — what the information means and how it relates to us.

For instance, I can know that taking several slow, deep breaths is scientifically (and experientially) proven as a sort of biological reset. It helps me to take the focus off my irritability, which is often cerebral and based somewhere among rumination on the past or future, and divert it towards the basics.

I need to breathe. Breathing is the most consistently natural thing in the world. I am here right now, and all I actually have to do in this moment is breathe.

If and when I respond to a suggestion or impulse to slow down and breathe by (breathlessly) exclaiming “I GET IT!” — I’m interrupting this instinct towards what is natural and essential in favor of what is stubbornly egoistic.

In leveraging the excuse that “YES, I UNDERSTAND” the effects of any one practice, I’m essentially purporting to be able to utilize its full effect without having to undertake the practice in full.

This is impossible and foolhardy.

It’s an excuse to continue to exist in irritability, or anger, or fear. It’s a forgivable, understandable excuse (fear slings some serious gravity) but it’s still an excuse. It’s a tradeoff, and a poor one.

Knowledge is not necessarily experience. This is just a fact — most things in life cannot be fully known until we’re out in the real world receiving them in a sensory, natural way.

When we work with less than this full breadth of information, we’re in essence stumbling around attempting to lend substance and depth to a hollow facsimile with nothing but wind and light to help us.

Look, I’m not as much of a purist as I used to be. To be clear, I’m not advocating that only things as natural as breathing are worth experiencing. I’m more concerned, for myself, with fully approaching whatever task I’m in the process of approaching, with as many of my faculties devoted to it as I can muster, for as long as it takes.

This especially holds true — I’d argue it’s most crucial — when I’m in a place where I feel completely stuck, either on the way towards or fully arrived at powerlessness. This is when my natural tendency to say “I KNOW” kicks in, just in time to stand in the way of, for instance, those five deep breaths.

It doesn’t matter what I know. What is true, when I get that feeling — is that sometimes I need to stop and reset. When I follow this instinct, it works. That I’m aware that it works, and can recall in some vague way such results, does not matter to the mysterious biology of my brain, or the evasive mechanisms of my spirit.

Perhaps some aspects of life can move forward by employing shortcuts. But not daily existence. It can be easy to forget that, though, sometimes, in the here and now.

Stopping, in moments when I just want it all to stop, is exactly the right reaction. Thinking about stopping, recalling the benefits of the practice without actually employing it — it is not the same thing.

Such an apparently tiny courageous act as admitting this, that “I DON’T GET IT!”, can hold the power to salvage a whole day.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Drop The Phone, Drink Tea, Sling Words

Don't f*ck with Dottie.
Don’t fuck with Hildy.

I made a mistake this morning. I used my phone immediately upon waking up.

Sometimes I make this mistake, when I’m tired. Sometimes I make it on purpose, if it’s a Friday, and I don’t have the energy or the desire to fight the urge. And it is an urge, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing about what I did — it drives my brain off in a bad direction, to start the day. When I grab my phone, I’m turning to an artificial source of temporary distraction, when what I really need is to accept the reality of where I am in the moment — whether I like that place or not.

Artificial just doesn’t cut it, most of the time.

I know that my day goes better when I don’t touch my phone for hours, except to start playing some music (new Kaiser Chiefs!) or a podcast (MDWAP is all). I feel better, I avoid the poison of FOMO, and I get a fuck of a lot more done in the morning.

I’m not saying all this to beat myself up. I realized what I was doing this morning, and I stopped. I returned to what’s important — drinking tea and slinging words.

No, I’m sharing my “failure” as a gentle and affirming reminder — I’m better when I move.

A lot of good can come from our ability to connect at any moment. I know this. I spent years making a film about it. But, often, it’s the important work we do in those interstitial moments, between virtual connections, that make life worthwhile.

The irony isn’t lost on me, that I’m sharing this on a blog, and that a plurality of those reading are likely to be on their phones right now. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect upon the idea and try out a reset — less distraction and yearning, more focus and being.

So, on we go.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

The Power of Habit

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I don’t know that I have much to say, yet, today. Today might be one of those days where the real value lies in showing up.

I’ve now posted here for 41 straight days. Not bad.

This streak is a testament to the power of habit, or a habit smartly chosen. I love to write. I love sharing what I’ve written (most of the time). It’s still hard to get out of bed early, most days, but it’s not hard to prioritize a sit-down for some writing and reflection.

I think that’s the trick of it.

First, we choose a habit we want to build, out of sincere desire. Then we set a goal that not only depends on daily commitment, but is at once manageable (technically I could write and publish a single word, and keep the streak alive) and aspirant (my original goal of thirty straight days took some extra work to hit).

Then it becomes about execution. Sitting down and doing it. If it helps, I’ve been laying down, with a blanket over me and dog and cat interns. I’m cozy.

So much daily stress has been muted by this exercise, as well. No matter what happens today — unless it’s something truly awful — I can at least say that I have written and have been read. Sometimes, you sweet gentle creatures even comment on what I’ve said on a given day.

It can be this simple. It feels important, here and now, to be reminded of that.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

 

5 First Steps To Take Before Making Your Film

Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.
Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.

A question came up during yesterday’s (wonderful) Live Chat for The Videoblogs, that I thought I would re-address in a bit more detail here.

The gist of it — how to get started making your first film?

There are plenty of good ways to answer this question. There are many great resources out there outlining the basics of any one facet of this noble, unwieldy endeavor.

Knowing this, and also knowing that it matters more to me to tell a good story than craft a perfect picture, I focused my answer on an attempt to pre-hack the biggest challenges that are likely to come up in pursuing the coveted first film.

As such, my recommendations tend towards sustainability and focus, rather than process or technique.

Process and technique can be filled in beforehand with research and experimentation. Or you’ll learn by failing and re-starting at certain points in your journey.

But these are the top five pieces of advice I might have, at present, for anyone starting their first film today.

1. Understand the situation you’re getting yourself into

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

The planning and execution of a film is a very large undertaking. Even if you’re starting small — issues or challenges or requirements are going to come up that you never expected. You will be tested.

I don’t think that filmmaking is for everyone. There are a lot of people out there working to write and/or direct their own films…who don’t seem happy. There could be several reasons for this, but chief among them could be that the idea of filmmaking is a lot more glamorous that its reality.

I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but the reason I bring this fact up first is because I really do think that the best way to handle the difficulties of the task is to first acknowledge and accept that it’s going to be difficult. If we’re fighting ourselves at the same time that we’re fighting to get the film made…both self and film will suffer.

There are other ways to engage your sadistic side than deciding to commit years of your life to the foolish endeavor of bottling and reshaping a slice of space-time using magical machines.

If you still can’t help yourself…

2. Have a system of self-care in place

Once or twice a year, I go to the woods.
Once or twice a year, I go to the woods and find a big stick.

I have written much about this already. I will keep writing about it. Again — making a film is very hard work. Often, when we’re starting, we’re working within constraints of time, money and all the rest that comes with the responsibility of everyday living.

I’m still working on this part.

The fact is, you could sacrifice everything for your film and emerge very pleased with the end product.

Doing this, however, might leave you at the same time irrevocably embittered by the process you just went through — or dealing with an poisonous buildup of entitlement.

Because you poured it all into the work and then had nothing left to sustain your actual life, your relationships, your next project.

It’s the live to work or work to live dilemma.

Because it’s so beautiful and fulfilling, art-making can muddy up our perspective of the pursuit — but the fact remains that making a film or writing a book or whatever…it’s still work.

We’re not built to labor around the clock. Inevitably, when we try, breakdowns commence.

It will be hard.

Those who find their way towards filmmaking tend to overwhelmingly be high-functioning perfectionists, often with reserves of (not unhelpful) arrogance to call upon for that extra juice (“I can bottle space-time!”).

But knowing or learning or carefully exploring our limits, with an eye on longterm personal and career health, will make the journey and the film that much better for you and everyone else involved.

3. Have a reason

For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.
For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.

This piece of advice is only third because I’m supposing that most people reading this, and/or taking my words seriously, already have a compelling reason for pursuing filmmaking (or any one film).

But, if you don’t, think long and hard about whether you can find a reason, or whether the one you think you have is strong enough to sustain you when chaos or despair descends on your production and your life, despite all of the warnings and precautions outlined above and below.

In my experience, you need this reason. On some days, it will prove the only thing capable of keeping you going when you want to quit. Why this film, and now?

4. Have a plan

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
There’s a reason this image serves at the backdrop for the Coffee with Creatives logo.

Hang with me here, for a second.

Obviously, if you’re intending to make a film — you’ll need a plan. There’s no way it comes off without one. Even if your plan is to keep things loose, there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do to allow that possibility on set.

Still, I’m not really talking about the how. That’s all up to you. It’s just hard work.

What’s just as important, however, is that you have a plan for: 1) Fitting the giant disruption that is the making of a film into your daily life, and 2) Ensuring that the giant disruption leads to worthy results.

To address the first, I’d recommend doing some serious, honest work to prioritize what needs prioritization, with an eye on what’s realistic. Assume everything will take twice as long, and be twice as difficult, than you might expect.

Ensuring worthy results, to be clearer, means having a distribution plan. Ideally, a few of them.

At minimum, know how to get the film to your core audience, no matter how small or local. These are your first champions.

You will need them. Respect this relationship enough to put the work into it. Think about how your film can serve your core audience, and how to make it convenient for them to participate in its distribution when the time comes to push your project out into the world.

5. Be willing to be patient

It will take years -- but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.
It will take years — but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.

This last suggestion is as much for me as anyone else. The reality of filmmaking is that it takes an enormous amount of time. If we do our job well, this enormity ends up hidden to general audiences.

The way most people experience entertainment is to consume it, quickly and ruthlessly.

Behind all that quickness and ruthlessness, on the side of the consumption of content, there’s slowness and a methodical attention to detail that is required on the part of the content creator.

If and when we cheat, to get things done faster or to “just get them done”, we endanger the sanctity of this relationship between creator and audience, as manifested by the creation.

If we are lazy at any point, or give in to bitterness or despair and shortchange any one part of the completion of a film, we risk dooming the entire endeavor.

On the flip side, we can obsess too much, and risk burning out in the vocation, or on any one project. It’s a delicate balance, that really only begins to make sense over time.

Conclusion

Filmmaking is a beautiful, noble, privileged pursuit. It’s brought great purpose, joy, and meaning to my life. Pain and disappointment have also entered the equation at points.

If and when we can find a real reason to move forward truthfully with a project, and so proceed with it while taking care of ourselves and respecting our audience — then we can enjoy and thrive under the vocation.

Best of luck to anyone mad enough to give it a try.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.