I landed my first paid directing gig in 2004. It was a green-screen spoof of The Wizard of Oz featuring sales executives from a pharmaceutical company. I was proud. Getting paid to direct anything was for me, a dream come true. I’ve gleaned a few things since then, and maybe the most important is for me, there’s a fundamental difference between surviving and living. Surviving is scrapping it out, paying the bills, getting it done, day after day. And that’s fine, and in today’s climate a very admirable feat in and of itself. Living, or making a living – making a life, involves working toward something. Finding a fixed point on the horizon to set a course to. In short, having a slate of creative projects you work on over time that feed your soul. Here are a few ideas to help keep your creative ship on course:
Put Your Art into It
No matter what the project is, find a way to hone your craft and expand your creativity. I’ve worked on many projects, (like most directors in Seattle,) involving screenshots, ‘mousing’ and talking heads. Finding new approaches to tried and true methods can be challenging, but rewarding. No matter what the project is, I always try to make my client happy, while finding a way to try something new out, creatively. Maybe it’s the way the image is framed – or a new way to bring motion to the camera. Maybe it’s approaching it through animation, or with a new composer to add some kick to the music. If you look at each project as an opportunity to expand your skill-set, it helps keep things fresh.
Know Why You’re Here
Why Seattle? Are the types of businesses and potential clients here enough to feed you, your family and your creative needs? My creative film projects are all intrinsically Northwest in one way or another. I can’t imagine not being part of this community and this landscape. I like the folks I work with – and my family is here. It works for me. If you are passionate about working your way up through the studio system to make blockbuster movies, episodic network TV, or reality TV, you may have more luck moving south. Be realistic about what you want.
Get out there. Go to the monthly Happy Hour Event hosted by the Seattle Office of Film + Music. Join Women in Film. Take advantage of all the great screenings, classes and events Northwest Film Forum has to offer. Enroll in the Film School. Meeting other directors and folks in the industry in Seattle will bring a sense of camaraderie and allow you to check in on what’s going on here in your community. In between creative projects, it can sometimes feel like you’re going it alone. Getting involved helps reinforce the reality that there are a lot of hard working filmmakers, right here in Seattle. You may find just the right creative partner to help you see your next project come to fruition.
Do Free Stuff
You can’t survive by giving away your talent and hard work. But you can’t live if you don’t feed your soul. Sometimes you need to do a project just for you. I’ve found that my friends in this industry are willing to lend their vision and hard work for an “Indie” rate if they believe in the project. I’ve certainly done my fair share of pro bono work and it’s led to great projects and great relationships in the community. That said, if it’s a project I’ve written and intend to direct, I always try to take care of peoples’ expenses, feed them, and pay them something for their day rate if at all possible. We Creatives can be kind, generous and looking for new, cool things to do, but nobody likes getting used, or repeatedly kicked in the teeth. If you’re willing to work pro bono for a peer and collaborator – chances are they’ll return the favor.
Once you set your course toward your own creative beacon on the horizon, keep the dream alive by feeding it whenever possible. If it’s a screenplay you’re working on and intend to direct – schedule time on your calendar, just as you would for a paying gig, to work on it regularly. It’s tough sometimes, jumping back and forth from the survival reality to your own creative reality – but it will keep your creative ship headed toward that light on the horizon.
First published in Washington Film Magazine, 2012.
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