You’re probably thinking to yourself, “That’s a bold headline, Mr. Hardy. You’d better not be pulling my leg with some clickbait nonsense.”
I can assure you that I’m not. In fact, I’m going to start off this post with a neat little story, one that hammers home the singular, but extremely powerful idea at the center of this post.
Once upon a time there was successful, prolific painter. At a gallery opening, a reporter comes up to the painter and asks, “What made you start painting in the first place, and what made you keep going all those years?”
The painter stops and thinks about it for a moment. The reporter, wide-eyed and enthusiastic, holds pen to paper in anticipation of a revelatory answer.
“I just love the smell of paint,” the painter says.
Contained in this delightful little parable is the secret to never failing as a filmmaker, a writer, a painter, or in any other creative endeavor.
And the secret is this: you have to love the process. You have to love the act of creating so much that you do it for its own sake and divorce yourself from the results.
You see, the painter isn’t driven by fame or monetary success. He’s not possessed to make great art due to some irreparable internal strife. He simply loves the act of painting.
So he paints often and with vigor. He does it for years before he ever makes a nickel off the work. But eventually, slowly and surely, the results start pouring in. He starts earning commercial success and becoming renowned for his work.
Despite the success, he continues to paint, and he continues to grow as an artist. Day in and day out he works his ass off, all the while taking immense joy in the process. This, of course, perpetuates his success. His wealth and fame grow.
All because he loves the smell of paint.
All of this is to say that when you take joy in the process of filmmaking, it really is impossible to fail. The end result of the process becomes largely irrelevant because you’re spending your time working on something you love.
When you love the process, you naturally put in the work that it takes to become successful
While it certainly feels good to say something like “when you love the process it’s impossible to fail,” I’m sure some folks are thinking to themselves, “well sure, but I actually want to become a successful filmmaker and leave my mark on the world. What good is it if I love the process but don’t achieve the success I want?”
Though it may feel like it, this principle isn’t some touchy feely shit. It’s still all about putting in the work necessary to achieve your goals.
Make no mistake. Success of any kind takes hard, consistent work, plus a whole lot of resilience when things don’t go your way. However, when the process itself is creatively satisfying and you enjoy it for its own sake, putting in that insane amount of work is much more easily achievable.
You still have to work hard and work often — and ideally you would show up every single day and do something that moves you towards your goal — but it won’t feel tedious and unrewarding as it would if you didn’t actively enjoy the process of filmmaking.
This is most critical for people just starting out
Chances are you got into filmmaking because you have good taste in film and you want to make something meaningful. I definitely did.
Yet one of the surest ways to get down about yourself as a filmmaker when you’re just starting out is to become overly invested in the end product.
The truth is that almost nobody makes good films on their first try. Hell, many people don’t make anything good until they’ve put in a couple of years and made 5-10 films. That’s just the nature of filmmaking.
For that reason, it’s critical that you learn to love the process when you’re just starting out. Otherwise, you may not stick it out long enough to see the tangible results of your efforts.
Just know that it will take years and years of work in order for your abilities to line up with your taste. However, once you reach that point, that’s where the magic happens. Take it from Ira Glass.
How to learn the love the process of filmmaking
This post would be pretty useless if it told you that you should love the process, along with all of the incredible benefits that come from loving the process, without actually telling you how to go about it.
And make no mistake, chances are that it is something you have to learn.
Some people have been making movies in one form or another since they were five years old, and they will continue to make movies until the day they die.
Other folks, however — a much larger subset of the population I’m guessing — don’t have that innate drive. They’re creative, but the whole process of filmmaking feels unnatural to them. It feels fragmented, disjointed, overwhelming.
To these people, I say:
Filmmaking has many different components. Experiment with all of them and find ones you love
Though it’s definitely helpful to understand each piece of the process (especially if you’re an indie filmmaker who needs to wear multiple hats), you don’t necessarily have to take joy in each of them to be successful.
The key here is that you need to find the processes you love, and then collaborate with individuals who enjoy (and are good at) the essential jobs you’d rather not do.
And how do you find the ones that you love? You work on as many films as you can in as many roles as you can. You work as a PA in every department that will hire you.
You work on friend’s films in roles that you’ve never done (hooray for learning on the fly). You watch tutorials and read voraciously about these various processes in books, magazines, and in blogs until you truly understand what goes into them.
Let’s take me as an example. Through several years of film school and working on small projects with friends, I’ve learned that I absolutely love writing, cinematography, editing, sound design, composing, and even a little bit of production design here and there.
But I loathe producing (mostly because I’m really terrible at budgeting and scheduling), which means I’m ill-suited for many of the managerial roles in filmmaking. You’ll never hear me clamoring to be a first assistant director, unit production manager, script supervisor, or anything like that.
For that reason, teaming up with capable producers and ADs who genuinely enjoy what they do is always one of my top priorities on any project.
No matter how you frame it, filmmaking will always be hard work. However, it doesn't have to be tedious, nor does it have to be painful.
When you love the process (and when you surround yourself with collaborators who share that love), your filmmaking will come to life, and so will you.
And if you go this route and take joy in the process, regardless of whether or not you make it to Sundance or sell thousands of copies on VOD, you will be truly successful as a filmmaker.
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