Some things I've learned over the years.
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
This quote has literally shaped my career and my life. The last couple of years I've shifted my direction over and over again sort of finding my path through this crazy business. Now that I feel I have found a style and a purpose, I have been looking back on what got me there.
The purpose of this blog is not to step up on a soapbox and preach, but to state some things that I encountered along my path and hopefully those aspiring to be a director, or any role in this business can learn from it.
First off let me say, anyone thinking about getting into making films, directing, cinematography, editing or anything production related, be ready to work. Long underpaid hours. sacrificing your youth, weekends, personal comfort, sanity and in my case, your luscious head of hair. Sounds great right? As my dad would say: "That's why they call it work."
In all seriousness, you need to get into any of the above because you love it. Not for recognition. Not for money. Not for glory. For love. Because you will lose your mind if not. It's not just a craft you are perfecting, it's a lifestyle you are living.
A little background on me, just the pedigree stuff, a timeline if you will.
Lifelong artist, drawing/painting. I played drums in a few bands, became obsessed with metal music and horror movies. Scholarship to CCAD, originally wanted to do animation and horror makeup. While at CCAD I found my place freelance directing and assisting on music videos. Graduated in 2009, worked at Cramer Krasselt in 2010 all the while freelancing. Quit Cramer Krasselt in 2011/2012, freelanced in Chicago for 3 years, building up my rolodex of bands/clients. Moved to Los Angeles in 2013.
Why is this important? Because when people ask "how'd you get into that?" it's not a simple question or answer. As a person, you are a culmination of your life experiences, it shapes who you are and what you do.
Recently I was lucky enough to work with one of my childhood inspirations and now friend, Derek Hess. It was an amazing experience and a huge responsibility to make a film about him. He is a living legend, and long after you and I are dead people will have his paintings. Derek probably doesn't know this, but I went to his concert Strhess Fest in 2004 at Nautica Pavilion in Cleveland. Huge fan. Always have been.
I had a surreal moment of self awareness one night while editing the film, asking myself; "What came first the chicken or the egg? Is it because you were into metal music and art that you are now directing content on the very things you love? Or was it a weird algorithm written into the universe that brought you to this very moment?"
Probably too deep and introspective for most of you. I get it. But the point here is I didn't have time to think about this. You should just start doing work and let it take you where you are going. Cause and effect is a real thing. So is perseverance. My advice to people getting into any professional creative art is written below. This is my "manifesto" if you will:
- Learn your craft first. Continue to learn it and never stop. Nothing is worse than delusional self absorbed artists who aren't good.
- Constantly beat yourself up, and then stand up and rebuild.
- Learn from people who are better than you. Listen to them and carry the torch.
- Take a blue collar approach to your craft. Work your ass off and put in long hours. If you aren't good now, the 10,000 hour rule will make you better.
- Don't be afraid to fail. Fail constantly. It's only a mistake if you don't learn from it.
- Get rid of yes men. They are the worst thing you can have in your life. Surround yourself with people who challenge you and make you better.
- I hate modern art. Unless you are Picasso and had a blue period I don't give a shit about your toilet in a gallery. Can you draw realistically? You have to learn the fundamentals first before you break the rules. Don't pick up a digital camera and think you are hot shit. The gear doesn't make good work, you do.
- Know where you sit in the mix. Both creatively and in the market. If you want to be high in the mix like Freddy Mercury, you gotta sing like Freddy Mercury.
- Know when to do a favor and when to charge full rates. Free doesn't necessarily mean free. (I'll do another blog about this in the future)
- Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Your life will be a series of questions marks, sleepless nights, long hours, short hours, wins and losses. It's the lifestyle. Live it.
- If you finish something and don't hate it, you should stop making what you are making. Every time you finish something, you should hate it. This is what makes you better. Doesn't mean you can't appreciate what you made, just be objective about the good and bad. Improve next time.
Moral of the story, my path is not yours, and yours will not be somebody else's. You gotta float like a butterfly and sting like a bee like Muhammad Ali. Roll with the punches, and make the best of it. Your network, your body of work, your balance in life. Live it and love it and see where it takes you.
As you get more confident and your work improves, your rates will go up, you'll be able to turn down work you don't want, and plow the path in the direction you do want. To bring it back around to the Aristotle quote, create good habits. Effective habits that produce effective results.