A couple of months ago I was speaking at a conference after a screening of "America; I Too". Well into the Q&A someone asked me; how do you not give up? How do you keep going and not get discouraged? I laughed aloud as I answered that I get discouraged all of the time.
Right around that time we held a fundraiser for our May 1st Shoot for "America’s Family". Executive producer Angelica Salas came to the mic and told the audience I was “fearless”. I would have laughed aloud again had I not been so surprised that she said it. I get afraid about as much as I get discouraged. In fact, if I’m not in some capacity working on the film, I’m usually worrying about how at any second it could all fall apart.
And I was worrying in spades as we lead up to our May 1st shoot. We were less than two weeks out, still thousands of dollars short, and still without an actor to play the father Jorge (later we would lose the actress to play the role of Valentina and have to replace her just two days before the shoot). “There is just no way that we can do this,” I moaned to a friend and fellow filmmaker. “All of this work we’ve done, all of the other footage… it’s all coming to a crashing halt.” He was empathetic, he reminded me that budgets could change and then he told me; “whatever you do, don’t give yourself an out.”
An out? You mean an out like a I’ve-given-up everything-in-the-process-to-make-a-movie-that-is-never-going-to-happen-so-I-need-to-get-out now? That kind of out?
I considered it. Like maybe fifty times.
And then I did what I always do when I feel that the end is inevitable. I remembered Steven Shainberg.
Back in 2002, I read an interview with director Steven Shainberg. He was asked what was the most critical piece of advice he could give to emerging filmmakers. This is what he said:
Don’t give up. Yes, you have to have some level of invention and creativity but it’s an industry marked by attrition where most people don’t succeed because they take themselves out of the game.
I do have passion and commitment. I’m not the most disciplined and anyone can tell you how much I struggle with deadlines. None of it matters though. Somewhere in the persistence game I’ve gone beyond quitting. Quitting was like, mmm, two years ago – or maybe 20? There are now just too many people involved, too many interweaving injustices, too much possibility and promise to just jam it all in the trash can. Besides it’s my job as Ang Lee would say to “not just to finish the movie – but to make the movie.”
Woody Alan is famed for saying “80% of success is just showing up”. I would imagine we’re all painfully aware that you can’t show up if you give up altogether. So I find myself settling for not being the most talented or most beautiful, the richest with resources, the smartest or the youngest. I walk past the exit sign, dig in my heels and do whatever I can to just stay in the game. And if I’m not quitting then neither should you.