An Autumn of Fierce Courage

So, it seems that this autumn is turning out to have a theme: Fierce Courage. For those of you who are wondering what I mean by that, think of Fierce Courage as a bit like jumping out of an airplane. It’s in that exact moment when you’re about to do the very thing you think you can’t do that fierce courage is called upon. It’s the moment where you dig deep and face your fears...the moment you go against the grain...the moment you take up the struggle when there’s an easier way out. I recently gave a keynote speech to the students at Southeast Missouri State University on this very topic, and it just popped up again in a session with a client of mine — Ela Thier, who happens to be a very talented filmmaker and a wonderful teacher (you can visit her filmmaking school website here). Ela is gearing up to shoot her next feature film and she was having trouble finding the enthusiasm and motivation to engage the project in the way she knew she needed to, which is why she came to me for a coaching session. From my end, the session was a good one — we got to the core of Ela's tentativeness and identified steps she could take to overcome it. More important, she came out of the session feeling excited and proactive; as a coach, you can't ask for much more than that.

Ela in 1974. From her blog.

Ela in 1974. From her blog.

But, here's something even cooler — afterward, Ela emailed me to share a blog post that she wrote about our session, which is part of a larger blog chronicling her journey to making her film. That post is titled "Fierce Courage" — something that Ela will have to channel along her journey — and she's given me permission to re-post it here. I hope reading it will encourage you to find your own version of Fierce Courage...

Day 1 of 148: Fierce Courage

I’m shooting my next feature in May. For dumb businessy reasons I can’t say much more, so for now we’re gonna call this movie Touchdown.

For months and months and months, I’ve been making it my last priority. I keep finding a million reasons to be busy with other things. I’ll do anything to avoid working on my film. I’ll take a root canal over this film.

Why? I dunno. Because everything else feels easier by comparison. Because there’s no way to get this film made without asking for help. Blugh. Because there’s no way to make this film without feeling hopeful about it. Double blugh. Because there’s no way to make this film without remembering daily that art is important. Mission impossible.

Yesterday I splurged and spent an hour on the phone with a coach. (Betsy Capes. I recommend. She specializes in coaching artists and she has saved my ass before.)

It was clear in my session with her that I don’t lack leads, or resources, or ideas. I know what I need to do, I just lack the desire to do it.

So we kept brainstorming: What’s the thing that will resurrect my spirit? Why do I not give a flying fu#k about this film?

I described a scenario to her: So last week I meet with an old friend who’s been working in the business for a while. He’s been pretty damn successful and he keeps becoming more so. We catch up. We laugh. We have a good time. For a few moments of grace I forget that I need his help and I actually enjoy myself.

And then he springs the question because he knows why I asked to meet. He says: so what can I do for you? How can I help?

In seconds flat, I go from having fun with an old friend to feeling half an inch tall. I feel like the poop that got stuck to the bottom of somebody’s shoe.

So yeah, I suppose I’d rather not make a movie than have to feel that way.

Betsy and I chat some more about what this meeting might be like if I felt differently about myself, and blah-di-blah, and one thing leads to another, and she eventually asks: “So where do you feel good about yourself? Where do you feel the kind of confidence that wish you would have had at that meeting?” And before I could blink I know the answer. I don’t have to think about it: “When I teach.”

When I teach my workshops I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. I can do no wrong. Even when I make mistakes, they’re not really wrong, they’re part of the fun. But when I’m an artist in need of help, I’d rather schedule root canals because by comparison, those are easier.

Ok, she says, and I know where this is going:

The me that teaches filmmaking is going to need to make this movie. But how do I bring her here? Raising money is not really her forte.

And then Betsy adds: “So what can you model for your students in making this film?”

And all of a sudden I get excited. First time that I feel excited about my film. Some day this might change, I don’t advocate this mentality, but this is the state of the union at this juncture in time: it’s easy as pie to care about my students, but it feels like a monumental feat to care about my own work. Which is not what I want for you.

So that’s the solution, is how we end the conversation. This next film of mine is a “teachable moment”. That’s something I know how to do.

I’m changing my approach. Instead of surprising you by “whipping out” a great film “out of the blue” after quietly suffering for years behind the scenes, I plan to take you with me on this journey. Having you on this path will keep me honest. I know I’m not the poop at the bottom of somebody’s shoe. I know that I’m a brilliant filmmmaker, and that my friend would be lucky to help me out. I know that I feel fortunate when I have the opportunity to help someone out who’s doing great work.

So there you have it. If your eyes are on me, I’ll have to rise to the occasion, and I thank you for that. With you watching, I feel responsible. I feel responsible to model taking myself seriously. Because I would want you to take your work seriously; I would want you to believe in your work, to care about it, to reach out to people and expect them to care about it; I would want you to ignore the noise of discouragement in your head and refuse to pipe down. I would want you to do your work and to know that it’s important. I would want you to keep getting up no matter how many defeats come at you along the way. It’s what I teach. So now I get to teach by example.

I’ll be reporting to you daily (roughly). I want to give this film my 100% and then some. It deserves it. It deserves all of me. It’s an important film, and it will pave the way to many more equally important films – including yours. It needs to be made. And that’s the truth of the matter. I know that, and now I’m going to act on that knowledge.

I have an incredible star attached to this film, and given her availability, I must shoot the film in May. That means pre-production begins March 1st. That means that I now have exactly 148 days to raise the money I need to make this film. Those days will whizz by unless I give this film my 100% every one of those days. These will be my 148 days of “fierce courage” as Betsy puts it. Thank you for tricking me into doing it.

Now I’ve never blogged before, but I’m telling myself: I don’t need this blog to be popular. I don’t need traffic, likes, shares, followers, subscribers, comments (did I cover everything?) Ok, fine, an occasional encouraging comment will help things along! But if Bettina, Mathilde, Manav, and Yossi are the only people who follow this blog then it will have served its purpose (thanks guys!)

I’m using this blog (and this film) as a teaching tool. That’s something I know how to do. It’s time for me to show rather then tell what it looks like when an artist decides to give her work her 100% come what may. If I’m not in pre-production March 1st, I still will have won if I know that I did my absolute best to try and get there.

I’ll be reporting here daily on what I did on each given day to help bring this film to all of you. I suppose that means 148 blog posts by March 1st (give or take…?)

Thank you, in advance, for watching me remember that art is important.

See you tomorrow,