Ok, people. It’s game-changer time. I’ve been working in this industry for damn near 20 years and I am SICK AND TIRED of statistics from 2013 like these:
- Only 4% of the DGA are directors of color
- Only 4% of films were directed by women
- Only 7.6% of films were written by minorities
- Only 11 percent of films had a minority lead
- More than half the films had casts that were 10% minority of less
- Only 26% of films had a female lead
- Only 4% of broadcast television shows had minority creators
- More than 60 percent of broadcast television shows have a writing staff with 10 percent minority or less
- Almost 70% of broadcast shows had writing staffs with less than 40% women
Aren’t you fed up too? I hope so, because we have a lot of work to do. Yes, the industry itself has some changing to do to create opportunities, but opportunity is only 20% of the game. Yes, 20%. I’ve been on both sides of the table, as a studio exec and independent producer and I’ve seen from experience that the other 80% is what YOU must bring to the table in the form of your mindset and approach. These are skills, disciplines just like any others that can be learned and taught. They are critical to your success.
Miss the FULL live Black Filmmaker Success seminar? CLICK HERE to download the link for the teleseminar which goes even deeper!
Why are these disciplines important?
If you enter a market and don’t know what to do,
watch what everyone else is doing, and then do the opposite, if you
want to be successful. The majority is almost always wrong.
Too often, I see filmmakers focus in on the WHAT or HOW elements of their work. Networking. Getting in the room with the “right” people. Getting into the “right” festival. Making the “right” kind of film. Convincing people of who they are while hiding the insecurities they have that maybe they don’t have what it takes.
These insecurities are natural of course. You’re an artist. You want to have a singular voice and vision but you also want others to love it. This is the paradox. However, the strength of who you are as an artist is in YOUR voice. YOUR vision. YOUR point of view. Your power is in the fact that you see things in a particular way, and that you’re able to show the world something they’ve never seen before. Yet most filmmakers, especially those of color are reluctant to stand on who they are. Even without wanting to, we adapt and play small because we want to be on the “inside”. We say yes when we shouldn’t. We accept things we shouldn’t. Your job as a leader is to take a stand for a perspective. YOURS. To represent an idea that inspires and captivates.
Strategy is critically important. Eventually you will need to be with the right people at the right place at the right time. These disciplines are about how you train yourself to be fully WHO YOU ARE in order to get there. There is no greater way to enroll people to invest in you as an artist than to put your full, delicious, exciting, dynamic, and powerful self on display. And to be able to stand unflinching as they adore you. It’s harder than it sounds — its the equivalent of standing on stage at Madison Square Garden to thunderous applause — while you’re naked. This is about learning to train yourself to always be focused on the WHY of what you’re doing. When you are always in tune with your why, you cannot be overwhelmed by options. You are always clear the direction you’re headed in because you are able to see your results IN ADVANCE. That alone separates you from the pack enough to stand out.
The Art Of War — The Elite Commando Mindset
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” — Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
Not everyone is willing to do this work. Some people may think it’s not important. Some people won’t see the connection between what are effectively life principles (and that IS what these are) and the work of being a filmmaker. That’s fine. This work is only for people who understand that in order to be a Visionary, you have to make your films from ALL of you, not just the part of you that was trained in how to use a camera. This is for the people who want to be a force of nature, and won’t settle for anything less. I informally call my disciplines the COMMANDO MINDSET, and it’s because Elite Commandos are called upon to perform the TOUGHEST DUTIES in the armed forces. We’re talking about the Seal Team 6 guys, right? I mean imagine that in ALL of the already highly trained armed forces, there’s an elite, EVEN MORE highly trained and conditioned group that gets the real missions that protect the freedoms that we all enjoy. They are the BEST OF THE BEST. I believe any filmmaker of ANY color quite frankly, who wants to be a visionary voice must have the skills, training and conditioning of an Elite Commando.
These are called disciplines for a reason. Not tips or strategies, but disciplines. This is because they must relentlessly be applied despite the circumstances. Disciplines are things that you put yourself through and work with, then hit the world and do. They must consistently and routinely be interwoven into the fabric of how you work and become a part of your everyday life. They must be practiced over and over again until they become an unconscious practice.
This post is about those skills. If you are ready, I mean really ready to get out of your career and this business an extraordinary level of success, then it is available to you. Will you have to work your ass off? Yes. Can it also be fun and satisfying? Yes!
Why I Do This Work
I’ve spent my whole life helping people tell their story.
At film school, I produced short films by directors I felt were really talented and ran organizations for artists of color. Later, as a studio executive at New Line Cinema, I championed films like Spike Lee’s BAMBOOZLED, about the difficult and touchy subject of racism in television and media (part of this championing involved a passionate plea on my part to my boss at the time in his office while an 8 foot replica of the original creature from ALIEN hung over me, 2nd jaw extended, ha!) . As an independent producer, I made a film about the brutal and horrific 100 Day genocide in Rwanda called SOMETIMES IN APRIL. Most recently, through my producing deal at the film studio Focus Features, I created and ran as Executive Director one of the most successful filmmaker training programs for emerging African filmmakers called AFRICA FIRST. We had 30 filmmakers come through the program and make groundbreaking films that hit the world stage in a big way. It’s one of the works I’m most proud of.
Championing people telling their story is a great passion of mine. As you can perhaps tell from the examples above, the more difficult, the more marginalized the story might seem, the more aggressive and hell bent I was to find a way to get it told. Nothing got me worked up and out of my seat faster than someone saying that someone’s voice didn’t matter or wasn’t important or wasn’t “marketable”. “WHAT DID THEY SAY?” I would rant to myself, outraged. “Oh, we’ll see about that”. Half the time, I don’t even know how I managed to find a way to do some of the things I’ve done, but I know that had I stopped too long to think about how impossible it was, then none of it would have happened.
From the outside looking in, my life was a good one. Behind that however, was a never ending need to fill a void inside of me. My drug of choice wasn’t boys or babies like others around me. My drug of choice was approval.
And for a long time, it worked. Really well. I graduated film school at 20 with honors. At New Line Cinema, before I became an exec I had worked my way up from the assistant ranks to become the youngest (and only person of color) on the development team. Then I went on to do the other things listed above.
But I felt like a fraud. I was always, ALWAYS fighting the sensation that someone would look at me and find something wrong with me. No one, not even people very close to me in the business, knew that I spent my days wrestling and suffering from a deep feeling of unworthiness.
Then, I became a mother of twins.
The fear and shame of feeling I wasn’t a good parent came swiftly and cut me to the core of my being. Having children, thankfully I can say now, robbed me of my ability to use the same armor and devices I had always used to “fix” things. You can never get parenting “perfect”, but dear God, was I trying with all I had. The horror of continuously feeling like I was coming up short was devastating and overwhelming.
Then, I got a coach. A brilliant, amazing parenting expert named Elizabeth Floch.
I spent the next 8 months doing some of the most intense internal work of my life. Growing, changing, evolving. Then, that fateful day came when Focus Features went through a very public and dramatic change when my boss and CEO James Schamus was replaced literally overnight. All of a sudden, my relationship with the company and my beloved AFRICA FIRST program were in jeopardy.
In the midst of a 3am sleepless night soon after, I attracted You Tube seminar from Abraham Hicks on the powerful Law of Attraction. Elizabeth had told me about Hicks before, but this was the first time I took the time to really hear it. Four hours later, for the first time in my life, I could FEEL worthiness in my spirit. Crying, I allowed it to wash over me, and let it into my heart to take root, grateful to God for the ability to feel fully in his presence.
I made a decision that day that I live by now: I would no longer accept my unworthiness as a fact. I could now stop being perfect and instead give MY personal best to everything I do, because I knew that my best was all I or God needed from me. I would NEVER again settle less than I can be, do, give, or create because I wasn’t enough. Since then, I started taking massive action to improve every aspect of my life — my emotional state, my intimate relationships, my parenting, career choices and spiritual lives have all undergone radical transformations. I took coach training at the prestigious Coaches Training Institute, and vowed to do the work with other creative professionals that I had done for myself.
I’m finally ready to do some of the work in this business that I’ve always wanted to do, and that it to break down walls and barriers that have never been broken down before. I’m still mad as hell when someone says that your voice doesn’t matter, and I’m still prepared to do what it takes to get these voices heard.
But I now know that it has to start with you.
Look, I finally grew tired of a life and story dictated by “in spite of”. In spite of the fact that I didn’t have (X), I achieved (Y). That was my whole life. I’m sure it’s the same for some of you reading this. We fight and claw on every battlefield, trying to PROVE that in spite of what we had been through, we could be something.
It’s time for all of us to tell a new story. It’s time for all of us to understand that OUR VOICE MATTERS.
We cannot achieve true success until we believe wholeheartedly in our own worthiness and belonging. Our story is important and we deserve to be SEEN, HEARD and ACKNOWLEDGED.
It’s time for a story of “because of”. BECAUSE OF the fact that others said your voice doesn’t matter, your stories don’t “sell”, you picked up the baton anyway. BECAUSE OF the fact that you have different experiences and different point of views, you will be able to go places and do things that no other filmmaker can. Your power and strength lies in WHO YOU ARE.
Once you get that, you’re ready to change the world.
Miss the FULL live Black Filmmaker Success seminar? CLICK HERE to download the link for the teleseminar which goes even deeper!
THE 7 DISCIPLINES
Discipline #1 – Take Full Responsibility For Your Life and Career
What does that mean? That means from here on in, there is No More Blame. If your career is not where you want it to be, that’s YOUR FAULT. Not the industry, not injustice, not anything else but YOU. You have to accept responsibility for the results in your life. That might piss some of you off. I don’t really care. This is rule number one for a reason: when you accept responsibility for your results, that means you are in control of your results from now on. You are more powerful than you imagine.
Most of us are looking for someone to blame. Will Smith, Oprah and Tyler are always a target. These days it seems to anybody who is rich and black who’s not financing films is to fault. Things CAN change and this is your opportunity to change them, but you have to stop engrossing yourself in these types of messages or others like them. Maybe for you it was a producer of financier who did you wrong. Whatever or whoever your target is, get over it. Today is a new day, and you are firmly in the drivers seat.
If you really want to change, this is your moment. What’s holding you back? YOU. No more of this “they” won’t let you/accept you/give you money crap. It’s time to step up as a leader and take your fate in your hands. Once you do this, you can look around and get HONEST about WHAT YOU’RE NOT DOING that’s contributing to the fact that YOU’RE NOT WHERE YOU WANT TO BE.
Discipline #2 – Create A Specific Vision For Your Future
The difference between those who set their goals and kill it and those who don’t is that they are CLEAR about where they are going. They see their results in advance. What do you want to achieve? By when? Forget the how for now — any how will get in the way of a perfectly good what. The Bible says that without vision, the people perish. Our minds are designed to focus, but it needs a target. What do you want to be? What is you ultimate vision for yourself as a filmmaker? Get specific. Do you want to make one film a year? What kind? What genre? What kind of budgets do you want for your films? What are they about? If you had all the access, all the power, all the money — what would you be doing? Don’t fall into the trap of just imagining yourself winning an Oscar. Not that that’s not a useful PART of your overall vision, but it’s not all of it. It’s more helpful to imagine you’ve won it and NOW what are you making?? Its surprising that so many of us, because we’re so overwhelmed by the day to day never take the time to create our specific vision.
I use the word specific for a reason. All Goals, all outcomes must have 3 characteristics to work. They need to be: Specific, Measurable & Attainable. Once you have this, you can create progress and progress creates MOMENTUM.
DISCIPLINE #3 – Know WHY You Want It
Our emotions drive EVERYTHING we do. What makes some people play all out while others never get out the gate? It’s the meaning we give to what we want. If you don’t have a burning, white hot desire that says you MUST be a successful filmmaker, it just won’t happen. Your emotions give you the ENERGY you need to play at the level you’re going to need to play at. If you just want it, but don’t daily trigger the reasons WHY you will perish from the earth unless you achieve it, then frankly you don’t deserve it.
I don’t let my clients go forth with any goals until they’re clear about this right here. Can you come up with 100 reasons why you MUST SUCCEED as a filmmaker right now? If you don’t have a list, you should create one right now. You’re going to need incredibly high standards for yourself to do the work you need to do. In order to get to that standard, you’re going to need to be able to call on the emotional depth of why you are driven to do what you do.
For me, the birth of my twins gave me two of the most compelling reasons I’ve ever had to change my life. It’s not that my life was terrible at all, it’s just that I knew, deep inside that i was capable of MORE. And there was something about looking into the eyes of my beautiful son and daughter that made me want to be able to tell them who Mommy really was, what I was capable of. Because one day they’re going to come to me and they’re going to have big dreams and I wanted to set an example for them for what dreaming big really looked like. They are the reason that LEGACY is part of the title of my company. Every time I say the name of my company, I am reminded of why I MUST succeed. It gets me up out of bed — most times at 4:30 or 5, so that I can do what I need to do.
Discipline #4 – Believe Your Vision Of The World Is Possible
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela
Even after you’ve created your vision and you know what you want and you know WHY you want it, if you’ve not conditioned yourself in THIS area, you’ll keep looking at the environment, which probably looks A LOT different than what your vision is and you’ll start to doubt that what you WANT to see is possible.
When you have big dreams, manifesting them in the world can often look impossible. You must learn to not rely on the conditions of your physical environment to determine what is possible, but train yourself to hold your version of the world as true. Your mind must become the nurturing resting place that holds fast to your vision of the world as you would like it to be.
Part of what’s so exciting to me about working with filmmakers is that I have the extreme privilege of holding on to their vision with them. And having someone that you trust think that the way you see the world and what you believe is possible is NOT crazy is something that everyone who has a big dream needs. The way our minds really work, is that our brains don’t know the difference between a vision we create in our minds and our day to day reality. We do have to decide daily what we are focusing on. If you focus on the physical day to day reality, and beat yourself up about how hard things are, you’ll give up the fight. If you focus on the vision you have for how you want to be, focus on your actions and believe that it is accessible to you, then you bring that vision INTO reality.
The people we admire, who have done great things, have held a vision for a world that was not yet in place. Martin Luther King had a famous dream for equality, JFK had a dream that challenged America to put men on the moon, a feat that seemed impossible at the time. Harriet Tubman had a vision of walking former slaves to freedom. Do you think any of these people had time to look at their environment and get discouraged enough to give up? Nope. You can’t either. You don’t have that luxury.
Discipline #5 – Believe That YOU Are Possible
Understand this, before I go further, all of these tools are like pillars underneath your feet. If one crumbles, what happens? They all crumble. There’s just no getting around it. An there is NOTHING that will bring everything to a crashing halt faster than the breakdown of this discipline right here.
If I asked most of you if you believed in yourself, most of you would answer yes, right? Probably. If I was in public, I’d do the same thing. I mean OF course I believe in myself, right? Well, the thing I’ve found over and over and over again with clients is that at the end of the day, they don’t believe in themselves. They might WISH or WANT for themselves, but they don’t believe. Here’s the thing that there’s no getting around — We become what we believe.
As you know from my story, this was a problem I personally struggled with for a long time. There was always a part of me that didn’t fully believe in myself.
First, I covered it up in achievement. Approval seeking really was like a drug. Once you get that high once you have to keep getting it over and over in order to feel good. Soon, I kept giving myself unrealistic expectations, became a perfectionist and developed an unrelenting drive to have to please those I worked for. I worked myself to death, constantly in fear about whether I was good enough, doing a good job, and I lived in fear of criticism. So, I lived and died (mostly died) for approval and my fear of not getting it was destroying my life and my health.
So if anything I just said resonated with you, then I implore you to GET HONEST with yourself here. What’s your self talk really like? What do you believe about yourself?
Do you have that part of yourself that says, “you’re crazy!” “you can’t do that” “who do you think you are?” or “what will they think”? Are you constantly striving to please others and find yourself jumping through hoops to meet their approval?
Even if you are like this, the good news is that you can CONDITION your self belief. If you don’t CHOOSE to believe you’re the most gifted, talented and magnificent, the world won’t do it for you, or worse, when they do, you’ll feel like a fraud deep inside. When you believe something different about yourself you’ll work harder than anyone else to get it done.
This is one of the hardest tools to master, but it has the most impact when you do.
Discipline #6 – Create Outrageously High Standards For Yourself
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games.
Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning
shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.
Here’s where it can get a little tricky. When I talk about standards, you have to distinguish the difference between being a high achiever and a perfectionist. Perfectionists make their goals impossible and unobtainable. Then they overwork themselves to death in pursuit of these unrealistic goals. At it’s core, they are motivated by the need to avoid the fear of failure. In the mind of the perfectionist (and unfortunately I know this well), it seems as if your standards ARE outrageously high. In fact, you might think your standards are better than everyone else’s.
The problem is, perfectionism is a crappy standard because perfection doesn’t exist. So it’s not a real goal and its a terribly poor standard for your work. Seeking perfection only keeps you in the boom/bust cycle of trying to get it “right” and failing. You’re either in the throws of crazy momentum or curled up in a ball feeling like nothing you do is good enough.
Outrageously high standards are the domain of High Achievers. High achievers are willing to fail in service of getting better. Over and over and over and over again. Why? Because they know that safety is the enemy of success. If something doesn’t work, they ditch it and try something different. They take risks. They play full out because they know what their end goal is and will risk not looking perfect to others in order to get it. Most of all, they enjoy the process, knowing that each bump gets them closer to their ultimate goal.
Writing this post, I had a moment of that where I kept editing and editing, wanting everything to be just right so that the people reading it got a lot out of it, but there comes a point where I would have just not finished writing this if I didn’t just stick to my deadline, leave it where it was and just write from my heart. This post is not perfect. It’s probably too long, it’s probably not clear in some places. Who cares? In those moments, I focus on what I know. I KNOW these disciples are trans-formative, because I have seen them in action. So I keep going!
You’ll have to do this too in order to succeed.
Let me just stop and say this. I know that right about now is the point where this feels overwhelming. Or like it’s too much to process — I know I’m throwing a lot at you and these are BIG principles. For my clients, in order to really hear and learn about what needs to be different, awareness is always the first step. And that’s what you’re doing right now. First you need to understand just how powerful these tools can be.
I can’t possibly teach you all the ins and outs of really applying them in your life right now in this post. And like I said, not everyone is ready to do the work. They might say they are, but this is hard work to apply on a regular basis. For those few (very few) that are deeply committed to their craft, I am deeply committed to being a powerful “secret weapon” for those who are willing to do the work. I was so grateful when one of the filmmakers I worked with, Julius Onah, credited me with giving him the foundational tools that he needed to truly build the feature film director career of his dreams and he said this on the heels of being chosen to direct an 80M dollar film for Universal.
Discipline #7 – Create an Abundance Mindset, Give MORE than you expect to receive.
This is just what I’m doing here with this post, actually. Technically, I’m giving it all away! Why? Because I want it to serve you. If it does, great! If it doesn’t no problem. I’m not interested in selling this stuff, I’m interested in people USING it. Applying it. That’s how the change I want to see in MY vision happens.
This is a simple rule, but it’s critical to changing your life. It’s one of the most powerful shifts I’ve made personally. To be clear, this is not about letting people walk all over you or take advantage of you. Its about the fact that our lives are mirrors. Whatever it is that we worry that don’t have, the quickest path to it is giving it away to others.
Believing in and championing others has become the path to me finding and doing it for myself. There is no greater gift.
What do you wish you had more of right now? What do you complain that you don’t get? Identify them and purposefully find a way to give that thing. Give your time, your ideas, your compassion, your love. This can be hard to see on your own, but once you develop the muscle, you’ll start to learn how it really works. This alone will transform your life. When we understand our value in the world and what we have to offer, the universe responds in kind.
Making the disciplines work for you
In a perfect world, when the conditions are really right, what YOU want is to be able to wake up every morning, totally ON FIRE about your work and what you want to do. You want to feel like you’re moving forward, making progress — even if you’re not where you ultimately want to be — you want to feel that you’re taking the right steps. You also want to feel confident in your VISION. You’re here because you have SOMETHING TO SAY. You have a point of view of the world and you are chomping at the bit to get as many people to see through your eyes as humanly possible.
I had a rare opportunity with the Africa First Program because the filmmakers came hungry and eager to learn. So many creative people think that any kind of system shackles them. They’re so busy being a rebel that their habits are messy and inconsistent. Their need to always be original, every step of the way, causes them to be stuck and overwhelmed. But when those filmmakers finally see the light that the work of managing their “business and career” can be easier if they would just follow the “boring” protocols, they suddenly have so much more energy and clarity and freedom to be creative and loose and inspired, in the areas that MATTER. Their minds and spirits are suddenly wide open because the work of the business is in it’s own box, not inside of themselves as the artist.
Embrace these disciplines. Apply them! They will serve you powerfully if you allow them to.
In service of your visionary legacy,