The job description for “filmmaker” should include thick skin as a prerequisite since you’ll be living and breathing criticism throughout your career. First and foremost, there will be your collaborators. Then your peers. Then the world at large as they watch your creations.
That’s a long list and line of people waiting to give you a piece of their mind and if you’re not ready for that, you just might go insane from the sheer weight of their expectations and opinions. But don’t be fooled: this isn’t just something for the filmmakers out there.
If you’re not living under a rock, criticism is going to be – if it already isn’t – a huge part of your life. Whether it’s school, work, or just your interactions in general, it’s inescapable. Over the years, I’ve gotten better with dealing with it, but I’ll be the first to say that I’m never going to be perfect at it. Just as good as I can possibly be at the moment.
Actually, I was inspired to write this blog precisely because I was reminded of my room for improvement.
When I started writing this blog, Phil had just gotten through giving me some feedback about my writing for YOMYOMF. Some of his words were difficult for me to hear and the frustrating thing about that is the fact that they’re probably difficult to hear because they’re painfully on point.
What is it about being wrong that is just so damn off-putting? Even though I’m aware that being wrong one time can lead to righting yourself on that matter for the rest of your life, the one thing that can go through my head in those instances is why I couldn’t have just been right about that matter from the very beginning.
In this case, as Phil spoke, I could feel the stubborn side of me start to butt its head up against the surface, trying to assert control. Part of me wanted to tune him out or outright deny his assessments. But it was a familiar desire, one I’d let be my master so many times before. He was right and I needed to hear that to improve.
Do we really have that much pride so as to keep us from growing? When I was in film school, I had to try extremely hard to keep that quality in check.
Before we submitted the final draft of a script or put the final cut of our films up on the big screen, we were put through the wringer by our teachers and peers. People scrutinized every decision we made on set, as well as those made in the edit.
“Why did you direct her the way you did? Why cut away there?”
It really called attention to your various responsibilities as a filmmaker, made us accountable for our choices in a very specific way. I suppose that’s why every judgment caused a flinch – knowing that just as we were answerable to the positive reactions we garnered, we were also equally answerable to the negative ones.
In a way, criticism cornered us, with no way to run away for what we’d done – good or bad. And we were being cornered with the biggest god damn mirror in the world.
I recall a session with a professor where he criticized my use of pop music for a credit sequence. He told me that those songs were there for the sole purpose of creating a soundtrack to sell later down the line.
Sitting there in the dark, I still knew my argument against that assertion, regarding my film and the use of pop music in general. But the way he said it, with such harshness and definitiveness, I froze. I froze and instead of defending myself, I just buckled and agreed – just to make the criticism stop.
In the end, I changed my credits song to an original piece of music. Don’t get me wrong: it was fantastic in and of itself, but whenever I hear my original song choice on the radio, I feel as though I could drown in regret.
So when facing criticism, accepting it blindly is just as bad as rejecting it blindly. It is in the listening, in allowing ourselves to be truly open to the possibility of a failing, that we can learn something – whether or not we were right to begin with.
I can only be as good as I am today. Tomorrow, I can only be better.