“I’m good at life.”
“I’m a good pastor.”
“I’m a good cashier.”
“I’m a good musician.”
“I’m a funny comedian.”
“I’m a really good filmmaker.”
All of these sentences would be atrociously annoying heard spoken, let alone, internally lived out. Polluting the world with the “good” stench that follows pride at its every move. It’s a smell that nauseously fills the air of filmmaking. It’s a swirling epidemic that has swept humanity since the devil slithered through Eden and right up to Adam and Eve with a menu of godly goodness. Even if you don’t believe in the Bible, I’m sure you still know the pride of which I speak — the rampant and treacherous valley many confuse for fickle praise. The valley many set up camp in, only to be swindled into buying a mirror that turns a blind eye to the truth. In fact, pride was the reason why Satan became Satan. From heaven to hell it took him.
“Pride, envy, avarice – these are the sparks that set aflame the hearts of men.” – Dante Alighieri
Pride is a disease we all suffer from; it eats away like a cancer. It usually comes in a deathly trio, accompanied by two other warped siblings — jealousy and insecurity, which usually results in massive amounts of animosity. Pride begets jealousy and jealousy begets insecurity and those three beget nothing good. It’s the serial killer of filmmaking. I’ve seen it destroy and devour character, leaving nothing but burped-up bones and a jaded, spiteful skeleton of a person. It’s a hungry monster with reeking breath and all, feasting on your goodness. Don’t dare feed it.
These are words that I write myself daily, and even at times, preach.
In my 24 years of life on this earth, I’ve seen a lot of young, aspiring filmmakers wear the “good” stench like a cologne. Think of an overly potent musk from K-Mart that could wake the dead. Like a sweaty middle schooler, post-gym class, now doused in Axe body spray, thinking it’ll help him in life or more importantly, with the chicks/babes/hotties. And for the record, any Axe body spray is too much; ask any female. I know so many aspiring filmmakers who truly believe they are good, somewhat untouchable filmmakers. Dangerously good, in fact, but great is probably how they’d put it. I’m sure you know the smell.
In the filmmaking arena, the level of ones goodness can so often, and easily override ones reality.
“Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from thinking they are writers.” – Wallace Stegner
The desire to be a good filmmaker is a great quality and it’s one you should strive for. I strive and aspire as hard as I can. I mean, no one wants to suck. But, if you think that you’re “good” it’s hard to understand or even see the need for improvement. WHICH IS WHAT WE ALL NEED! Now, I’m not saying that any aspiring filmmaker should constantly tell themselves that they suck at life, without hope. What I am saying is that it’s ok to suck and it’s healthy to know that truth at heart. It’s good to get better, though. In fact, that’s the goal, the only one — to get better. If you’ve arrived, there’s no need to keep venturing. Don’t arrive! Just keep swimming… just keep swimming.
Plus, if you rely on your filmmaking goodness, it’ll be a really depressing journey. And this career path already has its share of ruthlessly depressing spells along the way. Some say it’s a long road, which it looks to be that way. And while some people are cruising along that pavement miles ahead, I’m just trying to get the training wheels on my bike from goodwill to work, readying for another go at the bumps in the road, scraped knees and all.
Even brilliant filmmakers have made some pretty bad movies, and that’s good. Look at the numerous films from Hitchcock during the 1920s-1940s. He wasn’t very good… yet! Obviously, he became great. REAR WINDOW and ROPE are some of my favorite movies of all-time. The last ten minutes of Jimmy Stewart going to monologue war is one of my favorite scenes ever.
Even the Coen brother’s have made a few films that made me question if they really did make NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, which is in my top 5 of all-time. Every filmmaker has sucked at one point. Everyone’s voice cracked a few times before it settled in. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s the hope we should hold onto. I mean let’s be honest, we all pooped our pants at one point. Pride smells like poop is what I’ve been trying to say, I think. Sorry it took so long.
M. Night Shyamalan has one of his childhood VHS short films as an extra on the DVD of SIGNS or THE VILLAGE — it’s him dressed like Indiana Jones, running from a German Shephard. It’s hilariously bad but also an encouraging little nugget for us hopeful aspirers. Now fast forward from those VHS days to his career now. In my opinion, SIGNS and THE VILLAGE are really underrated masterpieces. Moral of the story — he got better.
BUT, personally I think he’s gotten horribly worse during the past few years. Maybe he only had a few good movies in him? I hope not. Nonetheless, watch this interview with him talking about some “bad reviews” on his movie THE LAST AIRBENDER. Now, I don’t know his heart but after watching for myself and reading some of the youtube comments, it’s pretty apparent that a lot of people think that his begotten “good” smell is beginning to stink.
“Writing is like a sport, it’s like athletics. If you don’t practice, you don’t get any better.” – Rick Riordan
Growing up playing basketball in almost every league possible, I met many “good” ballers who would surely sing a ballad of their skills. Yet, those were usually the cats who couldn’t sing or ball at all. Most of them would constantly turn the blind eye to their need of improvement. Rather than letting their game speak, which they didn’t have, they would instead conjure up their vocal assertion first and foremost, as a shield of insecurity. Pride does that, it’s a liar.
Everyone always thinks they’re better than they actually are.
One thing I’ve learned about basketball, if you’re the biggest fish in the pond, you should find a bigger pond. Or visit the great lakes or the beach or the Amazon river. There’s bigger and better monsters out there. To further iterate, I give you P.S. Hoffman as one of his many honest characters. Seriously, these guys exist, both on the court and in film festivals.
Scott Derrickson, writer/director of SINISTER, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE said, “Cinema is so much bigger than you.” He also said, “The lie of plastic surgery is not that it makes people younger, but that it makes them feel further from death.”
I’d say the same about pride.
The best example of someone radically humble, while at the same time being radically brilliant is none other than my favorite DP, Roger Deakins. If you watch him in any interview, he’s almost child-like in his love and awe for filmmaking. He says he gets nervous each day he goes to work, like when he first started. The way he talks about directors, the way he talks about camera equipment and the film vs. digital war — he speaks from such a humble place. And if you know his work, you know that he’s one of the greatest cinematographers of all-time. He even has a forum where he personally responds to questions from all over. Take a minute and just read his answers, he’s a kind gem. http://rogerdeakins.com/forum2/
“My good friend, Eliot always asks me, “Have you surrendered yourself to the great abyss? Have you kind of come to the end of yourself. It’s not about you, it’s not about all your talents.” All those things form this pseudo-reality where you find all your validation in what you do. If you surrender yourself to it, with those things not being as important then you find creativity again. You find out the reason why you create. Creativity is for others. It’s not for yourself. It’s to serve others. ” – Filmmaker Salomon Ligthelm from the video ‘The Great Abyss’ shot and directed by Christian Schultz. https://vimeo.com/90667610
Being good at anything in life doesn’t require your own verbal will power. And even if you are good, that doesn’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free card to hide your pride behind the 1-2 punch of the humble-pride combo. We’ve all been secretly prideful about how humble we are. This is something we’ll always battle, and we must not forget to do the actual fighting. Wake up, splash your face with a cold cup of humble reality, and don’t fear the mirror.
Or you can go on spraying yourself with an ungodly amount of Axe and keep lying to yourself that it smells like sexual tension. When in reality, it reeks of pride and insecurity with a hint of desperation. The calvary isn’t coming. And by ‘calvary’ I mean the female race. (If the ladies are actually breaking down doors to get to you, they’re probably not women. They’re probably demons in charge of stroking your pride. Don’t let them in. And don’t wear Axe.)
“With pride, there are many curses. With Humility, come many blessings.” – Ezra Taft Benson.
Side note: If you ever get bored, just go look at my old youtube videos from start to finish, 2008 to now — you’ll cringe, laugh a lot, and cringe some more. But through the painful watch, you’ll hopefully also see improvement, little-by-little. With MASSIVE AMOUNTS of room for more improvement, as always. The day I stop learning how to improve is the day I stop breathing. When I meet a new blank page, the only game plan I have is to suck less with each word.
As I’ve gotten older, the more I’ve realized how insignificant I am, how imperfect I am, and how much I have to learn about how much I have to learn. With every script I attempt to write and every short film I fearfully try to concoct, the more I appreciate that very fact — I am not good. That fact sinks in like a healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun or like hand sanitizer to a fresh, unknown cut, but either way it’s a fact. I’m not good and that’s not bad. I’d rather know that I wasn’t good than go around thinking I was. The danger of thinking that I’m “good” holds the equally volatile danger of not thinking that I’m not good. It’s a humbling thought to ponder the fact that I’m not “good.” But it’s a fact that frees me to be better at being bad.
I’m not good and that’s not bad. Here’s to better…