Up until even five years ago, I constantly compared myself to other filmmakers. I would watch what they did and then try to duplicate that. Then when that didn’t work, I’d jump to another filmmaker, a different strategy, a different tactic for moving my career forward. The result was an erratic roller coaster ride of uncertainty. In my search for control and predictability, I was grasping at things that were outside me. I was trying to become what I thought the industry was looking for. Grabbing different strategies and ideas from across the filmmaking world, I created this story about who I was supposed to be as a filmmaker and as a person. It led to an ever more chaotic career. Some successes but mostly long trenches of wasted energy and the creation of projects that looked great but were missing something. Me.
Both in my work as a filmmaker and a coach to other working filmmakers, I see this all the time. Stabs at trying to persuade the industry to pay attention to them through over confidence, imitation, the old tactic of taking the script of a film you love and remixing it to fit your idea. “I’ll just use this structure and plug and play my idea into it”. The result, another idea that’s one step removed from the real thing. The thing with all of you in it. That project where you emptied the drawer and got vulnerable. Where you showed those parts of yourself you swore you would never tell anyone.
I’m not just saying this as some self-help, rah-rah bullshit. It’s actually a hugely effective career strategy because the industry responds to those things that break the mold, that tip over the apple cart and looks at universal themes in an entirely new way. It’s infinitely more sellable. It stands apart from all the other work in your genre because it’s based on one thing nobody else has, your singularly unique life experience. No one has taken your exact path, no one has seen things the exact way you experienced them. Similar, yes, but exactly no. It’s that nuance and subtlety that the industry responds to and gets that buyer to say, “this is completely unique, we have to do this”.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a horror series or a buddy comedy. Those truths about you, I mean those real, deep truths about who you really are, quite simply make infinitely better pictures than the ones that try to get people not to be offended or challenged. We see it all the time, competent work that tries to speak to everybody. Plenty of people like it, but nobody loves it. Plus, can you imagine a life’s work based on safety and imitation?
In the end, embracing the filmmaker you really are instead of the one you think you should be builds your career on a footing of true imagination and real human connection. After all, people watch movies and web content for entertainment yes, but on a deeper level, they’re seeking to understand themselves. When you hit them there, they’re a fan of your work for life.