Is Consistent Positivity Damaging Filmmakers?

I started thinking about this yesterday when writing about Deborah Haywood (if you haven’t seen it yet, check out my first Female Filmmaker Friday). In all of her interviews she is totally candid about how she felt at any given moment, and what she usually felt was fear. She was frozen with terror when directing her first short film, and that feeling didn’t go away. Her honesty is so refreshing, because she is constantly upbeat about every single thing.

Have you ever been chatting to other filmmakers, and they’ve asked you about your projects? You suddenly feel like you have to sell it to them, so you talk about all of the best parts of it. You don’t talk about how you didn’t sleep for three nights in a row (which is something Deborah talked about) or how, frankly, you can’t stand the director but you had to stick with it. It’s just not done. Filmmaking is a long, hard slog so we are always told to ‘stick with it!’ and ‘don’t give up!’ by well-meaning but usually clueless individuals, and this lends itself to feeling like you have to be permanently optimstic.

‘Yeah yeah we’re super close to getting a commission…’

‘So-and-so loves the project, he’s probably going to finance it’

‘We’ve had so much interest for the lead role, so-and-so is dying to do it!’

I could go on. There are always white lies when it comes to talking about projects, and that’s because it’s boring, hard work that takes a really long time. Generally people don’t say ‘yeah well we’ve had loads of meetings over the last six months’. You talk about the possibilities! The endless, incredible possibilities! And the funny thing is, because film is such a small world, you can get away with saying that an A-lister is reading your script because there’s a chance that you know someone who knows someone who knows that person. You can also get away with saying it because we all know that there’s a minuscule chance of that person taking the role, but isn’t it great that they were interested?!

There is a desperation to indie filmmakers (which I’m not saying is a bad thing) that is often masked by optimism or positivity. It was only when reading one interview with Deborah Haywood that I realised how badly that might be affecting us. If we all feel like we can only talk about how well things are going, then we might find it that much harder to admit that, actually, things aren’t going anywhere and we need some help.

‘But Charlotte’, I hear you say, ‘I talk about filmmaking struggles all the time with my friends’. Yes of course, but only with your friends. You don’t talk candidly to other filmmakers until you know them fairly well. And sometimes, even if you do talk candidly to friends, the only response you get is ‘oh well, that’s typical isn’t it’. When you’re all used to struggling, it takes away the meaning of it, it becomes an everyday part of life. I think there’s a difference between having to work hard and having to struggle. When everyone seems to be struggling, it makes you feel like you just have to live with it (and like you’ll probably always have to live with it) so you try to push away the bad feelings – even if they’re damaging you – because it’s ‘just part of life!’

Never-ending positivity can take its toll. Feeling like you always have to be positive, or always should be positive stops you from admitting that you’re not doing that great, that you are struggling. And if you can’t admit that, then you can’t get help from anyone. Whatever those bad feelings are, they’re not unfounded and they shouldn’t always be dismissed because ‘that’s our industry, you’ll get there in the end!’ (Can you tell I’ve had a lot of these ‘motivational’ talks?)

Since realising this (yes, it’s been a grand total of 22 hours at this point) I’ve decided to stop being so positive about my work and just be honest. That doesn’t mean I have to talk about how annoying I’m finding so-and-so, or how much of a pain it’s been to try and get funding from blah blah blah, it just means that I’m going to stop sugarcoating it all.

There are tonnes of positives in my work. I get to work from home (in my pyjamas, eating mangoes), I get to make my own schedule, I get to pick the majority of people I work with, I get to do creative things and admin things (I love both equally), I could go on and on and on. But there are also tonnes of negatives, like dealing with people I don’t like, continual nagging doubt, the lack of a consistent payday. So I can talk about all the positives, without having to pick out the best bits and then exaggerate them a little bit.

But that’s just me, so I’m interested – does anyone else feel like this?



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