Becoming The Thing
A few years ago, I wrote an article called “Rejection is How You Become a Filmmaker” that seemed to resonate. I think that was owing to the fact that I was honest about facing a lot of professional rejection and have nonetheless figured out a way to become what I want to be; a working director and sometimes writer. I expressed the manic cycle of despair and self-doubt that got me here. But, where is here? It is paying my rent, having some money in the bank, options of jobs to choose from, and a feature film that I am proud to say was well-received by audiences and critics. You know where else is here? Being fucking terrified by the pressure to maintain all of it and not knowing if I’m doing it the right way or what comes next. But this isn’t why I wanted to write this piece today. I wanted to write this to those people who have reached out and asked for advice or guidance to help them get to a similar place.
Look, I still consider myself early in my career and there’s a lot I don’t know, but I’ve also had some incredible opportunities that I’m aware have not been afforded to everyone. Here are something things that have worked for me:
- I have had some amazing mentors and supporters in my life. I went through a period of asking established women I wanted to be like out for coffee (like Tassie Cameron who replied to my periodic emails, God bless her). They were and are amazing. However, no one you have coffee with knows your past, what your abilities are and what your goals are. Only you do. If you DO ask someone to share their time, please be specific about what you are looking for help with. Help people help you. If you are looking for funding for a short, or information on certain programmes, please Google that shit. If you have a specific ask or area you need help with, that’s great! I would love to see how I can help. Part of me thinks I spent so much time asking for other people’s guidance cause I wanted to avoid what I already know I needed to do. Most people would like to help. I like what Ava Duvernay once said on this:
“All of the time you’re spending trying to get someone to mentor you, trying to have a coffee, all of the things we try to do to move ahead in the industry is time that you’re not spending working on your screenplay, strengthening your character arcs, setting up a table reading to hear the words, thinking about your rehearsal techniques, thinking about symbolism in your production design, your color pallet. All the time you’re focusing on trying to grab, you’re being desperate and you’re not doing. You have to be doing something. Because all of the so-called action that you’re doing is hinging on someone doing something for you.”
- You don’t need to find an agent right this second. You need to make stuff. The agent will find you and their job will then be to negotiate future work on your behalf, and in Canada, function a little more like a manager.
- If you do have one, READ YOUR CONTRACTS.
- If you are not a straight white male who has received an opportunity of some sort, chances are you’ll deal with microaggression at some point. It’s saying “they’re only hiring women right now”, or, “they’re only hiring ‘diverse”. From my experience, when someone says that, it makes me feel like I am not capable as a writer or director. It undermines my talent and hardwork and replaces it with my Femaleness over all else. You know what does not help me with a shot list? Thinking about my boobs. Look, I have come up at a time where people are actively looking for female directors who may be less experienced than some others. I am aware of that. What is not going to happen is that I’ll make a whole career from just a quota. If I can’t hold my own on set, I’m probably not gonna be invited back.
- I have had bad days on set where I doubted if I should be doing this. It is extremely hard, especially in TV, to navigate the levels of producers, show runners, actors, crew, etc. What I try to hold on to at the end of the day is something, one thing, that I did really well and that I’m proud of. I focus on what I know I am good at. Some of the other stuff that I’ve felt less confident about in knowing is stuff I can learn along the way. Generally, people respond pretty favourably if you ask them to explain the details of their job, or their to share their knowledge…at the right time.
- Don’t offer to be someone’s assistant for free. Ask to be their assistant, but expect to be paid.
- Not everyone is going to like you. This is a hard one that I’m still struggling with.
- Stop saying “just” in emails to soften your request, as in “I’m just wondering if you have time to …”, but always say “thank you”. Do not have an inspirational quote in your signature.
- Most people want to feel like they’re contributing something. They want to collaborate and feel involved. Directing is a weird thing where you’re walking this tightrope between pushing for what you want and also needing to be open to what is right in front of you! You may have spent 5 hours the night before coming up with elaborate blocking and a shot list and all it takes is the actor telling you he/she doesn’t want to do that. When they explain why, it can very often be right. Always put the story first, not some unnecessary shot you want on your directors reel.
- Feel free to wear message t-shirts on set.
- Meditate if you can, even on lunch for five minutes. On the topic of lunch, eat some salad and then before the forty-seven tiny red velvet cupcakes you stuff in your mouth on a night shoot.
- Get a subscription to Masterclass. Check out Ron Howard’s one on directing, and be mesmerized with the ease and fluidity he can block and shoot with two cameras.
- Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to inspiring actors. Heard a song that reminds you of the character? Send it to them! I think I’m trying to untrain myself from the fear-based rigidity I started off with. I was so paralyzed by my fear of failing and making a mistake that I didn’t allow creative freedom and play.
- Try to remember people’s names.
- When blocking, try to place the props where you are trying to get the actor to be. The blocking will likely fall into place more naturally.
- The sound guy/gal needs to be heard too. PUN INTENDED.
- For women and women-identified identifying directors; you can look however the fuck you want. Some days I want to wear Blundstones and a giant black sweatshirt and other days I’m wearing a bold lip. Show people what a director looks like.
- You can be…wait for it…proud of yourself even though your childhood still has you in therapy.
- Have a sense of humour about the whole thing while realizing every minute you shoot costs a are tremendous amount of money and everything is on the line. Hey, life is a paradox.
- Your Instagram doesn’t matter.
Overall, the thing you can do to become the thing is DO THE DAMN THING. I Maybe you’ll go to Sundance! Maybe the only other person who will see it is your mom, if you’re lucky enough to have one! You can never know, but what you can do is say “I did that. I made the thing. I am THE THING.” You will feel ten times better making a bad short film then wondering if you could’ve been a director one day while staring at your roast beef sandwich in a food court in an insurance claims office building north of the city.
Just start. I am doing the same thing every day, hoping it adds up to something.