Filmmaking Lesson #2: Failure is Good.

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Failure is Good. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

I was rummaging through my attic searching for Christmas decorations last month when I once again stumbled upon My Box of Failures. I call it My Box of Failures because that it precisely what it is; a box filled with items from my dozens and dozens of failures; business cards of companies I started that failed to take off, film ventures that were once promising but never came to be, log lines from scripts that never saw the light of day, etc. Every year I stumble into this box and I think to myself, ‘You should throw this thing away. It’s depressing.’

But I don’t.

I can’t. In fact, it is crucially necessary that I not only remind myself of my many many failures every so often, but I truly dwell on them. Failures are like scars; a permanent reminder of something that happened, a story in and of itself. They are painful, embarrassing, and unattractive. For some, failure might be the end, but to an artist, failure is part of the story. Failure is what drives an artist to try again, to get up, to do better, to achieve more, to go bigger, farther, to try something new. Most importantly, failure is immeasurably valuable; it is a lesson learned, a mistake that we will not make again, a bit of wisdom we did not have before.

All too often I see people very much afraid to start, unable to write the first line, or step out and get started because they are afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of failure. Let it come. Success will make you feel good but failure is the better teacher and motivator.

A few years back I started Jiu Jitsu. For the first three months it was truly depressing, tapping-out multiple times every match, always feeling out of shape, losing again and again. Even wrapping the white belt around myself was embarrassing, almost like broadcasting to the world, ‘Yup. I’m new here. I don’t belong. I’m not any good. Please don’t look at me.’  Then one day, I tapped a guy out. All of the failing for months vanished from my mind as I realized, ‘I’m getting better. I earned this. I’m not what I once was.’

Now, years have gone by, and I see the new people come, wrapping their white belts around themselves; day one. Many of these guys will make it for a month or two and then I will never see them again. They tap out early and go home. They can’t deal with the failure, the inadequacy, losing. But if they do not get up and try again, if they do not come back, if they avoid tapping-out by staying home, they will never experience victory. The guys (gals too) that excel in jiu jitsu are the guys who realize that losing is is as crucial to victory as victory itself.

So, all of you in the filmmaking world, I want to encourage you to get out there and fail.

Then get up, and do it again.

chasonsignoff

Filmmaking Lesson #1: It’s Not About Equipment.

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Filmmaking is not about the equipment. I know that may seem crazy, after all, you kinda need a camera to make a film. Yes, you will need some sort of camera, but these days, in the all new accessible world of filmmaking there is entirely too much buzz & focus over the camera, lenses, and sound equipment. So for a moment, lets forget about RED, GoPro, Zeiss, Movi, and the rest of them and talk about what truly matters; story.

Check out the libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, Hulu, etc. and notice how many truly pathetic miserable movies are out there; hundreds of thousands! Why so many horrible movies? Because getting good equipment is easy and telling a truly good story on film is not.

Years ago, I took a freelance film gig involving filming a musical extravaganza and at the time I had a basic DSLR, viewfinder, and nothing else. Not even a tripod.  Guerrilla filmmaking at it’s best right?

I’ll never forget, this guy appeared out of nowhere, like Dumbledore apparating next to me (if Dumbledore exchanged his wand for a super-awesome camera). I looked up from my camera and there he was, all smug and stuff. (OK, actually he was very nice and not smug at all, but in my mind he was totally smug). He had a large Manfrotto tripod with an expensive Benro video head mounted to a slider which I barely noticed because I was too busy staring at his camera; a Canon EOS C100 with attached EF 100 – 400 f4.5-5.6L telephoto lens. My jaw dropped. Or, at least I think it did, I don’t really remember. If it didn’t drop, it should have.

Suddenly I felt junior varsity. This huge crushing wave of inadequacy crashed over me and I felt small, tiny, embarrassed that I would be here filming this musical extravaganza with my puny toy camera. I felt like one of those people who shows up at the gym on January 1st as part of some new years resolution, with all eyes staring at me, the guy who is clearly out of place.

I believe the guy asked me some nice questions about how I was doing and the weather but I didn’t really pay attention because I was too busy trying to shrink away into a dark corner somewhere. I finished filming that day but I can say my confidence in myself as a filmmaker took a severe hit. I was pretty depressed getting home and I kept wondering to myself, ‘How am I ever going to get enough money to buy all the right (expensive) equipment it takes to be a filmmaker?’ Maybe you have had this same question. Maybe you price things on Amazon and B+H every week like I did. Maybe you have a wish list hanging on your wall like I did. We do these things because It is easier to focus on all the things we do not have rather than get to work making films with what we do have.

Fast forward a few months. It just so happened I got a call from the people who had hired the professional guy-with-super-awesome-camera requesting that I edit his footage of the event along with mine. I remember sitting down, loading his video files onto the computer and my first glance through all his shots. I remember thinking, ‘These shots don’t appear superior to my shots.’ In fact, I don’t think the average person would be able to tell the difference between the two. “How could this be possible?” I thought. He had the camera. He had the equipment. He had everything; and yet, side by side, my footage from my tiny insignificant toy camera was every bit as good. In fact, speaking with some bias, I thought some of my stuff was even better.

This is how I learned this lesson in filmmaking; filmmaking is not about the equipment.  Film is about telling a story with truth, beauty, and conflict.

Sure equipment helps, but there will always be bigger and better cameras. Someone will always have a better rig or setup, better locations, better actors, better everything. So don’t focus on what you don’t have, get out there with what you do have and tell a beautiful story. The truth is, whoever tells the story the best, wins.

chasonsignoff