My career as a filmmaker

In my 20s, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I had written a full-length film script about an animated character who leaves her hometown to go to college in a real, non-animated city. Over the course of her studies and experiences, she learns to believe in herself and her abilities of self-expression. The film would combine my love of art with my interest in social issues.

I was a student at NYU and took classes at their film school. Their invaluable program taught me some of the ins and outs of filmmaking. It also gave me access to people in the film industry who might help me with my film, or who would at least give good advice.

One such person was a movie producer who showed some interest in my film script. After having a chance to read it, he invited me to his penthouse apartment in NY to discuss it. I remember his words clearly:

”I am not personally interested in making this film. But I can guarantee that there is someone out there who will love your idea and fund your film. It may be the next person you talk to, or it may be the 100th person you talk to, or you may never meet that person. But I can tell you for a fact that person exists, and your job is to find them.”

I was of course disappointed that he didn’t say “I love your script and will give you whatever you need.” But I left feeling I received a message much more powerful than his funding: You don’t have to wonder whether your audience is out there; you can take for granted that they are. You just need to take steps to find them.

I think that message applies to all of us who are trying to start / run / maintain a small business.

As it turns out, my film never got made. While I did manage to raise $10,000, I made several costly mistakes along the way. All that I have to show for that money is a few seconds of test footage. I panicked, gave up filmmaking, moved out of NY to a cheaper lifestyle and eventually paid back my investors.

And that’s when I learned my second lesson.

The now-famous filmmaker Spike Lee also studied filmmaking at NYU during the same years I was there. I remember seeing his student film, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop. I later read that he raised money to make the film, and when that ran out, he raised more, working and maxing out his credit cards in the process.

When I read that, I realized I had not believed enough in my own vision to be willing to get into greater debt over it. I was so worried about owing money that I let it stop me from becoming a filmmaker.

At this point in my life, I don’t regret that I’m not a filmmaker — I’m happy with the life I have. But looking back at that period, I do wish that I had believed in myself more.

We can’t change our pasts, but thankfully, you and I can apply that lesson going forward.