When you’re self-funding and self-producing passion projects, things not going well hits hard. Between film festival rejections, watching creators in your genre get picked up by HBO, and burning through every favor you had to make a single short film, a single setback can feel catastrophic. But I’m here to tell you that no matter your level of past, present, or future success, you are not a failure; rather, in the words of legendary philosopher Jason Mendoza, you’re “pre-successful.” So take heart, and reread this article whenever you need to remind yourself that not all creators are created equally, and that’s 100% ok.
The number of projects you’ve completed is not a measure of your worth as an artist
Whether you have five completed web series under your belt, or maybe just a web series pilot, or maybe just a web series idea, it doesn’t matter. A robust portfolio doesn’t make you more or less of a filmmaker as anyone else, it just means you’re at different stages of your careers. There are so many reasons you could be without many finished products, be it lack of money (#relatable), lack of cast and crew, or even lack of an idea that you feel passionate about. Similarly, there are a billion reasons why someone else had no problem racking up their IMDb credits, reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you and have absolutely no effect on your current or future potential.
If you’re serious about being a filmmaker, either as a hobby or a full-time gig, then just work a little every day and eventually, something will connect. Give yourself permission to build up a body of work at your own pace.
How quickly you produce projects is not a measure of your worth as an artist
In a similar vein, how quickly you create, produce, and release content is by no means an indicator of your overall talent or worth. Some people come up with ideas very quickly, or have a cast and crew at their fingertips, ready to pick up and film at a moment’s notice. Those people aren’t better writers or producers or filmmakers. They’re just different people, with different brains and different circumstances, and their work is not inherently better or worse than yours because of the rate at which they churn out content.
Think of authors like James Patterson, who writes approximately 15 books an hour, and then George RR Martin, who writes about one a century. I’m not here to make a case for either/or, but I am saying that both men have found tremendous success in spite of their very different creative speeds. It’s not a race, so making things slower than other people doesn’t make you a failure, the same way making things faster than other people doesn’t make you a winner.
A [insert film role here] failure isn’t the same thing as being a failure
This is something that comes up a lot in web series, when people are forced into as many roles as they can muster due to smaller crew sizes and lack of budget. Often, the people forced into these roles aren’t actually skilled in them, and if a project is slowed down or stopped by this fact, they’re branded as failures, but that’s not fair or true.
For the same reason that I shouldn’t be a biologist, some people shouldn’t be producers, or actors, or directors, or sound recordists. That doesn’t make me a failed biologist, or you a failed director, it just means our success lays elsewhere.
If you find yourself forced into a role you’re uncomfortable or struggling with, you are not the problem. You’ve been set up for failure, a markedly different thing than being a failure. Sometimes people are able to limp by in roles they’re not fit for, but sometimes they aren’t, and neither of these example people are better or worse than the other. They’re people doing their best, so don’t beat yourself up if you discover producing isn’t for you. All you can conclude from not being a great producer is that you aren’t a great producer. Who cares? Find what you’re great at, and what you love to do, and do that instead.
Finding financial, mainstream success does not inherently make someone else better than you
This is the big one, folks, because it’s the one we all have: career envy. Especially as more digital creators get promoted to mainstream, like High Maintenance, Brown Girls, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, and Broad City, it can get disheartening when you’re still fighting for your first 100 pilot views. But the thing about art is that the path to success isn’t linear, and the end-game is different for every person. Some artists get discovered early, some don’t find a sustainable creative career until well into their fifties, some start as PAs and work their way up, and some win a fellowship and enter the industry that way.
It’s always a waste of time to compare yourself to other people, because people are so varied and diverse in their circumstances, but it’s even more of a waste to compare careers in entertainment. Almost no one has the same story of how they found success, because again, there is no standard path. We’re not lawyers or doctors; we don’t go through a series of pre-set steps until we reach our ideal career. We flounder and network and make things and cry a lot and contemplate quitting and then network some more. Give yourself a break; this isn’t an easy path, but you’re on it, and that’s further than a lot of people get.
Repeat it and believe it: you are not a failure. Indie filmmaking is hard and expensive and terrifying, but it’s also rewarding beyond measure, because otherwise, why would we bother? Remind yourself every day why you’re doing this, then get out of bed, stop tearing yourself down, and get out there.
For further reading, here are some great articles about people who were half a step from quitting before they made their big break: