What To Do When Your Film Fails
If you’re lucky enough to get your project into production (congrats, by the way) you know there are good days and bad days. Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you don’t. What’s left at the wayside is a blood sacrifice that each and every film demands of you and your team.
But what if your project doesn’t get to this stage? What if you’ve toiled away for months and years to get something off the ground only for it to stall at the launch pad? Your worst nightmare has come true.
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
In fact, you’re in a crowd of many heartbroken filmmakers who have come before you. And even if the walls feel like they’re closing in, the room will always have space for those who come after you. This doesn’t just happen to newbie or semi-pro filmmakers. This happens to the best of the best. Ask some of Hollywood’s top filmmakers and each and every one of them has a failed project that they still think about.
In this business, everyone deals with the one that got away.
Ok, so maybe despite this you’re still grieving. Maybe you’re thinking about the time you took off work, the times you locked yourself in the basement and away from friends, or the excitement you felt when you got what Pixar’s Andrew Stanton calls "The Itch".
In many ways, creating a film is like building a relationship. You’ve got to open yourself up and be vulnerable in the process. And, whether you’d like to accept it or not, you also have to understand that there is a massive risk involved. At the end of the day, some films work and some don’t. Yes, it’s a dark and depressing thought, but as with any of life’s situations, it’s all about how you see things. Positivity goes a long way.
Something just didn’t work. Maybe you didn’t step up to the plate, maybe one of your collaborators slipped up, or maybe you simply couldn’t scrounge up the money you needed in time. You lay awake at night replaying everything that was said and done, everything that could have been, and you find yourself tortured by the posse of “What Ifs”. Simply put, you’re grieving, and everyone deals with this differently. Some get mad, some get sad, some try to place the blame, but all can agree that it sucks (even if you try to ignore the feelings).
Days may pass, months may wither, but eventually you will succeed in moving on. This needn’t be a sad thought. In many ways, the project hasn’t died. It still exists, even if it has yet to see the light of day. You grew as a creator in the process. You improved. Any words written or any scenes shot have laid the groundwork for better words to be written and for even more amazing scenes to be shot. Chalk it up as practice. Add it to the tally of 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell expects out of passionate individuals. Whether or not anyone has laid eyes on this piece of work has nothing to do with the fact that it helped you progress.
But right now it’s OK to tuck this project away for a little bit. Who knows – it could be waiting for you a few years down the road or it could serve as a junkyard for a better future project, a scrapheap of pieces that can be reused and repurposed to build something beyond your wildest dreams.
The choice is yours. You can spend your time wallowing on what didn’t happen, or you can sit back and be warmed by what did. You made it this far; you got something done, which means that next time you’ll make it further and even further beyond that. You’ll be a better filmmaker, your scars will have healed, and you’ll be ready to love and accept the next idea that comes.
You’ll be ready for when a project succeeds.
THE JUNKYARD (One Idea's Trash Is Another's Treasure)
But, until then, what can be done right now? First and foremost, give yourself a couple days to wind down. This isn’t being lazy, it’s just granting you the opportunity to let new ideas come without being dragged down by negativity. Pick up a book, watch the movies you love, and try to remember where the love came from. Movies were an obvious catalyst for all of us, so it’s worth revisiting the source of the fire that’s been burning within us.
And guess what? Not all is lost. Sure, this idea may not work here and now, but it can work in a totally different fashion. Think about it - we all have ideas that have come and gone for different reasons, and each of us have notebooks filled with ideas that did and didn’t ever see the light of day. And even within the ideas that worked there are still scenes that were left on the cutting room floor. This is all just scrap metal piled into our imagination’s junkyard.
So, think about it, one idea’s trash is another’s treasure. One character that didn’t work may work in another property, one scene may need a few tweaks to fit a totally different puzzle, and one whole concept may pair beautifully with another. Maybe, just maybe, the reason one idea didn’t work was because it needed you to come up with another. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. After all, when our car breaks down and we’re on a budget, we venture out to find the necessary part in a vehicle that’s been abandoned and thrown away.
CALL IT QUITS?
At the end of the day, well, really, this isn’t the end. There’s no such thing as death when it comes to our ideas. Sometimes they just need a bit of sleep, sometimes they may need a whole new paint job, and other times they’re screaming to be reincarnated.
So, what does happen when your film fails? To be frank, it depends on how you define failure. Taking a break, letting a project sleep, and coming back is merely just a diversion on the road that we’ve all been on for some time. All that matters is that you’ve refueled the tank and you’re back on the highway.