- Keep challenging yourself
I heard Martin Scorsese being interviewed discussing how he wasn’t completely happy with Goodfellas on its general release. Whilst this sounds incredulous it shows that no one stops learning and everyone can improve. Keep challenging yourself and broadening your skillset with new projects that push you out of your comfort zone. Feeling comfortable is the worst thing that a creative professional can feel.
- Trust your instincts
We all know that creeping, niggling feeling that tells us all is not well. Several years ago I kept getting this about someone I was working with on a spec project. The vagueness, extended periods of non-responsiveness and the never ending tall claims all contributed to this feeling. I ignored the feeling as I was passionate about the project. After sinking a lot of valuable time I eventually realised I should have trusted my instincts from the start.
- Develop a bulls**t radar
This is an essential skill that you gradually develop over the years. A well-honed bulls**t sensor can save you months, if not years, of flogging away at a lost cause. Are you being asked to work for free but are being promised the world at a later date? Does it sound too good to be true? Are you being paid in ‘exposure’? A talented actress I know retorted to a casting director that people can die from exposure! Be careful with that.
Ask very specific questions to get to the bottom of any vague claims. What festivals will it be released in? How will you fund the entries? What festivals have you screened at before? What key talent is attached?
Most importantly of all, thoroughly research everyone connected to the project before committing to it.
- Know what you’re gaining from a project
Working for free can be a necessary evil until you’re very established in the industry. If you do work for free make sure you know what you’re getting out of it. If you want new material for your show reel, make sure it’s different to your existing footage. Make sure you will be credited in the completed film. On a short film I wrote as a student I was credited, but after everyone else, including the extras!
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
Be as selective as possible with your projects. Whether you’re an actress, director or a writer you need to know where your strengths lie. Challenge yourself but be careful not to take a job that won’t reflect your abilities. Taking one project that you’re not suitable for can do much more harm than good. Be honest about your weaknesses, as potential employers appreciate that. They may even be willing to buddy you up with someone more experienced. Better to be honest and not get a job, than to be dishonest and damage your reputation.
As author Will Rogers said, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and an instant to lose it”.
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