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Why you need to Fail as a Filmmaker (At least once)

When I read scripts I see them play out as gorgeous, million dollar Oscar caliber movies.

And then I watch the footage we actually shot. Which is good, but not incredible. Not quite the level I was seeing in my head.

We all want to make stunning, unforgettable, award winning movies. At least, I know I do.

But how do you go from micro budget or student film projects to the movie you see inside your head?

You fail. At least once.

I know, I know, that might not sound like a good idea, but hear me out.

Let’s reframe the idea of “failure” as the idea of “data”. You either made a good project or you learned something, right? And that “something” you learned you will carry on to your next project and the next.

So by making a mistake you’ve gathered data on how to NOT make a project. And, by default, your next project will be better.

Now that I have more experience as a filmmaker the mistakes I make and lessons I learn are less severe. Like packing up the coffee maker to try and get us out of a location sooner, without confirming everyone on the crew had drunk their fill.

But the first project I ever produced has never, and likely will never, see the light of day.

I thought I could just pick a day to film, tell everyone to show up with cameras, and go for it.

The director didn’t realize we were filming until the day before, we didn’t have a shot list, and there was no one recording sound. Oh and we were outside. By loud air conditioners. Oops.

Lesson learned! Communicate more clearly, confirm plans with everyone, hire a good sound mixer to be on set.

Sometimes I’ve had to step back and let other filmmakers learn through their own failures--I mean data. No matter how many times I say, “You need to have a sound mixer” the only way you can truly learn that is when you watch the results of your film without good quality sound.

I never went to film school. I learned everything I know from my own mistakes. And I believe it’s the best way to learn, not from a textbook or a lecture, but because I have seen the results of my work and learned through them how to make the next piece better than the last.

You have to be ok with making a bad first project. You’ve got to get comfortable making mistakes. Admitting to yourself that you were wrong. You’ve got to at least be willing to go for it, even it’s a failure. At least then you’ll have data!

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned on your first projects?

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