At Film + Music we don’t just work around a lot of filmmakers and musicians — we work around a lot of creatives, period. In fact, a lot of us are creatives ourselves. Designers, photographers, writers…and, yes, filmmakers and musicians too. Over the years we’ve had the privilege of watching a ton of careers unfold. Some have blossomed, some haven’t. And after a while you start asking yourself why. What is it that leads someone to a successful career? What choices are they making to set themselves up for success?
There are obviously a million decisions to be made over the course of a career, but four of them have struck us as being particularly important:
It’s surprisingly easy to take these questions for granted, to be passive about their answers. You let people drift in and out of your life, you let yourself drift here and there, and maybe you’ve never really considered why you’re doing any of it in the first place. So while there certainly aren’t any “right answers” to the questions above, the only wrong answer would be not to consider them at all.
Here are our brief considerations of each question in semi-random order.
Do you know? Do you know why you’re drawn to certain projects and not others? Do you know why some jobs eat away at your soul while others build you back up? More than any other question you can ask yourself about your career, asking yourself why you do the work you do is the most important. In many ways, your answer will guide everything that comes afterward. When you’ve found the “why,” what you’ve really found is your vision.
One big temptation for creatives is to mold themselves (distort themselves) to fit demand. If people are paying for wedding videos, you start making wedding videos. If they need straight-to-camera talking heads, you do straight-to-camera talking heads. But the problem with that approach is that the less work you do that you really love doing, the less work that you love to do will come your way. Sure, a certain amount of an “I’ll take anything” attitude is needed in a creative career. But putting time into deciding your “thing” — the thing you’re going to focus on, pour yourself into, perfect more than anything else — is one of the most important decisions you can make as a creative. Even if it means turning down work sometimes.
We firmly believe your destiny is tied to your relationships. The people you work with, the people you spend Friday nights with, the people you go on vacations with — all of them are going to change your career and your life. So who are they? Who are those main people going to be? One of the problems we often see (in ourselves as much as others) is that people often treat their relationships passively. They let people filter in and out of their life circumstantially, without any real purpose. “Their people” are the people who happen to be in their life at any given time. So what we’re saying is that it helps to make a conscious decision about who you want these people — your people — to be. And then be intentional about keeping them in your life. Do projects with them regularly. Drink beer with them regularly. You might find that being intentional about your relationships has a wonderfully positive affect on your career.
It’s tempting to idealize a place. New York, say. Or Los Angeles. Oftentimes creatives will make a decision about their location based on opportunity — what might be waiting for them. But what we’ve found is that opportunity doesn’t matter as much as community. Where you are should be determined by the people you want to be with. So where are your people? Go there. Take us, for example. Our offices are in Texas. In Fort Worth, Texas. And while it might not seem like an ideal location for a creative, artistic, filmmaking-obsessed company, there’s nowhere we’d rather be. After all, our people are here. And things couldn’t be working out any better.
Ultimately, though, none of these decisions exist on their own. You can’t pick and choose which areas to see value in and which ones to dismiss. You can’t have success in one without the combined efforts of all the others. Your vision leads to your type of work, which leads to your people, which determines your place. Every decision either brings you closer to your purpose, or it moves you off course.
There isn’t any neutral decision making.
That said, we shouldn’t live our lives feeling paranoid that we might make a misstep that will result in failure. Sometimes failure is part of the process. As long as you’re making decisions centered on your core values and purpose, you’re going to have a good community of like-hearted people around you to help you make your next step. And help pick you up when you fail.
Looking for more on the creative life? Check out these other articles from our archives:
*The Creative and Destructive Power of Stress *4 Tips for Talking About Your Next Project *Creative Critique: The Art of Giving Feedback *Creative Critique: The Art of Receiving Feedback *5 Important Forms of Creative Rest
“On your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through all right,” Bill Withers warns filmmaker Damani Baker in his documentary Still Bill. “And when you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” In other words, it’s very hard to be great. And very few people get there. Read More
It takes a lot of different skills to be a good filmmaker. That’s probably why it takes so long. You have to be a storyteller, an entrepreneur, a problem solver, a marketer, a networker…the list goes on. It’s a very hard job. So it might seem strange for us to say that of all... Read More
If you’re waiting for permission to start making great films, chances are you’ll be waiting forever. Here’s the secret: You don’t need permission. We’re in the *ask for forgiveness* line of work here. There are no extra-credit assignments. There are no credentials. There are no grades. There’s just you and your camera and your inexplicable desire to put something worthwhile on the screen... Read More