Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Filmmaking and Disappointment

We recently suffered a tough, disappointing week at Filmmakers Alliance - and, consequently, for me personally - as that organization and I are joined at the hip. Some crucial funding we were expecting had been indefinitely delayed due to the economic crunch. And a bunch of very strong Filmmakers Alliance films - including a feature I produced - that had made it into the final rounds of consideration, were ultimately rejected from the Sundance Film Festival (along with about 8,000 other films).

Now, on a very practical and emotional level, I was kinda devastated about the funding disappointment, but I don't feel too much about the festival rejection. I've been around long enough to know that no one festival - including Sundance - holds the key to filmmaking success and means absolutely nothing in terms of artistic development and productivity. However, the filmmakers I work with don't necessarily share this perspective and it is their disappointment that touches me - and to which I want this blog to speak.

Disappointment is a chronic reality in all creative endeavors, but I would argue that it is particularly endemic to filmmaking since there are just so many opportunities to be disappointed - considering the amount of people and elements involved in the filmmaking process, including raising money, casting actors, securing crew and locations, getting into festivals, distributing the film, etc., etc. It's hard not to want the best in all aspects of the process and feel extreme disappointment when we have to settle for less.

Also, in a creative endeavor so tied to our dreams and visions, it is impossible for them to only exist for us creatively. They exist in all aspects of our thinking/feeling and feed our expectations. And, of course, expectation is the main prerequisite for disappointment.

So how do we deal with disappointment since it is clearly inescapable? Is there a way to minimize it? Or is it possible to experience it fully and use it beneficially? Well, I think there are two necessary ways to guide your reaction to disappointment if you want to benefit from it.

The first way to guide your reaction is to think clearly about the root of any disappointment. And, clearly, at the deepest root of disappointment is ego. I've talked extensively about ego and its involvement in the creative process so I hope you realize by now I'm not just referring to diva-like egos. I'm talking about normal, healthy ego - that necessary part of our DNA that drives survival instincts. That instinct to survive has evolved with modern life and now also drives us in the work we do and the things we create. Because on a deep level, we still tie anything that is profoundly important to us to that survival gene. It's natural, then, that any perceived threat to what is most important to us, will create upset. But survival instincts, in any form, are very self-centered instincts and thus the negative connotations around ego. When we are disappointed, we experience a self-centered upset that the world did not bend to our expectation of it. You've probably heard the saying "Men plan, God laughs" - which is just a way of saying our plans and expectations, even when related to survival, are very self-serving and not always in sync with the life's bigger picture.


Nonetheless, in some circumstances, disappointment touches the survival instinct much more directly than in other circumstances. For me, these recent disappointments emerge from a number of different core concerns and expectations. On a basic level, anxiety about how to manage/support FA begins to take hold. FA is my passion and lifeblood, hence, a true survival concern emerges. And filmmakers may feel the same thing when expectations for their films don't pan out. There's the sense that the film will go unseen and unappreciated, threatening the filmmakers ability to earn a livelihood from this work. But, of course, in other circumstances, disappointment touches us much closer to our diva-like ego, where everything related to us, no matter how inconsequential, feels as essential as survival. Basically, we believe the world revolves around our every emotion. We call that "Filmmaker Boy/Girl Syndrome". A common "disease" afflicting filmmakers where they embrace the delusion that they and their film are (or should be) at the center of everyone's universe.

I suspect a film's success or failure touches both ends of the ego spectrum - from basic survival to complete self-absorption/desperate need for attention. However, in productively processing disappointment, it doesn't really matter from what perspective we are experiencing it. From any perspective, there at two key things to keep in mind when guiding your reaction to disappointment. 1. It is ego-based. 2. Ego is a tool, not a state of being (unless you choose to make it so). It exists in us to drive us to do the things we need to do to survive. Therefore, disappointment, as a product of ego, can be a tool rather than a state of being. And a tool is used to accomplish things and create opportunities. So, in this little equation of mine, disappointment = opportunity. If we allow our egos and disappointments to be a state of being, we will be devastated. But if we see them as the tools that they are, they can provide energy, ambition and motivation....and, hence, opportunity.

The second important guide to managing disappointment in a positive way is to fully understand what our survival ego is trying to sustain. It is not our festival or financial success. Nor is it our industry prestige, nor any other tangential product of our creativity. It is creativity, itself. The survival ego is there to sustain our very lives. But, as modern, creative types who no longer must fear being torn apart by wild animals ("Grizzly Man" aside) the life our survival instinct now fights to sustain are those things which are core to our being. And that, my fellow filmmakers, is our CREATIVE PROCESS. Specifically, the making of films. Armed with this perspective, know that your disappointment is not about not getting something - funding, a location, a cast member, into a festival, accolades, whatever. It is about the threat to your creative process. And that is a threat you can address. It is a threat you can successfully squelch by being and staying creative.

So, allow yourself to feel disappointment. But don't live in it. Use it. Remember that it is there to protect your creative process. So you must continue creating. Know that is not a state of being, but a tool to motivate you and fill you with creative ambition. Keep striving to make your films more skillfully, more artfully, deeper, richer, funnier, whatever. This is what your disappointment can allow you to do. This is why disappointment is an opportunity. And,...if you choose to let it be so,...a gift.

1 comment:

  1. According to me filmmaking is one of the dynamic industry which requires an extreme level of creativity and i personally feel that in such fields where creativity plays its fundamental role there should be no space left for disillusionment.