Since you’re here, you’re probably at least dreaming of directing your first project. A short film, a commercial, maybe even your first feature.
The only way I know to become a director is to direct. And the number one thing holding aspiring directors back is they never make their first film.
Unfortunately you just don’t have the time.
The script isn’t ready.
The camera package they used on Oppenheimer is too expensive.
The list of excuses are endless. The real reason?
You’re scared shitless that you’ll choke and the film will be terrible.
Bad news: you’re not ready.
Good news: now’s the perfect time to start.
When I first started making short films I thought the fate of the universe was riding on how good my film was.
The fear was paralyzing.
I spent five years thinking about directing instead of actually making something.
It was the biggest mistake of my directing career.
That’s why I want us to talk about the power of getting started.
Momentum and belief
Fast forward a few years.
I’ve got a golden opportunity to get a $5,000 grant to make my first feature, but I’ve been procrastinating.
4 days before the application deadline I’ve got nothing.
The fear monster is rearing its ugly head once again.
Then something unexpected happens.
At lunch with my wife, a co-worker and her husband, an actor, the husband mentions he has an idea for a film.
It’s about two feral guys living in the wilderness. But he has never made a film before.
My ears perk up, that sounds incredibly silly and right up my alley.
“Let’s do it,” I say.
He’s taken aback. That’s how you decide to make a movie?
After a moment’s hesitation he nods. He’s in.
The next four days are a flurry of brainstorming, gathering inspiration and keyboard bashing. Culminating in a pitch deck that could win us $5,000.
When we decided to go all in on Wild Boys there was no script, no budget, no plan.
Only the spark of an idea and belief.
Why this approached worked
There are a couple of reasons this approach was so effective.
- Getting started created a rush of adrenaline The feeling of saying, “Let’s do it” was awesome. I couldn’t wait to get home and start hashing out what this story could become. That initial rush powered us through any insecurities we had about the project.
Lesson: when inspiration or an exciting idea hit - stop thinking and go!
- The ticking clock We only had four days to put together a complete pitch deck. This left no room for doubt, writer’s block or second guessing. We had to act or give up. A short and defined time horizon also made it easier to do crazy amounts of work in record time. Knowing this was a sprint, gave us the confidence we could go full gas without running out of steam before the end.
Lesson: set a short deadline for completing the first task of your project.
- Lower the stakes Giving this pitch a go was a no-brainer. If we won we’d get $5,000 towards making our film, and a confirmation that our idea had legs. If not, we’d spent a couple of days brainstorming a feature, and we could walk away. The upside was so much better than the downside. We had nothing to lose.
Lesson: make it easy to get started by making failure harmless and a win awesome.
- Short term thinking In those first days we weren’t worried about how to feed our crew in an isolated mountain town, or casting a horde of hillbillies to chase our heroes. We were 100% focused on the next thing.
Lesson: The time will come when you need to see the big picture. When you’re getting started, only focusing on the challenge that’s staring you in the face is a superpower.
- Accountability I’d been procrastinating for months on this grant by myself with no progress. As soon as I committed to Wild Boys in front of my wife and friends all doubts fled. I was giving this thing everything I had.
Lesson: Having outside accountability makes the project real and increases the likelihood you’ll take action.
If you’re tired of aspiring to direct, and want to actually make a film, you can use these tools to overcome your fear and excuses:
- Use the spark of an idea to get over yourself and take the first step.
- Set a short deadline for completing the first task.
- Remove the fear of failing by lowering the stakes.
- Focus on the challenge in front of you and trust that you’ll figure out the next thing later.
- Tell someone you’re making a film. Either in private or in public, and get them to hold you accountable.
Every director’s path is different, with unique challenges and wins.
Understanding the craft of directing, and choosing to learn and grow can be your secret weapon as you navigate our messy industry.
That’s what I’m so excited to explore in this newsletter. What are the tools, tactics, strategies and systems that make up the craft of directing?
I don’t have all the answers, but I have lots of failures to share and lessons learned.
I can’t wait to go on this journey with you.
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