An Education in Failure
Rick Caplan | May 28, 2020
Rick Caplan | May 28, 2020
The fear of failure acts a deterrent for everyone, in all aspects of life. Whether it’s expressing interest in someone, applying for a job, opening a business, signing up for a class, or speaking up in a conversation, we’ve all been so fearful of getting it wrong that we abstain from participation. Guess what – you’re going to get it wrong.
If you’re still reading this post, then the world did not end with that realization. Time progressed, and so should you.
When I set out to make my first short, Old Stud, everything I knew about producing and directing was academic. Sure, I had worked on some student film sets in school, but no one knew what they were doing. I had lots of assumptions and opinions, but little experience of value.
Sometimes a lack of experience is an advantage, because some experiences only serve to reinforce an existing, rigid system designed to burn through millions of dollars. For Old Stud, that wasn’t quite the case. My friend and producer, Jim Martin, helped to call in favors from friends and friends of friends, setting us up with a production designer, costume designer, director of photography, and first assistant director. These are great resources to have, and everyone did a fantastic job, exceeding all expectations. That being said, I have never had any of those positions filled on subsequent films. Why? Because I couldn’t afford it. If we hadn’t had so many generous and talented friends willing to donate their time and efforts to Old Stud, it may never have gotten made, and the idea of taking on all those roles may have proven too intimidating.
If there was no Old Stud, there would be no The Do Over. There would be no Natural Causes. There would be no Mr Misfortune. I would have undoubtedly fumbled my way through the production of Old Stud, possibly resulting in something that wasn’t fit to be seen by anyone. You know what? Great.
On my short films made between Old Stud and leading up to Mr Misfortune, I made hundreds of mistakes. Maybe thousands. But the failures were my own. They taught me the hard limits of what one person can accomplish as the sole crew (The Do Over). They taught me to mentally prepare for run and gun shooting to potentially limit editing options when a location falls through (Natural Causes). In all cases, they illuminated the areas where support was needed and the value of having the smallest crew possible.
These lessons armed me with the knowledge needed to pull off a nano-budget production (< $10,000) and the confidence to speak to the project and the production methods I intended to apply when casting and hiring crew. Enthusiasm goes a long way, but when people hear that you have a plan and a logistical proof of concept (Natural Causes), they’re more apt to come aboard.
The next time you’re reluctant to create something, remember that the inherent value is what you learn in the process. In other words: the learning is in the doing. The lessons accumulate, and you will build a wealth of experience that sets you up for success.