The Art of Patience

The author in his home office.

I’m as impatient as they come. I like to buy things immediately. I want to watch a show or a movie right away. Traffic is my own personal hell. And don’t even get me started on “delayed gratification.” I mean, what the hell is that? Why am I delaying gratification? How do you do? How are you? I’m fine, thank you.

And I’ve always been impatient when it comes to my career. At 19 I was very concerned that I hadn’t yet directed a feature and by the time I was 21 felt like I was so far behind it would never happen for me. I’ve spent the last four years shooting more features (and a series) in three years than Christopher Nolan shoots in ten. (I don’t mean that as an accomplishment, only as an illustration that I like to stay busy.) I can’t tell you how many conversations with my agents and manager begin with “What the hell is taking so long?!”

Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if all that impatience has actually been more harmful than helpful. (For example, Christopher Nolan is clearly doing better with his one feature every 3/4 years strategy than I am with mine.) I’m sure part of it is related to my moving to a place where the fastest thing around is the wind and the slowly-changing elements of nature not only encourage patience but reward you for it. But also, having had nothing in production for the last six months, I was forced into a position where impatience reluctantly gave way to reflection. Because I’ve had nothing on which to train my gaze forward, I’ve had no choice but to look back. And in doing so, in finding patience amidst 4 acres of flora, fauna and deer shit, in spending 10 minutes each morning meditating to birdsong, in watching the slow growth of old maples and young eastern red cedar, I realize that maybe patience was the better path.

Often juggling several projects at once and giving each my equal but divided attention meant that no project received all of my attention. And in an effort to create and maintain forward momentum, I wagered that getting it done was most important, perhaps more so, than getting it done well.

This is not to say that I’m not happy with my work (not all of them at least). But it is to say that I think it maybe could have been better. Why haven’t I broken out in the same way that others have after their first feature? Why hasn’t having my second film released by Paramount led to a windfall of offers and opportunities? Why didn’t my Hulu series catch on? (easy answer: it wasn’t very good) Why isn’t my latest feature script sparking a bidding war? These questions haunt me in my patience (and for the sake of my sanity, I try to ignore them) but it is because of my patience that I’ve thought to ask them.

Since moving to New York, I feel far less rushed than I did when I was in L.A. It’s led to some uncomfortable reflection regarding my work and also a renewed focus on what’s most important: quality. That, maybe, I shouldn’t go out with a project until it feels 100% (duh). And even if that takes years, that’s okay. Because what’s most important is the quality.

Ten bad or mediocre features don’t add up to anything. One solid, high quality feature does.

This town takes forever. Its just the way it is. Deals take longer than you want them to. The point from sale to release takes longer than you want it to. And for most of us (unless you’re a wunderkind) our career is going to take longer to get going than we want it to.

But in that delay, in those times between what we want and what will happen, it’s worth remembering “ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin.” Its a Greek saying, central to Stoic philosophy. “What is up to us, what is not up to us.”

What is up to us is our work. Do that. Fill your times of patience with so much work you won’t even notice the time passing. And before you know it, the deal will be closed, the film will be released, and the career will take off.

And then you’ll never have to be patient again.

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Joshua Caldwell is a director, writer, producer, and MTV Movie Award Winner. His debut feature film LAYOVER was made for $6000 and had its World Premiere to sold out crowds at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious FIPRESCI New American Cinema Award. In 2015, he directed the first season of Hulu’s SOUTH BEACH and the Paramount Pictures feature film BE SOMEBODY. In 2017 his latest film, the action-thriller NEGATIVE, had its World Premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival and will be released in the fall.

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