one shot at a time — focus in filmmaking

When you are a filmmaker, a screenwriter, a director, a producer, or all of the above, there are times when the ideas flow. You want to get an idea for your next screenplay, only you don’t get one, you get half a dozen. You get an idea for a shot or a scene or a camera angle or a look and the ideas start piling up.

And then if you’re starting out and you’re trying to write scripts and shoot films while you edit your last film and you have an article to post on Tuesday and you’re going to the day job and you’re packing lunch to save money, and you’re on Instagram trying to build your audience, and you’re messing around on Facebook and getting snarky in the Filmmaker group comments, there gets to be this point when you look at your to do list and there’s no way you can get all of that done in a weekend let alone one night and then you need to cook dinner and eat, so you watch some TV while you’re having dinner and then you need to work on something before you got to bed, but then you look at this list and now there’s twenty to dos on your list, and you decide to watch another YouTube video and then it’s time to wind down and go to bed.

Focus.

One thing.

One task.

It’s easy to get lost in all of the things we think we have to do to move our creative careers forward. It’s hard to focus on one thing at a time. There is always something to do and it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

The best times have been when I started out writing. There was a time I was living in New York in the green room of a theater. I was a Production Manager and a Stage Manager. After the plays were done, there would be rehearsals in the theater, and then after that, around 11PM or after midnight, I would go to the green room and start writing my plays. And there was nothing else. The uncomfortable chair didn’t bother me. I didn’t worry about the money, or what I was doing. I wasn’t worried about whether anyone would like the play or not. I didn’t even think about whether or not it would get produced. I just sat there and wrote and the writing was enough.

The best times were when I’ve been on set and everyone on set is doing what they need to do and the actors are running a scene and I go from looking at the framing on the camera to just watching their performance. And I get lost in the scene and the worries of the day fade away and the challenges of the day slip away and all I am thinking about is the actor’s performance.

The best times have been when I’m editing a short film and I’ve watched the footage over and over and I’ve found the perfect cut, and all of these different pieces of film come together and I lose myself in the editing. I start editing a scene and I look at the time to see an hour has gone by.

There is always something to do. Sometimes having a list doesn’t help. The best times are when we find flow, whether it’s in the writing or directing. Whatever the task that we were made to do, whatever the talent we were born to do. If you find yourself losing focus, go back to where it started for you. If I don’t know what to do, I get pen and paper and start writing. I’ve started meditating recently and I’m amazed how much I’ve missed by looking at all the things I need to do instead of doing the next thing.


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Check out my previous article: Control what you can — navigating a filmmaking career

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