If You Don’t Feel Naked, You’re Doing Something Wrong09/19/2010
By Brett Allen Smith
Every success story worth recounting generally opens with the following sentiment: “It all started with that one person who completely believed in me – who knew with odd, blind certainty that I could do it.” After four years of film school, almost a year in Los Angeles, several industry internships, many odd-jobs, and dozens of dissolved friendships (including exactly two god-awful breakups), I have discovered the hilarious truth about this legendary “one person.” Cue the lights! Drum roll, please! Because your “one person,” destined to deliver you from all your uncertainty, anxiety, and self-criticism, from now until forever, is none other than…yourself.
Are you laughing yet? Me neither.
Filmmaking is collaborating with people united by a single passion, is embarking on adventures with friends and strangers, is discovering uncharted places both on this Earth and in your imagination – and is the most terrifyingly personal career you could ever inflict upon yourself (I won’t mention that it’s also the least economically stable choice out there). Whether you’re writing a script, rolling a camera, commanding an actor or even sewing a costume, you are literally putting yourself up there on the screen for all to see, and for even more to judge. It’s a feeling far worse than I’d imagine public nudity would be—and if you’re still reading this, you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about. But I’m here to tell you that at the end of the day, or when the credits roll, only one person has to be proud of the work you did. You. No matter how many film festivals you win, or lose, or get rejected from altogether, the only thing that matters is what you think.
I wish the tellers of success-stories had told me not just about the times they succeeded, but also about the times they failed. I have made countless mistakes, both in my personal life and in my filmmaking choices. But the only reason I’m smarter now than I was when I made my first “film” at age sixteen (a bloated Zelig rip-off, starring me) is because every mistake I made was utterly, devastatingly mine. I recall knowing with untested certainty that I was in the right on ever decision. All the time. To this day I take full credit for every failed attempt at a genuine cinematic moment, every cheated camera angle, and for every time I had actors address their lines directly to the camera for no better reason than just to “see what it looked like.” I had to make those mistakes – and, more importantly, make them fearlessly – so that I could make better ones next time. I’m begging all filmmakers everywhere: please, don’t be afraid to make strong choices, as long as they are your own.
It has never been harder to make a living in this industry, or even in this country. Both as young people and as artists, we no longer have the luxury of living in fear of the mistakes we might make, have already made, or are making this very moment. We must learn to love our mistakes. We must prepare to publicly disrobe. And above all, we must dare to fail.
More about Brett: In 2007, his play Ink!/Oil/Muse (circle one) was produced and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In 2008, his short story Needle! Now! Broken! was published in Fringe Magazine. His documentary about anti-homeless legislation, People Like Us, and his narrative short, Jane in the Factory, continue to receive laurels from film festivals across the country. This past year he co-produced the feature film No Matter What for Strike Anywhere Productions, and he currently works in Los Angeles at the studio-based Outlaw Productions. But above all else, he just wishes Miranda July would notice him.