Last year, I directed a short film entitled Boy on the Track, based on “In Progress,” a book by Aliya McReynolds who also co-directed alongside me. The novel is a coming-of-age story about Atticus, who struggles with his demons of depression.
A lot of coming-of-age stories deal with the dark subject of depression, but after reading Aliya’s book, it was apparent that this was a story void of cliches and genre-expectations. It changed the way I thought about depression.
I have many reasons why I took a full year to create this 5-minute short film. To summarize them into three points, these are it.
1). Doubt and perfectionism.
Guess what? Number 1 isn’t a positive thing. Don’t worry, the other points are positive. But they all happened. And to be 100% honest, it was completely necessary. It was my first time directing. I was petrified. I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. I even went through a season of questioning my qualifications for directing a film of this important nature…
What would the actors think of me? How are we going to shoot a VFX train sequence? What if this film ends up to be prime material for Hallmark?
Perfectionism and doubt aren’t necessarily good things, but good things can still come out of them. There comes a point when you use them as a crutch; a crutch because you are afraid what other people will think. You are afraid to put your art into the world. This happens because as artists, we put too much value on both our art and audiences.
Now don’t get me wrong—you should still give it 110%. You should try to be a perfectionist, and do your absolute best and learn in the process. But when you become a “perfectionist” out of fear…that is when it becomes toxic.
2). Doing the research and learning the process.
Taking more time on this film allowed me to experience the aspects of production that I had no experience with before: casting, location-scouting, making shot lists, organizing a crew, sound-mixing, visual effects, and financing. So much of the time was spent researching each of these specific areas of production I was unfamiliar with. It was all new terrain.
Filmmaking is the most collaborative art form. That means (as directors), you have to admit you don’t know everything and listen to what other people know and have experienced in different areas of production. That is something I definitely learned.
Other people have previous experiences and insights that lend themselves to thinking about things in new ways, and changing the way you view something. That perspective is vital to have everywhere in life, and especially in a creative, collaborative setting.
At the end of the day, as a director, it’s important to listen to all contributions and advice towards the art that is being created. However, you may still choose to not use a suggestion that is made. And that is okay. Just know that the art will either succeed or suffer from every decision, and it’s important to be okay with that, regardless of the outcome.
3). If you create anything in life, treat it like it’s the last thing you do.
Life is short.
I tend to have a controversial perspective on this; many creatives say that it is more important to create as much art as possible, so much so that you keep creating and you learn a great deal, just by repeating your process of creating again and again.
I have trouble believing this. I see how that may be beneficial to learning certain skills, and trades. But when it comes to creating art, it’s important to take time to create something that is powerful, and of meaning.
I view it like this: If you have something important to say, say it once really loudly. When artists try to pump out as much art as possible, although they may be saying something important, they are saying it over and over again, very quietly. And it’s hard to get people to listen when that is the case.
However…when you create something of power and meaning, when you dedicate a piece of your existence to a certain story and message that you believe in, you have the opportunity to say something loudly. And the audience may choose to listen, if even for a moment.