Confidence is Key to Survival in Filmmaking – But it ain’t easy

Confidence is Key to Survival in Filmmaking – But it ain’t easy

SMASHED started with a bang back in April. I had no idea what I was in for, and now, as we approach the final weeks of post, I finally have some time to reflect upon the process. I’ll share more about the experience of writing, directing and producing a $300,000 short film soon, but today, I want to talk about losing faith in yourself and your ability.

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Lana, arguing with her daughter just before going live to sell bourbon balls!

This experience has tested me in many ways, including causing me to doubt myself. That’s a terrible place to be.

Writing is a challenging enough sport without having the opinions of others cause you to doubt yourself, but trust me, if you plan to stay in the filmmaking business, you will constantly find yourself challenged. Sometimes it’s done in a malicious and controlling way, other times it’s done with ignorance, but most of the time it’s just good old common self-sabotage that undoes us.

For this post, I’m not talking about constructive feedback and helpful notes, I’m talking about opinions and feedback from people who don’t know how to give notes. When these people are in positions of authority, there aren’t a lot of options. Which is why learning to navigate the waters of feedback and building your own confidence are keys to survival in this business.

I’ve put decades of work into the craft of writing, teaching and filmmaking and I know what I’m doing. I’m an inspiring teacher, a damn good writer and a talented filmmaker. And yet, even my confidence wanes at times.

During SMASHED I dealt with a lot of people and a lot of opinions, attitudes and motivations. My biggest take-away from the experience is two-fold: first, don’t react to notes – instead, search for the meaning behind the note, and two, don’t be afraid to ask for more clarity.  Asking questions is part of building confidence, and trust me when I say that sometimes the note givers aren’t even sure what they’re trying to say, so getting clear is very important.

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It’s this ability to speak up and ask questions that helps build your own confidence. Although, sometimes, it’s best to simply listen and try to get to the note beneath the note. Sometimes it’s clear, other times, it’s not. Let’s say that somebody says — your lead isn’t very likeable! Oh boy. That’s a big comment and could mean a number of things… maybe the note giver just doesn’t like that kind of character, or maybe your character said or did something that was misconstrued or confusing, or maybe your lead isn’t very likeable and that’s how you meant it to be! Ask questions. Get to the bottom of the note. You don’t need to defend your script, you just need to listen and ask good questions. And write down everything they say. You have to a be a detective and unravel the feedback and not get your feathers ruffled.

And here comes the point where you really need to rely upon your confidence, because sometimes people speak without thinking. One of the leaders on this program told me that she just doesn’t like the kind of script I’d written. At least I knew that early on, so I was able to take most everything she said with a grain of salt. It didn’t hurt my feelings that she said this, but it could have been delivered in a much more tactful way. This is where thick skin really helps. Thick skin is also a result of confidence.

Notes, or feedback — whatever the name — are the way we achieve greatness. They really are vitally important in developing a story, but not all notes are equal and not all note givers have equal merit. It takes time, understanding and experience to know how to give good notes. I know very few people who know how to give great notes and I hold that feedback in high esteem. On the other hand, I know many people who can give notes, and usually I’ll find something useful and worthwhile among those notes, but I’m usually testing theories and not looking for specifics. 

Receiving feedback can test the best of us, but it is the only way to greatness. Hold tight to your confidence to push through notes, and note givers, for it is the only path that will lead us to our best stories. Tell good stories – well written – however you get there.