A few mornings ago I woke up with a start. I checked the clock. It was exactly 6:00am. I was in the midst of a crazy dream that involved Steven Spielberg, George Clooney and a bear. I lay there for a few moments contemplating what it all meant and I came up with an interesting answer.
George and I were holding court with Steven, when the man turns to me and says he wants the wedding ring back he lent me. I told him I’d ruined it by running it through the dishwasher. We discussed the business of directing of course. What could I say but I’d never directed drama before. Then a bear takes a run at me, and throws itself at my back, and I managed to dodge it. The only thing that came to mind was the old saying about having a monkey on your back… except mine was a bear.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out I’ve always meant to direct something. From very early in my career I’d always dreamed of it. The first producer I worked for asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to direct and write. He said “No you don’t. You want you want to become a producer. Television is a producer’s medium.” So that’s exactly what I did. I thought no more about directing and focused my attention on the business of becoming a producer as they hold the power in the world of TV. It never dawned on me I might actually pursue filmmaking instead.
So here I am twenty years in and I still haven’t made my move. I’ve written a couple of short films but never sought to actually get them made – hence the dream. I figure the ring represented the mantle of directing and I hadn’t done a damn thing with it. I had ruined it and attempted to give it back to the master himself. I think my subconscious is attempting to tell me it’s time. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I make a really awful film that’s completely unwatchable and people throw rotten fruit at the screen!
I think this is the plight of so many women in our industry. They start out with an aspiration and the years tick on and they never go after what they want. I know the stats as well as everyone else does. Women are grossly underrepresented in every facet of our industry. The world of directing has not yet been penetrated by female storytellers. These human beings are few and far between. It’s easy to not want to step outside of your comfort zone and stretch yourself. All I want is to make one little short film to get it out of my system and even that terrifies me! Will I know where to put the camera? Will I be able to get a performance out of the cast? Will I have an original visual language? Will it stink?
The truth is you don’t know until you try. Whether you want to work as a composer, or you want to work as a production designer, or a director of photography….anything that involves creativity has a built in risk factor. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and try. You have to be strong enough to hear other people say they don’t like what you’ve done and keep moving forward anyway. It’s all about growth. And growth comes with time and many many efforts.
Yes this is a cliché but Rome was not built in a day. A career is built over a lot of years and all you need is a spark to start pursuing it. You need a spark of originality, and that spark will eventually grow into a blazing fire. You just have to keep stoking it by doing whatever you need to do to find opportunities to use your skills and improve upon them.
I know an editor that did a lot of freebies working on short films at the start. This past year he was nominated for a BAFTA award for a dramatic series he worked on in London. He edited something for me back in the day and I don’t think at the time I could have imagined him wearing a tux sitting in the audience waiting to hear his name called. The truth is you never know the heights someone is capable of reaching. And we seem to know even less about ourselves. We grossly underestimate our own abilities and potential career trajectory.
It may feel like you’re spinning your wheels in the beginning but you’re never standing in place despite the fact it might feel that way. Every move is a move forward…even if it’s just in inches you’re still moving.
The results of not going after what you want are staggering. All the “what ifs” you’ll spend your life asking yourself. If only I had gone after my dream and pursued what I wanted to things might be really different!
And don’t take what I’m about to say personally. It’s my truth as well as the truth of most of the women I know that work in the industry. We never run full out! We rarely go after stuff full tilt. We walk at a polite saunter and hope for the best. We need more tenacity, we need more hutzpah, we need to be like a dog with a bone not willing to let go until we get what we want. And these are the things we aren’t taught as daughters. It’s very rare these are the life lessons we learned. We aren’t boys who are told its okay to run and jump and take risks. Most of us aren’t jumping off the roof of the house into the swimming pool. This industry requires that you be willing to take risks! It’s built on them.
It’s about reprogramming your brain. Reprogramming the way you think. Stepping out of the comfort zone until you get used to the feeling. In the beginning you do feel very exposed and uneasy. Even men feel this way and some still continue to feel this way. I just finished reading a roundtable in the Hollywood Reporter conducted with some of the industry’s top composers…. all of them men of course – but they expressed the fact they felt uneasy every time they worked on a project when it came time to to let the filmmaker hear what they’d come up with. I think fear is a human emotion and it’s important to remember this is not just the territory of the female… its true for everybody. Even people who have done their job for decades and won Academy Awards still sweat it.
The cost is too great for not pursuing what you want to. So if you aren’t capable of running at this stage, start walking a little quicker than you would normally. Maybe one day you’ll be able to break into a sprint, but for now keep walking until you’ve got some miles under your belt. Set your mind towards doing one thing every day towards finding the career you want. One thing a day isn’t too much to ask. Everyone is capable of putting in that effort. And soon you will start to see a return.