life lessons in filmmaking

I’ve jotted these words down with hopes of encouraging aspiring filmmakers. I’m no seasoned veteran in the industry but I have gotten my toes wet. This subject is vast and my words can only touch the surface. As random and jumbled as these words may be, I hope a streak of light shines from them. Thank you for reading.

ACT I – INSECURITY FEST.

Hi. My name is Justin Robinson and ever since 2006, I have passionately pursued the arena of filmmaking. In my little experience, I’ve been able to cross paths with many talented filmmakers of all shapes and sizes. One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of them is a thing called insecurity. Insecurity is a lifelong, terminal disease that we all suffer from, some don’t fight it as well as others. Insecurity breeds jealousy and jealously breeds a person no one wants to be around. Bitterness is jealously on steroids or crack and that’s a combo no one wants to order. Let me break it down for you. *begins break dancing* After the initial assault of this combo, it leaves one battered and jaded. I understand why, that’s why I’m writing this.

Let me tell you a secret. A girl who constantly swims in a pool of insecurity is a whirlpool of pain for everyone.  A girl who is secure with herself is a very attractive thing. A healthy level of confidence in one’s self is a beautiful thing, especially in women. Granted, the difference between confidence and pride are as drastic as Twilight and a good movie. This topic of insecure filmmakers can be translated into artists in general but stay with me. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, like me, there is one thing you should know: know that you’re not good. If you think the opposite, you’ve already lost. I’m not saying that you should constantly doubt your work but what I’m saying is don’t treat your project(s) like it was your newborn baby. Everyone thinks their baby is the most beautiful thing ever. If people are honest, some babies look like aliens from a bad syfy movie.

ACT II – THE HEART.

The hidden philosophy of insecurity is hating any movie that doesn’t have your name on it. I’ve seen some guys verbally trash a video and then months later, they’re stealing the very techniques from the video they trashed. Plagiarism is rampant with insecure filmmakers. The posture of a jealous filmmaker folds his arms, rather than opening them to lend a hand. “Credits are everything, praise is everything, I am everything.” This is the “me-monster” syndrome. I’m sure you’ve seen or smelled this syndrome at some point. See Brian Regan’s genius bit about me-monsters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiUsfEkVRDY

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” – C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, p. 163). Filmmakers are so quick to find the fault in others (myself included) instead of finding the good, like our mothers taught us. Obviously, filmmaking isn’t a place for people who don’t like getting their feelings hurt, those need to be left at the door. Grow some thick skin and wear a cup. There’s not a problem with criticism on someone’s project but there is a problem if the heart’s intent is to destroy. It’s a lot easier to hate than help.  Be harder on yourself than other people. Don’t just take shots at people just because you have ammo. Side note; credibility is everything. If you try and give non-constructive criticism on anything, make sure your resume’ isn’t naked. Before telling someone their movie sucks, make sure your work doesn’t amount to a pile of cinematic dog crap.

If you’ve ever watched a leech, you know that they suck.. I don’t know anyone who claims a leech as their favorite animal but we can all take life lessons from leeches. Don’t try to suck the life out of people, straws are for milkshakes, not for careers. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you.” – Proverbs 4:23-24.

ACT II.V – YOUR TIME WILL COME.

If you make quality films, people will attack you. They will talk about you. They will bash you. They will try to destroy your character. There will be ‘friends’ of yours who hear this rhetoric and do nothing to protect you. To be frank, not a lot of guys have any balls. Having said that, a loyal friend goes a long way. You need a person that you can stand next to and honestly say, “_______ will not screw me over”.  If your face is on Youtube or in a theater, you’re now on the pedestal of society. That’s just how it is. Even if it was a crappy video, people will subconsciously put you on the list of famous people. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with people giving someone praise, it’s up to you in how you handle that praise. Uncle Ben couldn’t have said it better, “With great power comes great responsibility”. The best thing you can is to receive it and deflect it. Don’t search for it, don’t let it be your appetite. God created the world, just because you made a movie doesn’t mean you’re a hotshot. Some may hate you for your ‘fame’ and some may even hate you because you get more Facebook likes than they do. That’s how insecure our society is. Some dudes are so insecure that they actually delete people they follow on Twitter so the ratio of following to followers is impressive. Most filmmakers have more jealously than they do originality. Credits, oh, credits. I’ve seen people get red in the face from just seeing my name in the credits… of my own movie. I’m sure some guy got mad at Picasso for putting his name on his paintings. Don’t be that guy. Many people won’t remember credits anyway but I do believe that people will remember a meaningful conversation they had in the hallway of school or over a cup of joe. Our culture breeds consumers, go against the grain and produce something. I don’t mean in the film sense, contribute a helping hand, share some love and service to others. People should be priority, not ourselves.

When the slander happens, you should lovingly confront the person and share an honest conversation together as best you can but sometimes they can be so high on jealously that it’s impossible to talk. Love them as best you can but don’t let them walk over you, especially if the issue at hand is their jealously. Jealousy/bitterness runs rampant like a tornado leaving destruction behind. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” – Matthew 18:15. Not all endings are happy but thankfully, some friendships can be restored. That should be the goal but there should be a line. If someone hurts my family, I could forgive them but I will never let them near my family again. I believe that a line that needs to be drawn because people can be very smart to obtain their selfish goals. Too many friendships are damaged or even broken because of someone’s bitter heart. “Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it does on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.” – C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, p. 164). You can’t prevent the actions of other people. Just keep yours in check. Treat everyone the same.

ACT III – LEGACY.

Fast forward to the end of your life. What do you want to be known for? What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered? This summer, I had the opportunity to work on a shoot in Orlando, FL for Steven Lester (video producer at Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC). We had a team of 9 cinematographers, all top notch guys to work with. One of them was a gaffer/lighting technician/cinematographer who graduated from Full Sail University. This guy knows his stuff! I have a deep hunger for learning anything in the film world so I just asked if I could shadow him. One thing that set apart him from many was not only his knowledge but it was his character. I’m not a gaffer by any means and he’s years ahead of me in all technical realms but he didn’t treat me like it, that’s the catch. He graciously taught me and let me tag along like a young kid with his father at work. He shared his knowledge without restraint and he wasn’t the mom who won’t share the family recipe. He easily could’ve treated me like a typical PA-type role, but he didn’t. That’s just a small glimpse into his character and apart from his tight resume, that’s what I’ll remember about him. That’s how I want to be remembered. How will you be remembered?

5 thoughts on “life lessons in filmmaking

  1. Great insight Justin. Just thought about the following lyrics from Lecrae’s “No Regrets” after reading this.

    “You not a leader cause they follow you on twitter
    And you not a man based up on your age and your gender
    If you die tonight you’ll probably die a boy
    Chasing toys objectifying these women thinkin they gon’ bring you joy
    Don’t you want more than last night’s braggin rights
    What’s yo life?” — GRAVITY –

  2. Justin, quality post. These are all things that I need to remind myself of daily, especially when browsing the interwebs. It’s easy to grow jealous or even spiteful over other people’s triumphs, rather than exhorting and edifying them, which is what we should be doing. Always. I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” – Prov. 14:30

    Preach it, brother!

  3. This is so good, Justin! Very well said. You had so many great one liners in there but I think my favorite was, “Don’t try to suck the life out of people, straws are for milkshakes, not for careers.” HAHA! Cracked me up. Mostly because it’s true. Thank you for being honest and sharing!

  4. So true. Most people just measure their success in life by the amount of followers and retweets on twitter, likes and friends on Facebook, and amount of views and subscribers on YouTube.

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