Taking Criticism and Being Your Own Best Critic
While some of this I have written before the idea here is heavy on my mind as I formally enter pre production on my next project which is a massive undertaking. This is also a subject I am really passionate about because I hate to see potential wasted and opportunities lost especially when something as simple as a mental shift could maximize that potential and capitalize on those opportunities so rest assured the foul language is driven by that passion.
If you want to get better at anything in life you need to learn to take in criticism, filter that criticism, learn from that criticism and change based on that criticism. The moment you think you are beyond learning from your mistakes and improving what you do then you freeze yourself perpetually at that level of progress. I would even say the moment you can’t take in and learn from others advice and your own mistakes then quit what you are doing and go do something else because why toil away at a lower level of success than you are capable of?
When it comes to outside criticism on film you have to do a good amount of filtering, there are people who will be nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, others will be nice because they know the limitations you dealt with and others will be nice because they work in film and know how hard it is just to pull a film off. On the opposite side some will be harsh because they don’t like the type or genre film you made, they have limited filmmaking knowledge so they expected Interstellar on a shoestring budget or they are frustrated filmmakers themselves who try to bring down anyone they see as competition or a risk to their inflated ego (yep we got some big ass egos in movie land). So filtering is essential to get the most out of the experience. With that said good advice can come from a bad source with less than well meaning intentions, so the old adage consider the source is useful but don’t eliminate the points made because of the source. For example just because somebody who thinks highly of themselves made three movies and none of them got wide distribution, meaning you can’t find a dvd to buy on amazon or any major VOD sites doesn’t mean the advice, critique or points they make aren’t valid, they can know what to do but not be willing or capable to do it themselves, or they’re working may be lacking in other areas that keep them from a wide distribution deal, so take in everything you can from everyone you can filter it a bit and look for common threads that will paint you a partial idea of things you need to address next time because you should want every film to be better than the last.
Ok now for the secret sauce. See while Agnation was my first film I have had 3 other careers before filmmaking all in highly competitive industries and all in which I hit a homerun within seven years doing well enough to go from a homeless college grad to being able to not only buy the roof over my head but also have the ability to take time off and spend my own money making movies while also investing in others films when I find something I like. Interestingly I had no formal education in any of these other industries seeing how my dual degrees are in Political Theory and Philosophy I graduated trained to be a deep thinking barista. So this is what works for me, first I go out there scorch the earth and fuck up as much as I can, seriously I do not dip my toe in I do a fucking cannon ball into the fuck up pool. I need to get my hands dirty and my face bloody. In a situation where I am working with other people I always repeatedly tell them it’s an experiment because that’s what it is and i am trying to blow up the lab. I stretch things way be reason and try to find where my limits on everything are. Then I gather all the feedback I can and run it through my filter, I don’t care if it’s mean spirited, harsh, angry whatever I use it to serve a purpose to make me better, so my feeling and ego are completely removed, hell I often question people who hate something I do just to learn from them.
So now for the real special sauce, being your own BEST critic. You hear people all the time say “I am my own worst critic, I am too hard on myself” bullshit, fucking bullshit you can’t be to hard on yourself, so save the sympathy plea for your mamma. If you want to get better, really better, at anything taking your work from ok to amazing, then you have to be BRUTAL with yourself. Now here is the part most people won’t do and it is key from taking you from ok to amazing, ready – everything is your fault. Yep everything, every last fucking thing that went wrong is your fault. This is key because the moment you accept ownership for things you can change them, but until you accept ownership for things you can’t do shit but bitch. Your sound guy didn’t get a clean copy, thats your fault you could of listened in while recording, could of scheduled time during the day to review footage and audio you could’ve hired a better fucking sound guy, your fault. Your actors didn’t do a good enough job, guess what it’s your fault, you could of hired different actors, you could of been much tougher during the audition process, you could of rehearsed more and replaced the poor performers and pains in the ass. Everything is on you, thus empowering you to correct everything and do better next time.
Once you accept ownership you have to live with the mistakes, stew in them watch them over and over and over till you are crying yourself to sleep at night because all you can see if all the things you fucked up, then you are ready to analyze them. Every large task is nothing more than a bunch of parts that combine to make the process so you need to identify what part of the process each of your fuckups is rooted in. A film has a number of process from the script writing stage through editing so you need to figure out where each mistake occurred and then figure out what you are going to do to fix it next time. This can be a painful process, no scratch that, this is suppose to be a painful process, but I can tell you based on my experience, succeeding in industries I had no right being in, it works.
Remember this is a marathon not a sprint, the whole purpose it to keep getting better so dig deep into your work. If you can watch it a dozen times and not find any flaws you are delusional and only robbing yourself of the opportunity to get better. So keep at it, you should easily find a handful of things to improve in each part of the filmmaking process all of which will make your next film much better and you will be well on your way to fucking up a little less with each film you make.
I want to leave you with this, it is the best advice I ever received from someone who was highly successful when I first heard it in my early 20s and it took a few years for it to really sink in for me. There are three keys to success, never consider yourself an expert at anything, the moment you do your mind stops considering other possibilities and you stop learning, always assume you are the dumbest guy in the room that way you know you have to over prepare, are open minded to the input of others and stay mentally sharp at all times, and never assume you have any natural talent at anything you do, while having talent is a blessing the perception of talent is a crutch people use to justify being lazy and an excuse for not working as hard as they can. Now to dive head first into pre production wish me luck!