Nearly five years ago I started the journey to becoming a filmmaker. At the time I had a great job with benefits, three weeks of vacation, a decent salary, and great co-workers…
...but I was miserable. I wasn’t doing the one thing that burned with an unquenchable fire within me. All I wanted to do was make movies.
Now mind you, I am a father of three awesome children and husband to an amazing wife. I have a mortgage, a car payment, and of course your standard American credit card debt. But despite all of these very major (and for good reason) would be “road blocks,” I quit my job to pursue my dream of becoming a filmmaker.
Did I have a plan?
Nope, not really.
Did I have money saved up?
Not even remotely.
But what I did have was four very important things and ideas on my side as I began my journey.
John takes a selfie behind the camera, admiring the lighting on set.
This is vital to your success. It’s one thing to say your going to jump off a bridge if it won’t affect anyone around you. It’s a completely different story if there are people in your life that will be directly touched by life altering decisions. Which is why I talked to my wife FIRST.
When I told my wife about how I was feeling and how miserable I was, even though I was providing for our family, she had my back. 100%. She never doubted me or my dream for a moment. Was she scared? YUP. And that is to be expected. Venturing into a new career is scary enough, but going for a career with the greatest rate of people abandoning the dream is insane!
Soooo - what if you don’t have the full unadulterated support of your family or loved ones? Whelp, you have to make a choice. I recently got some great advice about making difficult choices. To paraphrase, he asked me would I rather live with the pain of regret for doing it and failing or the pain of “what if” and living with never knowing. (The choice I made in that instance was to do it and it turned out AMAZING...btw.)
But once I made the decision, what then?
Checking the performance with the Actors and crew on set of "12 Days With God."
After I experienced the euphoric sensation of leaving a job that I knew wasn’t tied to my future destiny, there was a numbness of “what now?” What was I supposed to do? I knew nothing about the film industry apart from what I had read in books. So every day I tried to learn something new.
I reached out to people.
I made phone calls.
I read articles and watched online videos related to filmmaking.
All of those things were good, even essential to my growth, but none of those things pushed and propelled me where I needed to be.
I needed to DO.
Anyone can sit in front of a computer and listen.
Anyone can read an article (yes...I see the irony…).
Anyone can network.
But only “the successful” will get out there and do the thing that they talk about. And for me, that was filmmaking.
I shot a film using vacation time the year before with $3000 I raised on kickstarter. But it hadn’t been edited. It was just sitting there. So my first goal was to finish what I started. I had to finish that first film.
I knew it wasn’t going to win an Oscar. But I needed to figure out how to do this thing that I felt I had to do.
This action created the momentum I needed to keep going. It’s interesting that the physics concept of “an object in motion tends to stay in motion…” rings true in all aspects of our life. How much we use our talents is in direct correlation with how much resistance we will meet when using them. Yesm there are the rare and oft publicized cases of “instant success,” but even those cases will temper out with out the next point.
Director John Ginty goes over the script with an actor.
At the desk where I do most of my work there is a sticky note that I wrote myself that says, “Be better than yesterday.”
Sure, that sounds like an imitation Nike slogan but it is something I try to live by.
In this modern film climate anyone can make a movie. Technology has made it so that ANYONE with a cell phone and a computer can schlep together a film. And some of them are really, really good.
So what could I do to get noticed?
I had to be better.
There’s a saying that says: “The cream rises to the top.”
I’ve always loved that saying. The bottom line is whether you like cream or hate it and have to scrape it off, you see it first.
Good stuff will eventually get recognized. But that meant I had to get better. And not just in one area, but in all phases of filmmaking.
And so I studied more. And what I learned, I practiced. I made a second full length feature film. And I learned from the mistakes I made in the first one and made new mistakes. But I learned from those as well.
The biggest hurdle for me now was rejection. I felt good about how far I had come and about how much better this film was compared to my first. So, other people will feel the same way too, right?
I entered my second film into several film festivals and the rejections were swift and often. At this point that I began to doubt myself and what I perceived my destiny to be. But the reality was I saw the same flaws that others did in my work and knew that I still needed to improve.
And with that I learned that I needed one last ingredient. Consistency.
John paints a picture of what he wants to accomplish during the initial table read of "12 Days With God."
I always knew that I couldn’t get to the next level alone. But now it was time to let go of pride and ego to find others who could elevate what I do well with what they do well.
The challenge is that you can’t be this way one week and then the next week decide to go back because you felt a little bit better about yourself, your status, or even your worth.
Consistency meant having a baseline of values and not compromising them.
Consistency meant looking everyday to elevate my knowledge in my craft and to share that knowledge.
Consistency meant even on those days when I missed the mark, when I wasn’t at my best, to pick myself up - re-evaluate - and make a conscious decision to learn and move forward.
And with that I made my third feature film. I went from a budget of $3,000 to over $100,000.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t overnight. It took hard work, consistency, and a constant striving for excellence that allowed me that opportunity.
My third film, 12 Days With God, has been completed and was offered multiple distribution deals, all of which I acheived with the culmination of everything you’ve read.
If I can offer one simple piece of advice that sums up all of this, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, “Galaxy Quest:”
“Never give up, never surrender.”
John Ginty is the founder and owner of Paragon Films. Born in Niagara Falls,
John always had a penchant for the entertainment business. In 1999, he found
himself in Denver, Colorado where he performed stand up comedy for four
years and was the headlining act at the BET New Year's eve show in 2001.
John moved back to Syracuse in 2004 and worked at Abundant Life Christian
Center from 2007-2014. There he served as the video producer and was
responsible for creating hundreds of videos. In 2014, John wrote and produced
his first full length feature film "Good Villain." His current film, "12 Days With God,"
was shot in Syracuse, New York and recently secured a distribution deal.
Like this blog post? Please share it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email etc) by using social media buttons at the top of the blog. Or post to your personal blog and anywhere else you feel appropriate. Thank you.
As always, we welcome thoughts and remarks on ANY of the content above in the Comments section below...
|Coffee & Content - Jay Duplass on Screenwriting & 5 Cinematography Tips From Ed Lachman|
|Stage 32 At The 2018 Austin Film Festival|