Doesn’t the movie business just make you want to bash your head against the wall sometimes? As enticing as that brick facade looks right about now, there are other, more productive ways to handle the frustration of filmmaking. Ways that won’t give you the worst migraine of your life. I’ve personally had a frustrating past year and a half. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of labor and nominal fruit (the fruit is what lessons I’ve learned and what growing I’ve done). Lots of meetings and no money.
I have had to reevaluate a lot in my life lately. My time, my happiness, my life purpose. What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t things gelling when I feel like I’m doing everything in my power to make this career happen? Why aren’t my managers and my agent doing more?? (No, it’s not their fault; I know they work hard for their clients.) Ultimately, navigating the road to success also means you must learn to navigate the failures along the way.
And… It. Is. Frustrating. But there are healthy ways to deal.
Here are 5 ways I’ve discovered to cope with the frustration of filmmaking:
- Recognize that nobody is here to hand you success on a silver platter. You have to work for it. You have to work hard for it. Really, really, really hard. Building a career in film is just like being an entrepreneur building a business from scratch. If you want to make your business work, you have to dig your heels in, invest in the business more than anyone else, and stop bothering to wait for permission from anyone. You are your only stakeholder at this point. You make the decisions and nobody else. It is the only way for you to grow. So keep writing. Keep shooting. Keep producing. Keep making undeniable content. Build your business. If you build it, they will come.
- Find something else to make you happy. If your happiness relies on some timeline of success and your breakthrough continues to evade you, you are going to be one unhappy filmmaker. I’m in this boat. Feeling like I’m always on the brink of huge success, but just when it’s within reach, it slips away. Many, many, many times I have felt angry, sad, and lost. Many times I’ve decided I’m just a small fish in a – no, not a big pond – in a fucking ocean. And I go, “Gee, my chances of making it as a big movie-directing fish are pretty much nil. I should just give up.” That only lasts a short while though, because I am quickly reminded that telling stories and making movies is what I love and I can’t do anything else. So, what the hell do I do? I’ve invested some of my time, attention, and heart into other things that make me happy. Exercise. Meditation. Blogging. Reading. Those are some of mine.
- Back to the meditation thing. Meditate. Seriously, just try it. UCLA offers a handful of free, guided meditations. Most of them are quite short, and they make you feel good. They make you feel lighter. You can do them in the morning right when you wake up, or in the evening right before you go to sleep. Make it part of your routine. Learn to breathe, learn to be present and mindful and let go of the emotions that don’t serve you. If you’re constantly regretting that terrible pitch meeting, or hoping a studio will make an offer on your script in the coming weeks, you are not living in the present moment. Try to focus in on what is happening now, today. Are you on set today? Working on a new project? Watching a movie you’ve been dying to see? Partaking of one of those other things that make you happy? Be present and enjoy.
- Express gratitude on a daily basis. Whether that is in a personal journal, or vocally to someone you’re feeling thankful for. You could even do both. There’s this thing called the Law of Attraction. Its basic principle is that you get back what you put out into the Universe. Like attracts like. If you’re emitting rage and despair, more rage and despair is what you’ll get. If you’re sending out happiness, more happiness will find you. So just imagine, if you can find something to be thankful for every day, not only will it make you feel on top of the world, and not only will it bring you into the present moment, that gratitude will eventually come back to you as reward. Big or small, don’t we all love reward? For me, a reward here and there feels great when I’m traversing the frustration of filmmaking.
- Find a supportive artist community. Connect with people you can commiserate with, commiserate, and then be positive. It’s always helpful to know that you’re not going through it alone. And in this industry, while we clearly know we are not alone because there are thousands of other people vying for the same success, it can feel so very, very lonesome. The competition is brutal and most people probably won’t have your back. Most people are probably fueled purely by self-interest. BUT – there are good ones out there, who will have your back. Who will volunteer to do craft services on your short film, read your latest script and provide feedback, or invite you to a networking event they know will benefit you. I am one of those people (if I do say so myself), and I have been lucky to find a solid handful of others. It always offers immense relief to text my frustrations to a friend and get back the encouragement I needed to hear. Some words of “I’ve been there. Don’t worry, you’ll get through this.” might be all you need.
If you’re a frustrated filmmaker, I hope you’ll give these a try instead of bashing your head against a wall, giving in to despair, or giving up altogether. And I wish you the very best.