Should filmmakers always strive for excellence?

This might seem like a strange question – should you, the filmmaker, always strive for excellence? Certainly, with so much competition out there, today more than ever you need to do something very special to get noticed. Having said that, I think that perfectionism and striving for excellence actually hinders the careers of most filmmakers. Let me explain.

Recently I read a very interesting article by Robert Hardy at nofilmschool. In it, Robert says that filmmakers spend too much of their time and energy worrying about what is the best camera gear out there and what they should use and/or invest in. Filmmakers are too often worried that the equipment they use will hold back their talent, even though there are so many examples of amazing work done using the simplest of film gear.

Along the same line, I think that filmmakers worry too much whether their work will be good enough. It is of course normal to want to produce work of only the highest calibre. However, this approach also very naturally ends up paralysing the filmmaker. By setting the bar very high, we end up working and completing few projects. This might not be too dire for an established filmmaker – who is also financially secure – but it is a grave mistake for someone who still hasn’t mastered the craft.

To develop our skills we need to be prolific workers – in terms of quantity of projects; not always in terms of producing the highest results.

An excellent example of this is the renowned painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He saw himself as a craftsman, worker, rather than an artist (he started off painting porcelain pieces in a factory). He attributed his success to his constant mastering of his craft – by daily work. That is, he didn’t wait for that divine inspiration. He painted daily. You might want to check out the 2012 French film “Renoir” to learn more about this interesting man (and his son, the film director Jean Renoir).

Of course, if your work turns out not so good or poor, it will hurt – emotionally and it will hurt your career. So, I don’t advise just jumping into anything, especially since film productions are so time consuming. But beware of the bigger evil – inactivity. You will learn something from any project, especially from those where you fail. There is little to be gained from waiting for that great inspiration.

As I mentioned earlier, it makes more sense for accomplished filmmakers to be selective. One of James Cameron‘s mottos is “good is not good enough”. He always aims high with his projects and then pushes himself and his cast and crew to reach it. His level of success is certainly awe-inspiring. His approach, though, contrasts with the one taken by Woody Allen.

Allen, of course, also tries to make his films as good as he can, but as you can hear in the excellent “Woody Allen: A Documentary”, he has the mindset of a baseball player. Succeeding three out of ten at a baseball plate is a mark of a top player. In the same way, Allen doesn’t expect all his films to be acclaimed. So, he makes a lot of them – he shoots a feature film in most years – trusting that he will get a few hits. It is a strategy that obviously works very well for him (it does help, though, that he makes low budget films, as compared to James Cameron).

So, even for master filmmakers, there is merit in filming a lot and often, even if you know that some of the projects you undertake will not be masterpieces.

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