Do me a favor. Write down what you think your filmmaking or web series career will look like in five years.
CUT TO: 80’s montage of five years passing
Now read it and tell me if your creator career looks anything like what you wrote down.
The reality is, is our Hollywood/filmmaking dream is just that. It’s a dream, an illusion, a series of images we created in our heads. They were based on what we saw in the media, career paths our friends took, comparisons to people we read about. The problem is, is it’s simply a story we told ourselves. One version of what is possible for us and that story can only take a single path.
Mine really was a Hollywood dream. I dreamt of being on huge sets with famous people directing a $100M action/thriller. This had to happen. I’d do whatever it took to make that exact picture a reality. The problem was, that particular picture wasn’t based on anything real and it was a very limited version of what was possible for me. If that particular picture didn’t happen then I was doomed. So, I chased it at the exclusion of all other possibilities.
I wanted it so bad and all I could do was compare my actual life to that picture, that illusion. It drove me mad and I was miserable…like, all the time. Then my wife said something profound to me, she said, “Maybe your picture of success is too narrow, maybe you’ll get there, maybe you won’t, but imagine what an amazing career can happen for you if you just stop trying to force it”. Then she dropped the real truth bomb on me. “What if you admit that your crystal ball that looks into the future is broken…what if you cave into the unknown”?
Well, that simply wouldn’t do. Doesn’t she understand that’s how dreams come true? A single-minded pursuit of your goal. Thomas Edison didn’t cave into the unknown, he willed that fucking lightbulb into existence and if Thomas Edison can do it, so can I. Again, more comparison of my dream to other people and to my current life circumstances and thus more misery.
Finally, the price of that pain became too great and I quit filmmaking altogether and went into advertising. Hated that and went into a tech startup. Hated that and decided to just sit. For the next few months, I got real. I put down the picture of success I once had and simply caved into the unknown.
The Buddhists have a saying: In the unknown there are infinite possibilities. In the known there is only one.
I soon opened myself up to any path that would get me to my goal. But, by now, even my goal had changed. Would I love to make an action thriller for $100M, of course? Is it my only pursuit today? Absolutely not.
Since letting go of my narrow dream of what success had to look like, I’ve found myself traveling the world, working with celebrities, even being a 2nd, 2nd unit director for an Academy Award-nominated film (that’s right, 2nd, 2nd). I’ve been held at gunpoint in the Moscow airport by Russian security forces. I was there when people were digging themselves out of the mud and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. I’ve filmed big wave surfers for major brands and periodically make silly little YouTube videos that I hope pass on a bit of what I’ve learned over the years to the next generation of filmmakers. Now I’m less interested in the outcome and more interested in the journey.
Maybe, I’ve already achieved my dream. I sometimes work for studios, I get to meet famous and influential people in the industry, and I’ve walked the red carpet at a major awards ceremony (all be it at The Shriner’s Auditorium, not the Kodak Theater). But I work in the middle ranks of Hollywood. I still pack a lunch for work. I’m not famous to all, but famous to the right people. People who give me work, people who trust me with their money, people who distribute my work and people who watch it…and today I couldn’t be happier.
In the words of one of my idols, Anthony Bourdain – “The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One can’t take the A train to Mecca”.
In the end, let go of the final destination, because if we’re always there we’re not here, in the career we have today. It’s amazing and necessary to have goals, but when they become your sole identity they end up being your master. You may just find that your creator career ends up being far more interesting than the limited, two-dimensional picture you had in your head.
***Alex LeMay is a Showrunner and Director from Los Angeles, California. He creates and produces web series’ for Sony Studios, YouTube Red, Maker, Go90, Air + Style and more. In addition, he is the founder of alexlemay.com , a coaching and consulting business that helps working filmmakers build high-earning content businesses.