Forget “Overnight Success” And Embrace the Long Game

Forget _Overnight Success_And Embrace the Long Game

We live in a media and technology-saturated world now, so it’s impossible to get away from posts, blogs, and news proclaiming the latest “overnight success”. Sometimes it’s tied with something going viral, but more often than not it’s a musician, filmmaker, or actor suddenly receiving praise and accolades. For creatives in any field it can seem like an enticing career trajectory that’s available to them. You mean I put something out there and become an overnight sensation? Not quite. Even with the promise of going viral as a tasty carrot, the reality is very different.

Everyone’s trajectory is unique, based on their skills, experience, personality and goals. You can’t look at one artist and emulate their formula for success exactly, because you are you and not them. I can’t examine Beyoncé’s career trajectory in minute detail, try to copy it and hope that it sticks (also, I can’t sing, so there’s that).

What people don’t tell you about creatives that we see as “overnight successes” is that before that award or praise is the countless years (sometimes decades) that have gone into honing their craft. The rejection letters, the detours, the blood, sweat, tears and ambition that have carried them forth in their darkest hours. It’s something that many creatives with identify with right now. It’s the times you were ignored by your peers, made to feel ‘not good enough’, had to work multiple jobs on top of your creative endeavours just to stay afloat. So that success is well won and very, very hard earned.

Then there’s the naysayers and unhelpful comments from friends and family who don’t understand your goals. You probably know them (or a variation of them) well: “so, where’s your Academy Award?” “Have you made your film yet?” “You should get a real job…” What’s a creative to do?

awards trophy

It really is true that slow and steady wins the race. Any endeavour is a marathon, not a sprint. At times, it may seem pointless and you may even want to give in. Don’t.

I’m only seven years into my journey through the film industry, and it’s been tough. At one point, I was working a full-time administration job whilst also juggling Film Sprites PR clients, and I also worked as the Christchurch publicity assistant for NZIFF 2014 at the same time. I didn’t have a holiday or a weekend for the first three years. Recently, I relocated temporarily for a position and could afford to eat one meal a day. I’ve had people who have asked for my help and I have enthusiastically obliged, only for them to completely ghost me with no acknowledgement of my help whatsoever. I’m not where I see myself being in the future, but in order to get there I have to bridge the gap by doing exceptional work, being of excellent service to the film industry, and keeping the faith (and yes, I still require a ‘day job’ to get by, and that’s okay!).

My advice is to embrace the “long game”. Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to do the work. Be present and enthusiastic. When times get tough, remind yourself WHY you’re doing this. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a session at the Big Screen Symposium where one of my favourite directors, David Michôd (who most recently directed The King) was discussing the development of his feature film Animal Kingdom. The script development was a ten-year process, and the film was nominated for and won a slew of awards, including eight awards at the 2010 Australian Film Institute awards. Many of the world’s most beloved filmmakers have worked on shorts, music videos and/or television before progressing to features.

filmmaker

You know why wine, cheese and whisky are so good? They require ageing and maturing. In fact, here in New Zealand we had a great ad campaign for Mainland Cheese whose slogan was: “Good Things Take Time.”

So, as this is a blog attached to a publicity and social media marketing consultancy service, what can you do during the “long game” to assist your career? Here’s a few tips:

  • Establish social media profiles for your creative career: If you’re a filmmaker, set up profiles that will assist you with all of your projects, as opposed to setting up pages solely for one short film or feature. The reason? If you set up a page solely for one project, you will most probably use this for the duration of your promoting of the project (e.g. screenings, Festival appearances, etc) but then you will move onto your next project and the page might sit dead with little to no posts being generated. If you have pages which encompass all of your projects it means that you can build up a large audience who will hopefully follow your work from one project to the next. It’s also great for helping to build support for any crowdfunding campaigns you might run in the future.
  • Don’t pin your hopes on going viral: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go viral, but the efficacy of virality is on the decline. You can find out more about this, and better alternatives, on this post.
  • Consider doing guest blogs about your areas of expertise: you don’t have to wait for your project to be released to start generating content that will help with publicity of your creative career! Find some handy blogging ideas here.

Lastly, check out this great keynoteat SXSW 2015 by Mark Duplass for some timely inspiration.

Why There’s No Such Thing As A Wasted Opportunity

nowastedopportunity

Many years ago, I trained to be a primary school teacher*. I was fresh out of high school, the world was big and uncertain and I chose to go to Teacher’s College. On the first day in our first class, our lecturer got us to introduce ourselves to one another. There were so many bright, bubbly people who were excited to be undertaking the journey. Some had waited their entire lives to become a teacher.

And…then there was me.

I couldn’t tell you why I wanted to be a teacher. I think partly it was parental pressure, partly trying to suppress my real desire to work in the film industry. So I persisted with this path for 3 years. I did well with the academic work, my teaching placements also went well. I was one teaching placement and a university paper away from graduating when I decided that this really wasn’t for me.

I felt like a complete and utter failure. My parents were supportive of my decision to leave, but I knew they were disappointed as well. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do- schools need teachers who are 100% passionate about what they do and can instill that into their teaching. The classmates I had whose eyes lit up on the first day and had wanted to teach from a very young age were exactly what the education system desperately needed (and subsequently they have gone on to have very successful teaching careers).

But what at first seemed like a complete loss was actually a gift. I may not have gained my teaching degree, but along the way I gained valuable skills which transferred over into everything I did subsequently. Even now, the skills I gained all those years ago are appropriate for the work I do in publicity. There’s not a lot of difference between the research, planning, implementation and review of a lesson plan and the research, planning, implementation and review of a publicity campaign. Teaching taught me how to be adaptable, to manage my time effectively and work with a wide range of people. Better yet, when I did a Bachelor of Arts a few years later I was able to cross-credit some of my teaching courses over into my BA and ended up completing my degree in 2.5 years instead of 3.

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a wasted opportunity. Even in your bitterest disappointments, you’ll find a diamond in the ashes. You might have to wait a while to find that diamond (because let’s face it- disappointments are awful and you might ruminate for a while), but it’s there. If you’re in the indie film industry, you’ll know that sometimes productions fall through, you might not get the role, or locations that were initially viable at the start of production are taken off the table suddenly. None of this is a waste of time. A production that stalls or doesn’t go through to post is valuable experience. The role you didn’t get gave you the opportunity to audition and put yourself in front of an agent and director and put yourself on their radar for future projects. The location you had your heart set on that was made unavailable may open the way for a better location.

A few years ago I spoke to a filmmaker whose short was crowdfunding on Kickstarter. With Kickstarter, it’s a case of “all or nothing” for funding, and the campaign didn’t look like it was going to reach 100%. The filmmaker was incredibly positive about things. “OK, we’re not going to get the funding. That’s fine,” he said to me, “but having our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter meant we were able to gain positive awareness around our campaign, so we’ve got a solid grounding for the next steps”.  He subsequently used the data from the campaign to look at what worked, what didn’t and what they could do in the future to ensure they had a successful campaign.

Currently, I am transitioning from working for myself to potentially joining a new PR team and that has meant sending out a lot of applications and getting in touch with agencies. I’m not worried about rejections, because connecting with agencies is another opportunity to network, and at the very least they are aware of me and what I have been doing as a freelancer. I chose to look at this undertaking as being a positive one, no matter what. Eventually, there will be the right position and it may come from somewhere completely unexpected. You can never underestimate the power of networking- there are times when someone will know of another person who is looking for exactly the skillset you possess and can put you in touch.

So if you receive a rejection e-mail, you don’t get a callback or things go kaput on a production- find the gift in it. There’s always some experience or skill you have gained during the process that can be of use later on, you just have to find it.

*= for those of you who are American, primary school is the equivalent of elementary school.