There is a burning desire inside all of us to create amazing, earth shattering projects. Almost everybody has their ideal project, something they’ve been burning to do since they were children; something that will set the world on fire. Whenever I meet somebody like that, and they are at the beginning of their career, I tell them the same thing; wait.
Don’t do that dream project first. Wait until you are ready. Fail on smaller projects you don’t care about. Fail where it doesn’t matter. Fail where you don’t have a massive emotional stake in what you are making. Don’t fail on the project that sets your soul on fire.
Well, there are a couple reasons.
1. You aren’t skilled enough to make the project you want to make yet. You have a long way to go before you can make something amazing, and until you can make something amazing it’s useless to try to make your dream project. Making smaller projects will help you hone your craft until you are ready for your massive epic.
2. You can’t mount a massive project because you don’t have the cash. Because you are at the beginning of your career, you don’t have the ability to find the kind of money necessary to make your dream project with your dream team. Instead, you should be making small projects you can fund, and over time you will be able to fund bigger and bigger projects. Eventually, you will be able to mount that dream project.
3. You don’t have the clout to make your dream project happen. Usually dream projects involve massive scale and scope, something that requires people to buy into your dream. Because you don’t have a track record, you can’t convince anybody of import to do anything with you. Instead, focus on building up your career so that people will want to work with you. You build your career through smaller projects and finishing things.
A great example of this is my friend David Lawson Jr. Dave and I met years ago when I was the director of photography on a short film he was producing called Silent Lucidity. This wasn’t a big project. It was all set in one room and dealt with a guy slowly going insane as he tried to break the world record for sleep deprivation.
It was a small project. I think we shot it over one weekend. But he finished it.
Then we lost touch for a few years. When we finally reconnected in LA, he made a name for himself making incrementally bigger and bigger projects until he was able to fund the kinds of projects he wanted to make. But he didn’t make that dream project first. He made a solid project he could fund and then kept getting bigger opportunities as he proved himself.
This is the ideal way to build a career, through incrementally bigger projects. More often than not, though, creatives end up abandoning careers because they can’t get their dream project created right out of the gate. They push and push and push to get that dream project done, and at the end of the day it just doesn’t happen. They spend so much time, energy, and effort on creating one project, that they burn out.
Meanwhile, other people are creating, failing, iterating, and improving, while the person that tries to create their dream project first stays still. Remember, we improve from the finishing of things.
This is not me saying don’t ever work on your dream project. It’s saying that you should build up to it. Just like buying a starter home is not the end goal of home ownership, your first project isn’t the end goal of a creative career. You need to build up cash deposits and momentum to buy that dream home. If you buy it too early, then it turns from a dream into a nightmare.
The same way with your dream project.