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Yes, You Will Probably Fail with Your First Feature Film

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I’ve recently had a difficult time watching an acquaintance go through what I like to call, “The Hollywood Filmmaking Master’s Program.” This refers to the bright talented young person going out to make their first feature ‘the Hollywood way’ and talking about it to every person that asks. I’ve watched this young person explain all their hopes and dreams and goals as well as their ‘strategies’ that they’ve learned… all while hoping they succeed.

Truly. I want all my people to succeed, I want all the best stories to be told by all types of people. But there is a learning curve. And it is a public experience.

Now, I’m not referring to a person with big misguided dreams or a person who thinks they can get an Oscar nod with their first produced script. I’m not referring to watching a young person talk out of their rear about how they know they are getting into Sundance or even the person telling everyone how much they are spending on every single cast person like they are name dropping a new best friend. These are all hard to watch, but I’m not referring to a person’s ‘green’ folly. I am referring to the way a filmmaker feels on her/his/their first fully produced feature film.

No matter how far you shoot or how small you start, your first fully produced feature length film from development until the bitter end of your first distribution/licensing agreement ending (between 5-15 years) will feel like a failure. You failed. It’s as good as true as this is how you feel.

I cannot give another person real tried and true advice because I’ve seen people skyrocket to fame in a matter of months and seen films go further than anyone thought possible. Don’t get me wrong, I CONSTANTLY have advice phone calls with friends to strangers about everything and anything they could possibly want to know about my personal journey because I feel strongly about transparency. But, I also know that my journey is my journey and Hollywood doesn’t have a handy guide nor a rule book nor a spell book. Hollywood is an unpredictable and beautiful monster. BUT, I do know that no matter how big or small your first full film, you will feel like you were mauled by a monster.

The Hollywood Filmmaker’s Master’s Program is the popping of your bubble. Destruction of your hopes and the inspiration of your next project. Everything you did the first time, you will think doing it differently the next time will ‘fix’ the problem. But 7 feature films into this voyage, I have discovered that the money, influence, fame, and experience will solve none of your real problems at the end of the day. It is a low-risk venture at some point, but studios still get it wrong and miss the mark and sometimes shelve a true work of art.

It’s is all because we are focused on ‘success.’ Success doesn’t exist. Unless you decide it does. Failure does not exist. Unless you decide it does. And while you complete that first feature and look back at all your plans and find yourself wanting, you’ll be able to feel all the failure creep in. But, you rarely feel success creep in the same way. Because success is the sum of all your failures being eclipsed by a moment of balance. Success is the paradigm you take on by deciding you completed ‘The Hollywood Filmmaking Master’s Program’ and deciding you are ready to do it again.

You must fail. it’s hard to watch, but you must do it. You have to start your second film and seeing you start that second film is WONDERFUL! It inspires me to keep going, too.

I can list the hundred ways I failed on the journey of my first feature film. BUT my licensing contract ended and I was offered a new contract by my distributor. My film was entering new a series of new release outlets because they wanted to keep it going. My film has a life further than I had originally imagined. And yours may too. It may not. It may never be picked up by a distributor for a licensing agreement. And some may see my film as a failure for being licensed at all instead of sold. And some may think all of these options are failures if a studio didn’t produce the feature. And all of these options are failures in somebody else’s eyes. And I guarantee you that it feels like a failure no matter where your film goes in your own eyes.

I have failed, it is hard. Watching you fail is hard. But I am rooting for you. We all are rooting for you. Jealously may muddy that water for some people, but I want everyone to take the necessary step of making a film and feeling like a failure and getting back up again. The best movies are made by people who have made many, many films. But you have to get there through ‘The Hollywood Filmmaking Master’s Program’ and that program only gives out fails, no passes.

Jennica Schwartzman

About Jennica Schwartzman

Jennica Schwartzman, a member of The Producer’s Guild of America, loves tackling a project from idea to distribution. Jennica has been published in the Producer’s Guild Magazine Produced By, Legacy Arts Magazine, Bustle and she is a guest writer on the acclaimed entertainment industry websites MsInTheBiz.com, FilmmakingStuff.com, Artemis Motion pictures’ #WomenKickAss Forum, & WomenandHollywood.com. She has been invited to speak on film festival panels and is a teacher & workshop speaker for The International Family Film Festival’s Road Scholars intergenerational filmmaking camp. Jennica has 6 feature film releases scheduled for 2018. Her films have collected TOP awards from Bentonville Film Fest, Big Bear Lake Int’l Film Fest, Eureka Springs Indie Fest, Film Fest Twain Harte, Worldfest Houston, Fayetteville Film Festival, The Int’l Family Film Fest, & the highest honor from The Dove Foundation. Jennica and her husband/producing partner/writing partner Ryan have 2 kiddos and reside in Hollywood.