F is For Failure: Ted Hope/Ed Burns Conversation at VimeoFest

For those who couldn’t make it to the Vimeo Festival and Awards held on June 8th & 9th, you can still watch the “Failure FTW” discussion with actor/writer/director Ed Burns and producer Ted Hope for free on the event’s official Tumblr page HERE! I’d been seeing tweet blasts all weekend about this and was hoping and praying that this specific conversation would be shared with a digital audience. It’s an hour-long talk so I wanted to give some of the highlights for those who might not be able to watch the whole thing. 

What I learned:

  • Overnight burnout: Ed Burns and Ted Hope began the talk by using Burns’ first feature, The Brothers McMullen as a case study for learning from failure. Burns mentioned that after the film won big at Sundance , he was stalled for the next project and wondered if lightning would strike twice. He received some great advice from his dad: “Did you make this move because of you want fame or because you had something to say?” If it’s the latter, then you write another script like that and just have fun.
  • How to be the comeback kid: I was surprised to learn that after his first flop with No Looking Back (his third film), he was didn’t write again for three years. As he puts it, “obsessing about the end result” (aka whether he would succeed or fail) prevented him from doing the thing he loved most. It wasn’t until he was starring in Saving Private Ryan and watching Steven Spielberg shoot like an indie (58 days instead of 66, 2-3 takes, handheld camera, and available light), that he decided to get back to basics. Three months later, he was filming Sidewalks in New York for $1 million in 17 days.
  • The Woody Complex: Burns’ also talked about his hero Woody Allen’s thought process when it comes to success. He just doesn’t care about how the film does theatrically. It’s as simple as that. By the time the reviews come out on his most recent film, Woody’s already shooting his next project. The takeaway for me was when Burns proclaimed when it comes to failure, a strong work ethic can become protection: “Love it when you’re doing it but when it’s done, walk away. The highs are never as great as you think they will be. The lows are crippling. If you’re working on something else, the lows don’t hurt.”
  • The Definition of Success is Changing: Ted Hope spoke of a cultural shift in the aspirations of today’s filmmakers. In the past when he asked young film students what they wanted to do, they said “I want to be in the film biz.” Now it’s more like, “I want to have a creative life.” Hope learned the secret behind success is to take risks and not get stuck in doing things “the right way”. The important thing is to ask yourself: “Am I doing the thing that I love?” Hope also mentions the idea that instead of trying to replicate your past success, we should question “How do we structure our lives so that we’re doing things we love and we’re always flexible to be able to move towards that.”
  • When You’ve Lost Inspiration: Hope responded to an audience member that it takes some soul-searching when you’re not feeling motivated. He suggests asking yourself “What is it you really love about movies? What are you striving to do that you haven’t done before? You should do that.” And most of all, “Are you living?” It’s hard to create if you’re not going through every day with a fresh breath of air in your lungs and making memories.
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