Making Life-Changing Decisions

The Q&A at the BFI IMAX

Answering questions after the screenings of Third Contact, someone once asked how I made the decision to make the film, considering I knew it would be a huge investment of time, for little chance of any financial reward. She was essentially asking how one could take on something so big, with all the regular stuff going on in our lives.

I think this is a common issue with many of us. We’re committed to so many things, it’s very hard to put the effort into something which consumes so much time and energy — like making a feature film.

One thing which gave me an advantage — I was brought up like this. My parents were self-employed artists and craftspeople. I grew up in an atmosphere of self-motivated, creative endeavour. Therefore, the idea of doing something others might see as crazy wasn’t such a leap into the unknown.

But still — I’d spent the first 42 years of my life not making a feature film.

Although I’d been surviving as a musician for most of my working life, which some might also see as a risky path, I wasn’t immune to fear. There were mental blocks in my mind which prevented me from making the leap. And, in my opinion, 99% of people holding off from “following their dreams”, to use the clichéd expression, do so because of mental blocks.

What I realised was — the thing stopping you from doing the thing you’ve always wanted to do is the thing in your mind.

Before that, like so many others, I’d found excuses. I’d the blamed the world outside my head for my frustrating inability to make a feature film: The industry was conspiring against me. They couldn’t see how talented I was. I didn’t have the money. I needed a crew, equipment and A-list actors to do my script justice. I didn’t have the skills to make a film zero-budget. I’d at least need a trained DoP and there’s no way I’d find one to shoot a whole feature for free. And I’d need a producer to organise everything. No way could I do this all on my own. I’d spend years making it, it would be so bad no-one would buy it and I’d have wasted 3 years of my life, when I should be thinking about my career, my pension…

It’s easy to talk yourself out of something. I’d been doing it for over 20 years.

Then a series of changes happened in my life which allowed me — in some ways, forced me — to re-invent myself.

At this point, I stopped struggling. I stepped back.

I thought to myself — whatever I’ve been doing so far, it isn’t working. I needed to try to change.

I realised — I didn’t make myself. I am what I am.

Whatever I am, it’s not really my fault.

But I realised — if I blame others for my failure, I have no control. Having a victim mentality means you’re are at the mercy of an imagined higher power.

If nothing is your fault, you’re powerless to correct anything.

Day by day, I turned everything around the other way. I took responsibility for my situation. By taking responsibility, I gave myself the power to change my life.

The judgemental voices in my mind became quieter.

A too critical mind, I discovered, is the death of creativity. If you find yourself being critical of other people’s work, you’ll find that voice turned inwards — to you and your own work.

The critical voice creates self-doubt. Self-doubt creates fear of failure; fear of being judged.

Remember when you were 5 years old and you just drew a picture for the sheer joy of creating? When you just played with your toys, dreaming up a crazy story?

Before you knew you should be worried about imagining. Before you got to an age when people started to judge you.

Remember then?

I worked on getting myself closer to that state of mind. Dreaming up a story and making it into a movie, I decided, should be like being 5 years old again — just waking up and playing with my toys.

After some months working on calming my self-destructive voices, rediscovering the joy of creativity, I became less afraid of the risk of making a feature film with no money.

Also, I was at a moment in my life when most things which had occupied my time had come to an end. I was single. So, when I wasn’t at the IMAX earning my £7/hour, I could do anything I wanted. Plus, I removed every non-essential thing costing me time and/or money. I had no car and no other outgoings except my rent and some bills.

I planned no holidays. Why would I need a holiday when I was filling my life with the joy of doing what I wanted to do?

It’s not easy to remove the things in your life holding you back. But what I found is, the first step is to remove the things in your mind making you afraid. If you can do that, the world looks very different. Then you might find it easier to make those life-changing decisions.