Like an athlete starting their career from nothing, so I started Raindance in 1992 from ground zero. The Olympics has amazed me with the success of the British Olympics team. Like their medal haul and success so too British film talent is hotter than hot, and unlike athletics there is too much talent for this tiny island to support. Much of the country’s top film talent finds fulfilment by playing on teams in Hollywood!
I realised there are many parallels between an athlete and someone starting their own film career. Here’s some key learnings I think filmmakers can learn from Olympians.
Visualise your goal and steps needed to achieve it
Starting a film or movie script requires a strong vision. You need to have a goal. Is it to get your script read and made? Is it to get your movie made and monetised? Once you have a strong vision of your goal you then need to create a strategy and execute it.
Athletes are no different. If you want to make it to the Olympics with your nation’s team you need to conquer all the different skills step by step. And train til it hurts.
Like a filmmaker, an athlete has a team. An athlete’s team of coaches and trainers is similar to a filmmaker’s heads of department and a screenwriter’s editors and heads of development.
An award winning athlete or filmmaker knows how to take advice from their team and learns how to keep communicating their vision to their team to keep them inspired.
Filmmakers as athletes will always face fierce competition. Filmmakers need to be able to rise above their competition.
Motivate yourself and your team
Setting your goals and setting up a strategy is the easy and the fun bit. Then the tough part starts. It’s easy to forget that success is 99% perspiration. Have you the stamina, as athletes do, to train and to work the long lonely hours it is going to take? Are you going to be able to keep your mind on your goal when all around you are telling you to take the easy road and quit? Have you the stamina to go past the wall of fatigue? Can you deal with failure?
Allow yourself, as athletes do, to take advice from your team. Experiment with new ways of thinking. See if you can discover tips from those around you. Watch other filmmakers and screenwriters. See if you can learn from their successes and failures. Importantly allow yourself permission to make mistakes.
At some point you will meet all your goals. Evaluate. How good are you? An athlete might suddenly find themselves as the best in their nation. Do you want to win a gold at the Olympics? Do you want to be the best in the world? If the answer is yes – you’ll need to move to the next step in your film career. Like an athlete you will find that the rules for competing on the world stage are different to competing locally.
Get the right team around you
An athlete works with a highly skilled team. They work with specialists in building strength, or flexibility, or endurance or coordination – depending on the sport.
A filmmaker needs heads of department: camera, sound, design and editing. A filmmaker also needs an excellent producer. Each member of a film team knows how to work and pull together following the filmmaker’s vision. Each member has unique skills that are highly tuned and which provide excellent support to the filmmaker.
Gertrude Stein was the American art collector who discovered Picasso and brought him from his Parisian garret to New York where he was discovered. When asked about their relationship, Stein said: ‘every vine needs a wall to grow on’. A filmmaker, like an athlete, needs a wall to climb on.
Starting a filmmaking career is daunting. It will suck every ounce of energy from you. Learning to manage you personal life as well as your business life is going to be a major challenge. Humility is probably the most important quality you can nurture. Learning to accept criticism will sting at first. Successful filmmakers learn how to respond to the comments of others no matter how hurtful they might seem on the surface.
I read in the papers about athletes who fist their coaches after a loss, only to hire another coach after another loss. My learning from this is to be patient with your team.
Sometimes it will seem as if everyone is taking a shot at you. This is always tough. My mother used to say that if one of the children had a headache then give them an aspirin. If all of the children had a headache then she’d need an aspirin.
Adapt to change
New technology in athletic training has transformed the way athletes prepare for important matches and events. So too for filmmakers. The explosion of digital content creation tools, the opportunities and challenges of self distribution and the advent of VR has made today’s filmmaking landscape the most interesting and potentially rewarding in over a hundred years.
The old stuff you learned and used might not work any more. Or perhaps you need to take the learnings of the past and apply them to the future. One of our postgraduate film degree students is applying the lessons he is learning from classic DW Griffiths movies of the 1920’s and seeing if he can apply them to virtual reality movies he’s planning to make. Exciting stuff.