Read any interview by a master of their craft and 9 times out of 10, they all say the same thing. “I do (craft Z), because I discovered I wasn’t good at (crafts A through Y)” or my personal favorite, “I just don’t know how to do anything other than (craft Z)”. This might also make more sense if you think about your favorite director, writer, actor or singer and the one time they stepped out of that role and it went horribly wrong.
Yes, today I’m stepping on my soapbox and speaking on the importance of focus in honing one’s craft. I 100% subscribe to the idea that filmmaking is a craft, nothing less. Now as film student transitioning to just filmmaker, there is no semester project looming over my head as an a reason to make a film. To be honest, I’ve never been happier to not have to crew on student films. I always felt useless as I was never mesmerized by the camera equipment or lighting. I got my kicks from writing and working with actors. The problem was that in four years, there was never a semester where I could focus wholeheartedly on bettering myself in the aspects of film I loved. Due to constraints by the pre-determined courses offered, I left school without a focus. In the months since, I finally now confidently identify as an emerging screenwriter. 9-5, all day, everyday. So the question for the post-grad film kids: Are you doing your craft more or less since graduating?
Along with focus, true masters commit to building a quality body of work in their respective fields. Imagine that “the industry” is like the hottest night club in town and we, let’s be blunt, nobodies, are just trying to get pass the bouncer. We flash our shiny diplomas, thesis films or scripts, hoping that maybe we’ll make the quota for the night. We repeat these actions for months. But lately, I’ve been thinking: what happens next? The burly bouncer lifts the velvet rope and you strut into the land of cinematic milk and honey? Great. Congratulations. Do you know what’s going to happen a very millisecond later? The club owner (hang in there with me on this one) breaks up your VIP section and says “So what are you working on next?” You reply with the Hollywood favorite: “I’m working on a script, pitch, treatment.” Club owner’s impressed for another millisecond: “When can I read it? What are you working on next after that? And after that?”
I saw this happen as I spoke about my thesis film in film festival screening Q&A’s. Every single time, a filmmaker had the mic, someone from the audience said “So what are you working on next?” This question used to make me very anxious because I was definitely one of those “I just graduated in May and have this one idea” filmmakers.
It appears that more than most people, new grads are obsessed with who’s ahead in the rat race. We’re checking in on each others blogs, FB, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts for any sign of success. But, are we realizing the importance of continuity? Yes, everyone in this industry has to juggle project after project, to keep “killing them with content” because until you’re a somebody, you can’t ride that one project you did five years ago. We’ve also got to start asking ourselves what our body of work says about us as artists. Does your work make you: A) The all right do-it-by-yourself indie on that one film or B) The risk-taking collaborator with unwavering dedication to your career (…pssst PICK B!)
I remember listening to an emerging actor passionately describing his outlook on his craft. He said “I’m not going to wake up one day and be a plumber. There is no plan B!” Another bold artist statement. You simply have to live and breathe like there is nothing else in this world you can do except (fill in with craft). It tends to be very true that anybody can do a lot of things adequately but only a select pool can be masters. Since graduating, I asked myself the ultimate question. Am I willing to give 110% in the name of film? Are any of us really ready? I think the key here is committed actions. Do you want to be a producer, cinematographer, director, writer, editor, set designer? Study what past innovators have done and modern game changers are doing and follow suit. And as wise man Ira Glass says in the below video –“The most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. We don’t have to be Jacks and Jills of every trade in this film biz. Just commit to mastering one thing at a time.