The Long Way Round

The last time I tried to start a blog, I wrote about The DreamTM – to run a production company specialising in narrative comedy.

At the time, I was working on my second Edinburgh Fringe show, which I was convinced was the most efficient way to achieve that dream. My reasoning was that there was no point making stuff if there wasn't an audience to watch it, and the tiny bit of momentum I had as a stand-up would be the best way to build one.

I now realise that was stupid. The most efficient way to start a production company is... to start a production company.1 Or at the very least, start developing some of the skills that would require, like writing scripts and producing them.

I guess I knew this on some level, because 'produce a short film' has been on my to-do list for several years. But I never got round to doing it – mostly because it was just one step of a bigger plan, which looked something like this:

  • Step 1: produce a short film
  • Step 2: become a wildly successful filmmaker

The first problem: that's not even a little bit close to how anything works. The second, more fundamental problem: when you pin all your hopes on a single, magical project that's the gateway to your dreams and/or overall happiness, it becomes very easy to get paralysed with fear and distracted by other things.

1 Of course, meandering paths aren't completely worthless. I don't regret the time I've spent on stand-up: it's fun, it's a nice way to meet fellow comedy nerds, and it helped me develop skills like writing jokes and putting myself in my work. And it does help build an audience. But if you do have a dream, it probably makes sense to work towards it at least a little bit?

Lowering the Bar

But then I read the excellent Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis, which suggested a more pragmatic approach: start as small as you can, keep the stakes low, and then work your way up. In other words, change the plan to something like this:

  • Step 1: make something shit
  • Step 2: make something slightly less shit
  • ...
  • Step x: make something that's maybe actually not that bad??

Instead of hoping that the first thing I made was going to be amazing and make people desperate to work with me / throw piles of money at my face, I made peace with the fact that it was going to be terrible. I know it sounds obvious when written down, but lowering the bar turned out to be suprisingly effective tactic. Instead of trying to create the next Community or 30 Rock (probably impossible), I just had to create something (definitely possible). The only metric that mattered was that I learned enough to make my next attempt marginally less terrible.

And so I wrote my first sketch and filmed it just before Christmas.2 The cast were great, but – as expected – I did several dumb things that stopped it from being fully viable. (If I had to choose my favourite rookie mistake, it would probably be the one where I accidentally didn't record half of the sound – which, as it turns out, is a pretty crucial part of the overall filmmaking process.) But it didn't matter, because the stakes were sufficiently low. Worst case scenario: there are now two actors who probably shouldn't trust me for the foreseeable future.

Of course, it would've been nice to have a polished sketch, but I had the next best thing: a list of things to improve for my second one, which I filmed in February. It was definitely better, but had its own set of problems – and so the process continues. I'll share both sketches soon, with a full list of everything I learned.

So whatever you want to do – whether it's film some sketches or write something for that blog you've been meaning to restart for ages – the best thing to do is just start. Your first attempt might be lame, but at least the next one will be better.

Unless you're irredeemably bad, in which case maybe try something else.

2 Literally just realised it's now over four months later. I should really finish editing that.