How Perfectionism Kills Your Craft & Crushes Your Spirit

How Perfectionism Kills Your Craft & Crushes Your Spirit

How Perfectionism Kills Your Craft & Crushes Your Spirit

Renée Brack
Renée Brack
11 days ago

At age 17, my artist-father was taught a mantra. ‘Near enough isn’t good enough. It has to be perfect.’ So he hustled for his mentor, re-doing work over and over again until one day, the mentor was moved to tears and whispered; ‘now it’s perfect. And that’s near enough.’

But the damage was done. With over 60 years of painting, dad couldn’t bring himself to have an exhibition. Nothing was perfect. It robbed him of so much joy and satisfaction and held him back from moving forward in life.

I inherited my dad’s perfectionism. It’s a fear of disapproval or failure so one never quite finishes or feels satisfied with the results. It taught me how to hang on which is great for commitment but then I had to learn how to let go.

As a filmmaker and a scriptwriter, perfectionism can make a person unpleasant to work with, creatively crushing colleagues in a crew and making someone unreliable when it comes to deadlines. The best training I had to learn to meet deadlines and transcend perfectionism was as a young print journalist and then as a TV news reporter. I learned the meaning of ‘deadline’. It’s a line you can’t cross or you’re dead.

If perfectionism is plaguing your creative process, ask yourself questions such as:

Is the 51st shade of grey more perfect than the previous 50? Will tinkering with this one detail makes an important difference to the audience's understanding and loving your screen story more?

If the answer is no – let it go.

Perfectionism is defined as the ‘refusal to accept any standard short of perfect’. It disguises itself as your best friend with the utmost professional integrity but instead, it gaslights you by adding anxiety and fostering obsession. Perfection is a subjective interpretation and an ideal. It’s great to imagine and strive for it but 2 other skills are more achievable and not based on talent. They’re choices and decisions we make about who we are and how we work.

How Perfectionism Kills Your Craft Crushes Your Spirit

Accuracy & Excellence

“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Dr. Harriet Braiker

Accuracy and excellence are more positive skills to develop.

I’m in the final stage of post-production on a feature film. It’s a fun and tedious process of getting everything right. Film festival entry deadlines loom large. The clock is ticking. How many times can a film have ‘EXPORT FINAL’ in caps in the file title? Here’s how I do it without descending into the rabbit hole of perfectionism.

The Big Screen

Watch the cut on a big screen with a 5.1 surround sound and do several passes. A big theater or cinema screen means no errors can hide.

A pass for your ears is listening for sounds that shouldn’t be there. Another pass is of the mix – are the levels right to convey emotion and add to the vision? I do several passes for spelling and punctuation. Grammar – not so much. I like little phrases and word groupings.

Not everything has to be a perfect sentence with perfect structure. It’s often too clunky and formal in an on-screen context. I needed to consider, measure, check, and re-check how quickly and easily audience members could read and understand the words on the screen. A pass just for the spelling alone meant we were able to see the word ‘ambassador’ and delete the extra ‘s’.

How Perfectionism Kills Your Craft Crushes Your Spirit

Fresh Eyes

It’s great to have new eyes on the film cut to offer feedback on pacing as well as proofreading but if there is strict legal confidentiality to observe, how do we freshen up our own eyes?

A now-retired production manager and a long-time friend shared a great solution. She recommends playing the film backward. Start at the end credits. Then our ears, eyes, and brain aren’t in the emotional journey of the narrative. Our brains don’t take as much for granted or as a ‘given’.

This approach forces us to focus on the technical and mechanical aspects of the online output. In my film, a missing vignette was identified. A sound operator's elbow was spotted in a few frames of a shot.


I mentor emerging filmmakers and help them understand that making films is a process of problem-solving. If you love puzzles, you’ll embrace the process. But if you feel anxious when problems arise, you can learn ways of leaning into them instead of leaning back. My film had a duration problem.

Often, there’s a deal in place for post-production with the final duration being a significant cost-determining factor. My film was sitting at around 89 minutes and if I wanted to bring it on budget, it needed to be around 83.

So, the editor and I did a pass where I deleted 6 minutes by focusing on the ‘breaths’ in the film. While I love a narrative to breathe, I had to meet an agreed duration. Sure, I’m not completely happy with moving so quickly off a beat and onto the next but excellence and accuracy trump perfectionism. And meeting a deadline is life and death to me. It’s also about respecting your crew and the interacting film departments as they have deadlines too.

How Perfectionism Kills Your Craft Crushes Your Spirit

Right at the time of writing this, I’m awaiting the final, final, final cut to check it one last time before the final export. But the good news is – it’s not about perfectionism. It’s about accuracy and excellence. The film will be as good as I can make it within the parameters set that allow everyone else to do their jobs according to their parameters and schedule.

Scripts, films, great food, and life itself are all about beginnings, middle, and endings. Every one of us has our own relationship with each part of that process. Some love starting. Some love finishing. Some love being in the middle when it’s all happening.

Ideally, if you’re a great starter, it’s good to have colleagues who can wrap things up. If you’re a procrastinator who leaves starting things to the last minute - i.e. loading the gun but never pulling the trigger - work with colleagues who can get that part of the production up and running. Play to your strengths and keep honing skills that make you a great colleague.

Perfectionism kills creativity and the satisfaction we all deserve as artists, writers, and filmmakers.

Like my dad, don’t wait to have the exhibition until after you’re dead. Meet those deadlines while you’re alive. It’s easier to enjoy them when we’re still here.

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About the Author

Renée Brack

Renée Brack

Producer, Screenwriter, Story Analyst, Filmmaker

Writer, producer, director of award-winning film and TV content and made waves in immersive storytelling developing a scripting template for VR and 360 experiences. Now in a writing phase - 1 book on sale, the 2nd book with editors and 12 flyers for features and series on a slate with scripts pendin...

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