When I wrote the last Guerilla Film Makers Handbook, I asked Brit producer Richard Holmes what was the most important advice he could offer an emerging film maker. He said ‘Learn to make the distinction between what is real, and what you want to be real’.
This resonated with me at the time, and it has ever since. Whenever I find myself in certain situations, those words tend to come back… Especially where others around me are choosing to ‘believe’ in something that, in my gut, I kind of know is not genuine.
Why then do they believe? And why even in those situations do I sometimes choose to believe too? You could call it experience, that hard won lessons inform our choices. But I also feel that all too often we are complicit in bad decisions as we choose to buy into a deceit, lie, untruth disingenuous statement… This TED talk from Pamela Meyer eloquently makes this point.
Only recently I was in high level negotiations with a group of investors for a deal worth £5m. WOW! I know, how amazing is that…! Can you already feel how we want it to be true? Already the bullshit filters are slightly reduced (or heightened depending on who you are)…
At first all seemed great, this was going to be a game changer for me. But as things progressed, my spidey senses started tingling and I began asking tougher questions. The answers were almost always evasive until I was berated by other producers in the negotiations for asking questions that I considered to be simple ‘due diligence’.
You see they had not made the distinction between what is real and what they wanted to be real.
As it transpired I was right to ask those difficult questions as the deal collapsed when it became clear that this deal was really about getting middle eastern gold out of the region – I can say no more.
Here are a few BIG WARNING SIGNS that I have heard (and even, shamefully, said myself)…
- This film is going to make us all rich!
- We are paying you deferred fees, so you get paid when we sell the film.
- The food will be great!
- The sales agents seem honest, we all like each other, it’s going to be great!
- We don’t need a contract do we?
- Yes of course my friend can act, she will be great!
- No, there is no way we can cut the script.
- No there is no way we can make the film shorter!
- We are going to make one film every year.
- Do this job free and you will get hired on the next one at full rate.
- This guy is rich, we should just do what he wants.
Add infinitum… (and please add your own here)
So let me be clear, none of these statements are wrong. They may be untrue. They may be deluded. But they are not wrong. They MAY work for you.
And there lies the rub… Blind optimism versus dogged cynicism and the huge grey area between.
So how do you navigate cynicism that shuts down possibility, optimism that creates a wake of disaster and the real deal?
Take a step back and assess the situation, based on pragmatic optimism. Also, consider how can you be protected if it fails?
Personally, I find when you ask people to commit something to paper or an email, that’s when reality bites. Somehow, it’s easier to bend the truth in conversation than on paper (for obvious paper trail reasons I guess).
So commit it to written words.
That should sort out most of the bullshit. But not all of course.
The real key of course is not to lie to yourself.
It sounds easy but it’s much harder than you would think. Good luck!
Onwards and upwards
Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author