Bumps in the Road

Indie/Post-Film School Industry Reflections part 3

The year after I graduated from film school I applied to the Canadian Film Centre, a post-post secondary institution that is often considered to be the next step for a young filmmaker in terms of training and prestige. Often described as the equivalent to the AFI for young American Filmmakers. I applied somewhat naively, as I didn’t really have a strong concept in place for a feature (which you are required to include in your application) and just barely a year in the film industry, period. I was short listed and interviewed and in the end, they decided that I was a little too green yet for their program. They wished me well and encouraged me to re-apply the following year and although I was disappointed, I really felt that it was just a matter of time. I focused the next year on building my portfolio, getting my films shown and ‘schmoozing’ with the rest of the industry outside of my schoolmates. By the time the next year’s application rolled around, I had 3 new short films under my belt, a slew of festivals to my name and I was going to writing classes to try to develop my feature treatment enough for the application. I was short listed again, and interviewed but during the interview, I could feel something was wrong. They kept asking me the same question, in different wordings, and I kept answering thinking to myself, “haven’t I already said this?” I left the interview with a pit in my stomach. I could feel that I had bombed it, but I didn’t understand how so much could go wrong in just a year.

To answer your burning question: No, I did not get accepted. They did, however, call me to tell me the result and explain a little of what had happened. They felt that my application the previous year had been much stronger and brought me in for the interview pretty much based on that, rather than my application in the current year. They felt that I had somehow lost my focus and direction and they weren’t wrong. In the process of schmoozing and trying to ‘play the game’ of volunteering on sets to meet people and make connections as well as focusing too much on quantity vs. quality in my films, I had self sabotaged. In the process of donating my time to people who didn’t really appreciate it, I had lost a measure of confidence in my ideas. In focusing on winning prizes and pleasing my friends and fellow filmmakers, I had given up my authority as a director and been consumed by the group. It’s not a good thing when you are applying to directing school and they don’t see your voice coming through in your work.

Unfortunately, after this devastating blow to my ego (coming on the heels of the blows to my self-esteem and confidence throughout the year) I pretty much broke. I stopped believing I could really do this. When I made films it was more about pleasing everyone I worked with than expressing something I wanted to say…because I couldn’t imagine that anyone would care about what I had to say. I hid behind the ‘collaborative process’ so that I didn’t have to go out on a limb and convince anyone that my ideas were good. Basically I just stopped being an artist.

Now, over time I have been able to look back at what happened and see all this, but at the time I didn’t understand. I got angry, berated myself for not being better, blamed myself for giving my control away, even tried to blame others. I kept going like I had been and I couldn’t understand why I kept getting unhappier and unhappier. I did more competitions, we didn’t win anything. I applied for Kickstart and failed. I pitched for Crazy 8’s and failed. It felt like my luck in those first 8 months after I had graduated had run dry.

4 years later I can finally see that my success right after film school was about confidence mixed with a little naivety combined with timing. I was so new to the industry that I hadn’t been jaded yet by all the ups and downs. I was so excited that I forgot to be self-conscious and self-deprecating. I wasn’t exactly confident, but I was eager and willing to prove myself. What happened after that is probably what happens to a lot of new filmmakers. The realization that making films isn’t the same in life as in school. To get people to come out and help you, you have to go out and help them…and this isn’t always a positive experience. To get the money together you might have to work a few jobs and have no life and eat canned soup everyday for months. In short, it’s hella harder!

I learned this in a difficult way, which I would not wish on anyone. I took all of it in and believed it was my fault that things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. I didn’t consider the idea that my ideas were good and that other people were getting funded, not necessarily because they had a better idea than me, but because they were better connected, or they had paid their dues somehow.

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