What I Learned From My Failed Passion Project
There were dozens of fingerprints on it, but it was my world. I was the Alpha and the Omega, bitch.
Unfortunately, the execution was flawed. I populated my world with creatures to roam the land… but forgot to give ‘em lungs to breathe the air. Oops.
So when my friend Richard brought up a project called SUBTEXT by the Pander Brothers over lunch, it felt like a gut shot at first. He read the logline: “A young woman is led into a tryst by her boyfriend via phone texts, only to discover a painful truth about their relationship.”
That sounds a lot like your TEXT web series, doesn’t it?”
But the idea is malleable, like pressing Silly Putty onto a fresh newspaper: even though the words were the same, there is an infinite number of shapes and configurations. No, the idea wasn’t stolen or borrowed or lifted. It was just a good idea.
My friends and I tried to shoot TEXT two years ago. At the time, I had a good script, but lacked the vision to pull the project together in the only place that counted. Which wasn’t the page. The script was just a blueprint. When a skyscraper wobbles or your tablet crashes, you don’t see anyone crying over the CAD drawings, do you? I didn’t get it right in the fabric of space and time, where I was accountable for light and sound and shots and the intangible goodwill of friends who sacrificed a weekend to make my vision a reality.
But Man, The Idea Was Good
That I know for sure. It’s reassuring. If I have 10 more ideas, if I’m lucky, I’ll have 1 good one. So I have to get through the 9 not-so-good ideas first. Of those 9, perhaps 2 will be worth executing, for the purpose of learning to execute.
Which runs counter to an idea I heard recently, about passion projects. I heard this nugget from a blogger the other day (excuse the lack of attribution, I have no idea where it came from): “If it’s not a joy to make, don’t make it.”
She suggests only taking on projects that are a joy, because that joy will drive you past the Dip. It will drive you to the finish line. But I think this idea deemphasizes the importance of practice. Of learning the chops — which isn’t always a joy.
If you’re a professional, it doesn’t matter if a particular project is a joy, or if it’s your passion project. You bring your fucking A-game no matter what. You prepare, you sketch, you debate, you run over every possible outcome from A to Z. Yes, there are moments of joy. In equal parts as moments of “what the hell did I get myself into?”
Lake Bell wrote and directed her short, WORST ENEMY first, as a means to learn the chops before she directed (and produced, and starred in) IN A WORLD…
My father opened his first Japanese restaurant in a wonderful but small town. There were only 37 seats. Which gave him the chops to open a bigger sister-store in a more trafficked location, with about 80 seats. He lost a lot of sleep over the restaurants, and took on a great deal of risk. There were a lot of those “what-the-hell” moments. And neither were his passion project — but they paved the way to the third restaurant, which is.
Someone who helped me with TEXT recently, um, texted me, and asked “Whatever came of the Texting short?”
I considered fibbing: saying it was stuck in post, or there was still hope to fiddle with it. No one else had said otherwise yet, so technically it was true.
Instead, I admitted the truth: the project was dead.
Saying it aloud made it true. It made the failure real. More importantly, it embarrassed me, but it didn’t kill me. It did not make the good idea a bad one. It made it clear the only thing left to do was find more good ideas, and make them real. Alpha and Omega.
Photos Credit: Ruben Ras