This week I’m postulating on why many of us spend so much time chasing after the next shiny new thing, whether that’s a bit of technology or whatever, or feel we have to wait for the planets to come into JUST the right alignment before we can even consider getting out there and doing something that we really want to do. For filmmakers, and I’ve discussed this several times with Ian O’Neill from the How They Did It Filmmaking Podcast, this comes down to the topic of just shooting with what you’ve got. That’s using the locations, contacts, equipment and cameras that you have easy access to, and not forever procrastinating over it.
Before we move into that though - last week I introduced you to 6 productivity extensions for Google Chrome which will make you more efficient and effective. For a topic which - as I approached it - felt somewhat “dry” I must admit that I really got into it. I take these extensions for granted as I use them all the time, but they made a great episode.
The call to action encouraged you to try the extensions and see how they worked for you. I wouldn’t have suggested them if I didn’t use them myself and I do believe that they will really make a difference to your productivity when working online - so listen back if you missed it and let me know how you are getting on and if you are digging them as much as I do.
As always I must say that I do really love the interaction with listeners that comes with this podcast and that the show is on twitter @filmproprodpod or on Facebook @filmproproductivity if you want to send a message. My personal accounts on Instagram and Twitter @fight_director – Alternatively you can communicate via the official website at filmproproductivity.com/contact.
Have you ever been in a position where you know you need to do things to move forward but instead you find yourself doing anything but? I talked about it a few weeks back in the procrastination episode, but I want to look at it in a bit more detail here today.
I often find myself stalling rather than doing when it comes to filmmaking and I have a fairly extensive list of excuses that I can call up to ensure that I won’t get out there and just do it.
- The number one reason for me, and living in Scotland this is a fairly legitimate one, is because of the weather. I’m forever looking out of a window at pouring rain and thinking… I’ll do it tomorrow. It’s not that I don’t have wet weather gear and rain covers for my cameras - I do – It’s that I can vividly imagine how much of a pain it might be and I stop myself before I start.
- I also very often say to myself - I don’t have time, or more realistically, I don’t have enough energy – Check back to episode 18 for a full breakdown of that one. Lack of mental energy manifests itself as a kind of overwhelming tiredness, which makes staying in and doing administrative work, or frankly nothing productive at all, just that bit more attractive than going out with a camera. It’s an odd one though as it can drop on me like a cloud even when I’m feeling quite keen to do it and it ensures that I often avoid not only going out to shoot something of my own but that I won’t socialise or interact with others
- The next excuse that I can pull out of the hat, and I have many more in there, is that I don’t have the kit. I’m saving up to buy a specific thing, such as a lens or a filter or an add on like a monitor or other shiny new toy and I say to myself, I’ll just wait till I can get that “thing” and then it will all be easier and better.
- And oftentimes it’s not the kit that’s the problem it’s my knowledge, or lack thereof, of how to use that kit. I’ll be like, I could take this camera out but I don’t intricately know how this really works and so I find an excuse instead to faff about with it indoors rather than just doing whatever it is I had planned to do.
- Ultimately I can muster a general feeling of – “I’M NOT READY-NESS”. A feeling that the planets are not yet in alignment - but someday soon, all will be well and the time will be just right. I convince myself that when this happens or that happens or when I get this latest piece of kit – Then and only then, somewhere down the line, will I be ready to do whatever it is I plan to do. What’s the quote though that I’ve used before – “SOMEDAY is not a day of the week”.
Some of you may say to yourselves. I can’t do such and such a thing because I have kids, or because I have a dog or because I have to do something that’s maybe not particularly urgent but that’s on your mind and it’s just kicking at you for attention.
Well, today’s episode is about tackling this form of procrastination and just getting on with things.
I’ll also look at why some of us get caught up in a cycle of “Keeping up with the Jones’s” and why just getting out there and doing it is likely to be far easier than we think it is.
Lastly, I’ll look at why just shooting with what we have at hand or proceeding with plans even when the planets are not perfectly aligned is essential for our productivity.
By researching this topic I’m kind of hoping to get myself out of a bit of a rut too – At the moment I’m putting off on my filmmaking plans as I am determined to record this show – and it’s so important to me that it is shoving all other things into a big pile in the corner of my mind. And you thought I did this podcast to help you? Ahhh you fools, I’m offering up this show up for my own benefit as much as yours - so let’s get into it!
Robert Rodriguez famously said, “Every director has at least 10 bad films in them.” And that’s not just an amusing quote – it’s actually very closely linked to the topic of today and it mirrors the sentiment of my oft-quoted Hemingway one, “the first draft of everything is shit.”
You see if the reason you find yourself stalling rather than getting out there and doing stuff is because you fear that your work will not be perceived as, in inverted commas “good enough” then you need to take courage from the words of those that have gone before you, like Rodriguez and Hemingway, and accept that what you are about to film, or build or write or make might not be good enough to stand beside the works of Spielberg or indeed Rodriguez or Hemingway - but that you have to get out there do it anyway.
The first quote that I used in this podcast was that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and that journey is as true for a film pro, a screenwriter or whatever as it is for anyone else. And if you are a regular listener to this show you will recognise that I am covering old ground but let me digress for a minute or so more on this as its important.
Whether it’s the fear of failure or the fear of success or the drive to achieve an unattainable perfection it all adds up to the same thing. If you can’t just get out there and do it and possibly fail at what you do, you will never succeed, because you will never start.
The American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said: “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” And that is as true today as when he said it. Elbert Hubbard died in 1915 by the way so this isn’t new information. In all your excuses, for not doing what you want to do, fear of failure, fear of looking silly or incompetent or of being imperfect or criticised by others is highly likely to be the reason behind it.
Elbert Hubbard also said There is no failure except in no longer trying. C.S. Lewis said Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement. Napoleon Hill said Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure. And I’ll finish up on this point with this quote from Eric Zorn, who said “Fear of failure is a ticket to mediocrity. If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not pushing yourself. And if you’re not pushing yourself, you’re coasting.”
There are literally hundreds of quotes out there that say the same thing if you ‘re not moving forward, if you’re finding excuses and stopping yourself from trying - if it’s all because you simply fear failure - then GET OVER IT AND SEIZE CONTROL. And before you start hitting me with excuses – It IS that easy.
Now that I’ve tackled that old chestnut, let’s have a look at a very specific issue which I feel stops filmmakers in particular, and certainly some film pros that I know too from getting stuff done. The Canadian novelist W.P. Kinsella said, “Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.”
What I’m specifically talking about here is the constant need for doing everything with bigger and better equipment. It’s what I call Shiny New Thing Syndrome, and when I made that name up I had no idea that it actually is a thing! There’s an article in Entrepreneur.com that says that at its core, shiny object syndrome (SOS) is a disease of distraction, and it affects entrepreneurs specifically because of the qualities that make them unique. ... It's called shiny object syndrome because it's the entrepreneurial equivalent of a small child chasing after shiny objects. In their context, they crave new technology, or sometimes just new business opportunities, and once they get it, they immediately lose interest and start chasing the next thing.
Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” And I’m firing quotes about happiness at you here as I believe that is in effect what we are seeking when we hunt for that next shiny new thing.
This is one that I find myself struggling with now and again and I know I’m not the only one because I see it come up on forums and social media posts. Many of you listening may have reached for that perfect piece of shiny new equipment because without it you feel you can’t move forward - whether it’s a camera, or a computer or a piece of software or even a new idea or opportunity - whatever - but then when you get it, you realise that it wasn’t that which was holding you back – it was something else.
I’ve been wondering about this phenomenon - I wonder if I have unwittingly built up a “keeping up with the Jones’s” habit that I am unable to kick.
Perhaps not every listener knows that saying - “Keeping up with the Jones’s is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to your neighbour as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to "keep up with the Jones's" is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.” Wikipedia helped me with that description btw.
I believe that my own shiny new thing syndrome is borne of watching YouTube reviews about tech. No sooner have I watched a review of a new piece of kit, that I want it. I mean not all the time obviously but often enough for me to be aware of it. Then when I get that thing - the lens or the camera or the piece of software I’ve lusted after - a new video I come across says – look over here – this one’s better.
I’m not trying to keep up with fellow filmmakers, who may be the Jones’s in this scenario, I’m trying to keep up with my own microwave mentality (see episode 23) of just wanting the next shiny thing that catches my eye because somewhere at the back of my mind, I convince myself that I need it.
Again when I look at this with my HIGHER LEVEL THINKING HEAD ON, I soon realise that my inner I WANT IT attitude of “lusting after material things that will somehow make everything better” - IS A LOSING BATTLE. Because I know in my heart that using material items to boost my confidence is only ever temporary.
THINGS will never bring us happiness or contentment in the long run as we know inside that we will have to keep on spending to keep that “high” going and every time we think we are close, the bar gets set even higher.
As soon as you buy the latest gadget or device, a newer, cooler one comes out. We need to make our financial decisions based on what we want and what we can afford, not on what we think we should do to keep up with an ever-developing world of technology. By living within our means we can find contentment with the things we already have rather than chasing what we don’t. We need to cut that behaviour loose and focus on what’s really important in our lives and work —family, friends, etc. If we stick to our own goals, financial ones as well as creative, and the things that bring us joy, we won’t feel the need to keep up with anyone else.
I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist. said Tammy Faye Bakker
This is what others might call RETAIL THERAPY of course and it short-circuits our creative flow.
I’m hoping that this is a topic which makes sense to you out there. I’m going it might seem, a bit off-piste here, but I feel it’s worth taking this just a little further. You see shopping also boosts our dopamine levels, the brain chemical responsible for making us feel pleasure. So this shiny new thing syndrome is not only a huge procrastination excuse, but we get rewarded for it with a "shopping high."
The problem is, of course, that this “HIGH” doesn't last, and then we're left with the original problem, that of avoidance of the tasks at hand, plus we have a bill to pay. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though. If you can afford what you’re buying it’s no big deal. In fact, Psychology Today researchers found that 62% of shoppers have purchased something just to cheer themselves up. They call it “retail therapy” because shopping can make some of us feel a lot better - especially when we’re feeling down or stressed out.
The real problem comes when you're using shopping as a crutch to avoid doing your work or when you're spending more than you can afford and running up debt. I’m grateful to say that I’ve never been that far gone, but I am still aware that I spend when I don’t necessarily have to.
If you do find you have a problem with emotional spending like this, there are ways to beat it.
- The first key to curbing retail therapy is understanding what drives you to spend. What moods or things will tempt you to make unplanned purchases? If you know your spending triggers, you can find ways to combat and/or avoid those spending temptations entirely.
- Monitor Your Spending to Find “Emotional” Purchases. The only way to know about all your emotional spending habits is by tracking your daily spending.
- Use the 48-Hour Rule. One way to reduce emotional spending is by using the 48-hour rule. This is a simple — but effective — way to deal with spending temptations. Instead of dropping a specific “want” into your shopping basket, you write down the item’s name and price on a notepad. Give yourself 48-hours to think about a specific purchase decision and its impact on your monthly budget.
- Remove Spending Apps like eBay or Craigslist or Amazon from Your Phone and Unsubscribe to Emails Encouraging You to Spend.
- Many people have found budgeting to be a proven way to reduce overspending. You should stick to an overall monthly budget that will force you to save (or invest) a certain amount each month — while spending on things you need and paying down debt. Budgeting is the key to avoiding retail therapy.
- Treat Yourself with Small Purchases (Within Your Budget) – Put aside a “fun” budget that allows you to make purchases with freedom and without regret. There’s nothing wrong with emotional spending if you have it as part of your budget and can keep your overall financial goals on track. You only get in trouble when you put yourself into debt and lose control.
And I’ll leave it at that for now.
I can’t go into a “shoot with what you’ve got” topic, without going back to Robert Rodriguez and his book Rebel Without Crew. I’ll link to this in the show notes but please be aware that it’s rather dated. Rodriguez made El Mariachi in 1995 and although his story is inspiring and awesome, in technology terms and distribution wise at least, it’s far less relevant now than it once was. The basic message from the book is though is still essentially vital MAKE A FILM WITH THE RESOURCES YOU HAVE TO HAND IN THE PLACE WHERE YOU LIVE. In other words, SHOOT WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT.
AMAZON AFFILIATE LINKS - REBEL WITHOUT A CREW
He famously said in his 10-minute film school video which I’ll link to in the show notes, but he said “Don’t dream about being a filmmaker, You are a filmmaker. Now let’s get down to business.” And he says “…get experience, you’ll learn more from picking up a camera from your own mistakes than you will learning about it in film school.”, and if that doesn’t short circuit your fear of failure excuses then I don’t know what will.
Robert Rodriguez says “Creativity, not money, is used to solve problems.”
And so once you’ve beaten your fixation on the next shiny new thing and stopped procrastinating with a ton of reasons for why you SHOULDN’T make your first film, or write your first screenplay or compose your first score or whatever your creative drive is, then take a leaf out of Rodriguez book and MOVE FORWARD WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT.
Rodriguez tells aspiring filmmakers to become technical – to learn the tools of the trade. If you don’t he says you might become overly reliant on the techies who may or may not be interested in realizing your vision. He later asks. “Anyone know how to write?” The audience shrug and he says “No? Good. Everyone else writes the same way. Start writing your way. That makes you unique.” And I’ll come back to that uniqueness later on folks as it’s an essential core message in all of this.
In the video, Rodriguez pushes on and says - you want to make a cheap movie, but how do you make a cheap movie?
He says to list the Actors, locations, props, and equipment you can get hold of. What do you have around you?
What talents do your actor friends have? and What roles were they born to play? A Doctor? A scientist? A bong head? A cop? A guitar player? He says - you have a dog? Make a movie about your dog!
What locations can you get access to? A Nightclub? An Office? A Factory? Old folks home? Make a movie about that.
What props can you get hold of? A burger van? A Wheelbarrow? A stepladder?
He says to take that list of things you can get hold of and build your story around that.
He had a guitar case, a turtle and a small Texan town at his disposal when he was starting out, and, with that, he strung together the story of El Mariachi.
On the topic of shiny new things he states “You don’t want anything too fancy. Fancy equipment makes for lifeless, dull films, lacking in that reckless, adventurous spirit of the newbie moviemaker. ” He talks about equipment and he says shoot with what you have. He used a camera which to my eye now is big and bulky but to him, at that time it was fast and light. He says don’t spend your own money on kit, but find some monkey who owns one and borrow it or rent it for not a lot – again the message is shoot with what you can get your hands on. He goes further than that and says add life to your film by getting rid of the fancy stuff. Get rid of it and shoot fast and light. He goes further still and says DON’T OVER LIGHT and that’s a problem I’ve seen on low budget sets. Their lit within an inch of their life and they take so long setting it all up that they’ve barely any time left to shoot the movie once it’s done. I’m kinda kidding but at the same time – I’m not.
And by shooting low budget and in the 20 plus years since, Rodriguez has maintained creative control over just about all of his movies because he doesn’t go in too deep. He doesn’t overstretch and lose control.
This is a bit more of a filmmakery episode than I usually do, but I believe there are messages within this for all creatives and hope you’ve found it useful.
I want to end with that core message about uniqueness that Robert Rodriguez talked about earlier on. He also said “All those years I had been making movies because I loved movies, and that's what made all the difference. If you're doing it because you love it you can succeed because you'll work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you really love what you do. Because your work will speak itself.”
He says your work will speak for itself, and that’s a vital part of what filmmaking is. I’ve been sidetracked for a couple of years, quite happily to some extent, but I’ve been side-tracked away from creating my own work and it left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction in the end. Series one was loosely themed around moving on from burnout to badass or words to that effect, but this series is loosely themed around making sure that you follow your own path and dreams and vision and the secret of success in being a creative I have come to believe is maintaining, protecting and being able to deliver work which has your own uniqueness to it. As creatives, it’s our unique voices that will win us awards, not keeping up with the Jones's, or that shiny new bit of kit. It’s standing up and offering something new and unique. And saying. I made this.
Herman Melville said It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. I say, it is through originality, that you will truly find success and ultimately happiness.
CALL TO ACTION
As a call to action this week and if you want to follow Robert Rodriguez example then make that list of your accessible resources, write a brilliant film that exploits them, then plan to shoot and edit with what you’ve got. If you’re not a filmmaker, take from this what lessons you can and use it as inspiration to push you forward in the achievement of your own dreams and creative projects.
I’ll end with one final quote from Robert Rodriguez, he’s got plenty of them and they are all gold. He said
It's easier making a smaller film like El Mariachi. There are no budget worries because there is no budget. There is no crew problem because there is no crew. And if you screw up, no one is around to see you screw up -- so it's no longer a screw up.
…So don't give me any money, don't give me any people, but give freedom, and I'll give you a movie that looks gigantic. unquote
Thanks again for choosing to spend your valuable time here with me. Please - take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’, and join me next time on Film Pro Productivity.
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