Advice For The Young Storyteller

Growing up, both of my parents were artists by trade.  My Father a graphic artist with a great deal of knowledge about printing, and my Mother an interior designer.  To pay the bills, both of them sacrificed their artistic passions to give me the best life they could.  Instead of creating his own artwork, my father sold printing for awhile, he also drove a truck, cleaned offices for extra money, whatever he needed to do until he finally landed in a position that supported his natural talent, the management of print and design in a marketing position.

I remember my mother having a few private clients when I was younger and her own interior design business.  I was fascinated by her detailed sketches and the floor plans she’s create of people’s homes.  From them I learned intricate details about special relationships, depth, and dimensions (I drew constantly when I was younger).  The sketches of whatever home she would be working on would be sprawled out on a massive drafting table we had in a tiny room that served as her “workshop.”  A skylight they put in above poured natural sunlight down into the room, it usually fell right onto her drawings.  Most artists need good light, and much like her I need to be near windows when I work.

They knew from a very early age that I loved stories – specifically movies.  Apparently, at around three or four years old I would watch the closing credits of my favorites all the way until the very end – memorizing the names and positions of the people that worked on them.

Clearly I had a passion for it, and they did their best to encourage it, but when it came time for me to pick a college and a career, they, like many other parents, had their reservations about me picking a career in an artistic field.  I decided before my Senior Year in High School that I was going to make a feature film, and I did it…after that there was no looking back for me, and like most “kids,” I didn’t think about where money was going to come from someday.

Many artists don’t…at least not at first.

But I’m a big believer that when you’re true to yourself and doing what you love, that money will come.  At least enough to keep you going…

So, when it comes to the advice I always give to young storytellers, whether they are passionate about writing, acting, or any of the technical aspects of filmmaking here’s a couple of “beliefs,” I have formed.  They’re the things that have brought me whatever success I’ve had, have earned me the respect of others, have kept me creatively fulfilled and passionate about the work I do, and most importantly — have kept me working.

When it Comes to Creativity…There Are No Rules:                 We tend to structure kids’ lives so much, especially in their teenage years.  We tell them where to go and what to do next so much that I see a lot of kids waiting for instructions at every turn.  When they get to their first internship most of them lack what every employer is looking for from someone young…initiative.  It’s not their fault, we told them what to do every day for years…it’s conditioning.

What I’ve learned about writing and production work in the 10+ years of doing it is One…It’s subjective, Two…it can’t be learned in a book, you learn best by doing it.

This could be scary for some kids, because this means there are no “right answers.”  If you need this sort of assurance and comfort in your work, then I’d say you should stop the path you’re on now and pick another “more stable” career.

If this idea is freeing to you, then keep reading.  While you’re young, you should do whatever to express yourself creatively – uniquely — and tell stories in a way that inspires you first and foremost.  The best way to hone your talent is to create stories that you would want to read or watch, and give them more devotion and attention then you’ve ever given anything.

Later on in life, when this hobby or passion hopefully becomes a career, one where other people pay you for your ideas and the time it takes to grow them – you’ll draw on this to find energy and inspiration when you need it the most…when you’re up against a deadline.

Build a Portfolio NOW:                  In some professions, your college degree itself and a few good recommendations from Professors may be enough to secure an entry-level job.  In a creative field though, the only way you’re going to find good work right away is either if you know someone that can create a connection for you or if you have solid samples that you can show.

Usually, it takes BOTH.

So, if you know people that can get you in, that’s great, but without having done work on your own you won’t stay at that job very long.  Nor will you have any confidence in your abilities or be able to bring to that position what they’re looking for most…fresh and innovative ideas.

The first thing I want to know when I meet someone young that’s trying to break in is, “what have you done….show me,” then, “tell me how you did it and most importantly…why?”  The more you have, the better.  It shows someone like me that you’re always thinking of the next thing you want to create, that you’re a self-starter, that you have initiative, and that with or without me you’re going to be successful someday, and it’ll probably be soon.

If you’ve done this, and each project shows genuine passion you’re on the right track.  Especially if you can tell someone what lessons you learned from each project.  This shows them that you’re always calibrating, finding ways to grow and become better.

Find Ways to Collaborate:             The new buzz term a lot of companies are using now is, “we need to stop working in silos.”  What’s this mean?

Humans are typically creatures of habit that seek routine and resist change.  In the work world, this isn’t any different.  The problem is, with routine and consistency often comes a narrowing perspective.  Leaders today are looking for people that find ways to interact, collaborate, and strive to learn other people’s unique roles, challenges, and points-of-view.  This makes the group, and their collective goals more robust and powerful because everyone is heading in the same direction with a knowledge of everyone’s field-of-view.

As a young professional of any kind, but especially on the creative side, you need to find ways to bring people together to achieve common goals.

When it comes to young filmmakers, I always encourage kids to go out and find other people with similar interests.  Someone at your High School or college that really loves operating a camera, someone that enjoys editing, people that are passionate about acting, and people that enjoy organizing and managing other people (our future producers).

Find these people, and then create a story that brings all of you together with a common goal.  Most of the time your collective passion will carry you all through.  I guarantee whatever you create together will be twenty times better than anything you could’ve done on your own.  Ultimately, this kind of accomplishment will also show potential employers that you have these other desirable (and increasingly rare) skills such as identifying talent in others, maximizing that talent, and managing various personality types.  Most importantly, all of this shows leadership, the type of leadership that can draw others out of their silos.

Seeking Approval:               This is the most important one, and not one that a lot of people will tell you.  Seeking approval from others is very important, but only if you’ve found your own first.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t always create what you think other people want to see, hear, or read.   A lot of times, people don’t necessarily know what they want until they see it – that’s why they’ve come to you for your creativity and expertise.  The only way to make someone else happy with your work is for you to be confident in it first.

I never hold ideas back because I have the confidence that I’ll always have new ones, and as I get older, with more experience and a better understanding of myself, I feel like they keep getting better.  I have confidence in my imagination…but sometimes I have to dig deep into it to find the next idea.

If you’re always striving to honestly do your best, then what other people think won’t matter too much.  And when you’re proud of your work, it shows.  The more proud you are of what you do, the more confident you become and the more people that are interested in hiring you, will give you creative freedom.

This is all about believing in yourself, surrounding yourself with good, talented, and passionate people and not being shaped by what others say or do.  Just remember, the most successful people in any profession suffered setbacks early-on in their journey.  Steven Spielberg was rejected by all of his top film schools, Michael Jordan was cut by his JV Basketball Team, Albert Einstein could only get work as a patent clerk.  But in passionate, determined individuals, setbacks add fuel to the fire within…they build character.

If you don’t believe in yourself and your own abilities, then no one else ever will.

Ultimately, parents know how tough forging a solid career is in any profession, and in an artistic field – it’s that much more difficult.  That’s why you always have to be creating, and be conscious of how to showcase your abilities.  This will help others understand the value they can add in various areas.  In any profession, you have to know how to sell yourself first, and then you’re ready to begin creating.

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