How to stay creatively motivated as a filmmakerNov 01, 2022
How to stay creatively motivated as a filmmaker
This questions is a big one! How to stay creatively motivated as a filmmaker? You’re no doubt hoping for a magic answer, a simple technique that would pull you through and keep you feeling on top of it all. Because when filmmaking gets tough, when you feel like it’s a grind and you’re getting nowhere. It’s had to stay motivated and you need a way to get through.
There are definitely times in filmmaking, or any pursuit really, where it feels impossible, thankless or just crushing.
There have have been occasions where I find myself daydreaming about abandoning the camera, ripping up my storyboards and going to work on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
And why don’t I? Well, I also have this unrelenting urge to produce movies that make a difference. So deep down, I know I will stick with the filmmaking thing. But that passion alone is not enough to keep me motivated.
So what is motivation. Is it something you ‘have’ or is it something you ‘find’? If you think motivation is something you should just have then you might find the info I’m going to share with you helpful because some small shifts in your expectations could really make a difference when you're trying to stay on track.
In filmmaking there are certainly a a bunch of roadblocks that can regularly bring me down – securing the right funder, having time to get everything done, battling the challenging distribution process … On and on it goes.
It can be incredibly frustrating and the amount of work involved in filmmaking that’s not about creative outputs can be tedious. And that’s where motivation can wane (hence the daydreaming).
Which is why I wanted to use part 4 of the How to develop your documentary or narrative film series to dissect how filmmakers find the motivation to do what they do when the going gets tough.
Because no doubt you’ll get struck down by a lack of motivation at some point in your filmmaking career. Maybe your camera guy bails on you. Or a key talent pulls out at the last minute. Perhaps you just received more feedback than expected on your latest script.
While it can be crushing, I promise, it’s just part of journey – and you will get through it. You just need to have a few techniques to turn to when things are getting you down.
If you’re suddenly thinking to yourself, Part 4! What? I’ve wandered in halfway through a series and I have no clue what’s going on’ – don’t fret. You can catch up on parts 1,2 and 3 via the below links.
Up to date? Terrific. Here’s what to do when your motivation levels drop.
Focus on your why
Filmmaking comes with a roller-coaster of highs and lows – so reminding yourself why you’re making a film at all can really push you forward and keep your spirits elevated.
Start by asking yourself a few key questions like;
• What impact will my film have?
* Who will see this film and how might it influence their thoughts, feelings or behaviours?
• Why is my story important – to me, my audience and wider world more broadly?
I find audience to be a really motivating factor when my inspiration or energy is dwindling. As filmmakers, we’re creating content specifically for an audience. Whether it’s to entertain, to fundraise, to change policy or to re-write history is secondary. The point is that you are using your film to enrich your audience’s lives in someway, no matter how big or small.
And that can really keep you going.
Don’t dedicate all your time and resources into your passion project
One of my favourite industry quotes is from Walt Disney – you might have heard of him?
A prolific filmmaker and animator, Disney once said:
“We don't make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”
The truth is, sometimes the project you’re truly passionate about won’t be financially lucrative. But that does’t mean you have to abandon it entirely – it just means you might need to work concurrently on a few other projects that will sustain your career and keep you financially ahead.
The tormented, starving artist/filmmaker might sound romantic in theory but it’s a whole different ballgame in practice. And if you give up everything to work on your passion project, you’ll just end up resenting it.
So find ways to work in filmmaking that are both financially and creatively rewarding – and chip away at your passion project on the side.
And on that note …
Spend time on other projects that creatively satisfy yo
Sometimes the workload in front of you can feel very overwhelming. Storyboarding, producing, shooting, editing and distributing a motion picture is no small feat! And it’s easy to get weighed down by the enormity of it all.
That’s why I find shifting my focus to smaller projects that I can knock over in a few days to be really stimulating and help my creative juices flow.
Don’t abandon your film for another project that will take you 3+ years to create. Instead, try shooting a short film in a day, editing it together throughout the rest of the week and publishing it online. It might work as a small companion or teaser piece to the feature you’re woking on – or maybe it’s totally unrelated. That’s ok too.
The point is that you’re creating and finishing something. That sense of accomplishment can really build your momentum and return your focus to the bigger goal.
I also find having more than one project on the go to be be really motivating as well.
We usually have several films happening at once at Moonshine Agency– one in release, one in production and one in pre-production (with a handful of smaller films moving through the studio at the same time).
I find this to be way more sustainable and creatively rewarding –especially if one project gets stalled unexpectedly. I’m never left straying idly into the abyss wondering what to turn my attention to!
Celebrate the wins along the way
Acknowledging and celebrating small successes is really important. A film is a long commitment and there are many, many steps along the way.
Motivation often stems from momentum and once you see yourself succeed – maybe you secured a new project funder or you had a really productive day out on location – your motivation levels will build. Success breeds fulfilment, determination and yes, motivation.
So every time you reach a milestone or achieve a goal, pat yourself on the back. You did it!
Spend time with other filmmakers or like-minded people that want you to succeed
Slogging it out with only your internal thoughts as company can be agonising, particularly when the chips are down. So I always recommend surrounding yourself with fellow filmmakers or likeminded individuals who will want to see you success – ie they won’t let you give up. This might be your closest friends, colleagues, family members, Or maybe it’s a network of filmmakers you studied with. It could even be a Facebook or LinkedIn group you’re regularly activity in.
No matter who your cheer squad is, just be sure they have your back and will encourage you to keep going when all you want to do is quit.
Finally, remind yourself why you love making films!
It can be all to easy to get bogged down in paperwork, admin tasks or other tedious jobs that pull you away from the bigger picture (pun intended!). And look, maybe the logistical side of filmmaking is your jam – more power to you. But most of us choose this career because, put simply, we love movies. We love coming up with story ideas and tuning them in to larger than life feature films that make a positive difference in the world.
And there’s nothing more motivating than that.
I hope these tips have kicked your motivation levels up a few notches. If you have any advice of your own you’d like to share – or you’d just like to chat movie making – drop me a line via [email protected]
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