The Science and Power of Waiting | Raindance Film Festival

The Raindance London office is near a food line. Every evening I see a long line of people patiently waiting for food. Hungry people accept a wait for food much more patiently than I would. I am not used to waiting at all. What can we as screenwriters and filmmakers learn about the science and power of waiting from people waiting in a food line?

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The power of painting

Photo by Lucy Young

Waiting is part of our lives. How people deal with this depends greatly on their background, and what they are waiting for. People standing in line at a food bank are very different than those waiting for service at a restaurant.

There are some basic laws we need to consider when considering what waiting is. And what waiting does to us.

1. The Laws of Service

There are two rules in the Laws of Service:

The first rule is that if the service the client is waiting for exceeds their expectations, then the client will be satisfied. And they will be prepared to wait for it.

And conversely, the second rule is that if the client’s service encounter meets with unexpected delays, or if the encounter is unsatisfactory then the client will be unsatisfied.

Think back to the last time you went to a restaurant. How long did you wait for the menu? How soon did your order arrive? An order that arrives promptly and within your expectation means you start your meal on a positive note.

Waiting is part of a screenwriter and filmmakers day. Be it waiting for finance, waiting for talent to agree to a project and so on. The challenge is how we learn to wait knowing that the offer of service – the deal – is worth the wait.

2. The Principals of Waiting

Occupied waits seem shorter than unoccupied waits. That is why public waiting areas in airports, banks and clinics often have tv monitors, web stations and other activities. This is great learning for us as filmmakers. To stay occupied while waiting.

I’m not suggesting you watch TV day and night. I am suggesting you occupy your waking time usefully. Learn a new skill. Get a film degree. Create a secondary income stream for yourself. And for your career health, start developing another project.

A second principal is that preprocessed waiting seems more bearable than unprocessed waiting. If your application for a passport, a job application or film finance has already started, you will find the wait more bearable. And after you submit SEND you will have a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that no matter the outcome you have successfully submitted your project.

The third principal is that waiting alone is more difficult than waiting in a group. Have you noticed that waiting on a street corner alone for a bus seems much longer than if you are waiting with a group? Waiting with a group, for me at least, means that the bus suddenly shows up, and I am usually unaware of the wait. Join networking groups.

How to cope with waiting

Attend filmmaking socials. Not only will you make new friends, but you can often learn valuable career tips. I’m championing Collab Writers – a networking group that brings seasoned pros to chat to us about timely topics. Their January 7, 2021 FREE event features special guest, media lawyer, Tony Morris.

Waiting for any service can cause anxiety, and none more so than in the film industry. I could not begin to count the number of times I have waited and waited until I have finally given up. Unfortunately making people wait is one of the ways the powers in the film industry say no.

Extended waits

Unexplained waits cause a great deal of anxiety. Not knowing when someone important will get back to me causes me to lose sleep. In our daily commutes we are serenaded every few minutes when a train stops between stations. This reduces anxiety to commuters. Why doesn’t the film industry do the same?

Then, of course, are the unjust waits. People who are rude, unsocial or just unaware and keep you waiting and waiting for no good reason. I was once hauled into security at JFK Airport because my fingerprint didn’t read on the digital sensor; for three hours I sat in a stuffy and claustrophobic waiting room with two dozen other unfortunates watching 5 customs officers engrossed in a ball game. Only when it was finished did they start to process our details. Grrr! I had not learned the lesson of the power of waiting!

3. The Psychology of waiting

The idea for writing this came from an excellent article I stumbled upon. It was written in 1985 by David Meister. It is well worth a read. David has written an excellent series of leadership books. My favourite is: STRATEGY & THE FAT SMOKER: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy.

Here is a summary of his Psychology of waiting:

  • Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.
  • Filmmakers and screenwriters want to get started.
  • Anxiety makes waits seem longer.
  • Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.
  • Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.
  • Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.
  • The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait.
  • Solo waits feel longer than group waits.

Practical Application

One of the drawbacks of working in the creative industries is you need to have ambition in order to succeed. And waiting seems to go hand-in-hand with ambition. One just has to get used to it.

When I started Raindance I worked for five long, lean, hard years. Then a friend told me that Sony were sponsoring film festivals. I went to them, cap in hand, business proposal in my pocket and was told that they only sponsored events that were ten years old. So I slugged it out and went back to them five more long, lean, hard years. To be told they no longer sponsored live events! Ouch! But during that wait I created and founded the British Independent Film Awards – an immensely satisfying event. So ultimately I did benefit from the power of waiting.

One last story here, and Im warning you, this is personal.

My good friend Simon Hunter has worked hard and long at his directing career. During his career he had his eyes set on one of Europe’s most distinguished and respected commercial director agencies. Time and time again he showed then his shorts, his 100+ commercials, his 4 features. And time and time again he was told to come back later. To wait. And wait simon did.

And then he made this advert. For Raindance of course:

And the result of Simon’s ability to wait? Of his perseverance and stamina? Of the power of waiting?
Waiting can work: Simon Hunter 76

Simon teaches several information and career enhancing classes at Raindance:

2023.12.14 Filmmaker Intensives: Directing Commercials in a Multi Media World

2021.06.10 Director’s Foundation Certificate Online

2021.04.22 [NEW] Filmmaker Intensives: Directing Action

Ask a question about Raindance Film School



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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