I was reading some promotional materials the other day about a company that does, well, promotion. I guess they would know all about the subject. The materials in question consisted of a glossy coffee table book full of glossy commercial photography and short quotations in big fonts. Like fortune cookies for the nearsighted these followed the theme of “Nothing is Impossible!” and “If you can dream it you can do it!” and “There are no big problems if you refuse to think small!” Once I recovered from the boundless enthusiasm of these statements I found myself surprisingly bilious towards their message. Nothing is impossible? Clearly this writer has never had to find street parking in Chicago. If you can dream it you can do it? Well I’ve dreamed about breathing underwater but I’m pretty sure that will never happen no matter how hard I work at it. There are no big problems if you refuse to think small? I’ll bet the IRS gets a lot of back taxes from people “refusing to think small”. Really? I mean, really?! Is this what passes for advice these days? No wonder it is so difficult to inspire the MTV generation.
It’s not that I’m jaded about advice: I just want to be given advice I can actually use. I’m not exactly an expert, but I’ve been giving the topic of advice a lot of thought lately. Our current script “Recalculating” is all about getting the advice you need to stay on track and to keep moving forward when struggling to overcome an ordeal. It got me thinking about the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever gotten. They are- in no particular order- as follows:
“Keep your eyes open and your panties on.”
From a high school friend after I told him I was going to be working on a film for the first time. This is deceptively useful advice: filmmaking, like theatre, is an intense team project and there is a tendency to become best-of-friends with people that you often never see again. While in production it seems like the project might be your whole life but it isn’t. Mixing your personal life with your professional life seems like a good way to save time. Then again you can save a lot of time by mixing a tuna melt with a strawberry shake at lunch but no one does. Why? Because it’s repulsive and just makes a big mess.
“Draw. Draw everyday, even when this is about as glamorous as getting a rash.”
From a college kid who referred to himself as “Chris the Unwise” whom I asked for advice about learning how to do animation. I substitute “Draw” for whatever it is I’m trying to work on: writing, film making, exercising, etc. This one is easy: it’s not always going to be a lot of fun to do what you do, but that’s not the point. It still needs to be done and you still need to do it. So quit whining and get back to work.
“Opera happens because a series of things fail to go wrong.”
Ok this one is from Terry Pratchett and wasn’t given to me personally, but the message is in the right place; there is plenty of ways for things to go wrong, so as long as your production is still in production there is hope. More importantly it is a reminder to stop waiting for things to go right and just keep moving forward and prepare for them to go wrong. The better prepared you are for things to go wrong the more chances you’ll have to get it right.
There you have it, folks. The best advice I’ve ever gotten. When you think about it- who really needs advice on how to be inspired? Usually having the dream is the easy part: I want to be an Astronaut. I want to be the President. I want to be a Movie Star. The hard part is figuring out how to make it happen and dreams are made into reality with a lot of things going wrong, a lot of unglamorous persistence, and a lot of careful relationships with the people you have to work with.