The Film Business

How to Reorganize Your Life Around Filmmaking


image by: Pittaya

If only there was a magic formula that let you do twice the movie-making in half the time. Sadly — and I hope this doesn’t shatter your worldview — there is no such thing as a magic formula. The good news: there are perfectly ordinary tips and tricks that work just as well.

Eliminate Distractions

The first thing to do, and I’m 100% serious about this, it to zap anything in your creative environment that makes noise or pops up. Turn off phones, kill email alerts, and shut the pet in another room. Train the people you live with not to interrupt you except in emergencies. A 2005 UC Irvine study showed that once interrupted, it took workers on average 25 minutes to return to the task at hand.

Although we all think we are great multi-taskers, we aren’t. A 2009 Stanford study pitted heavy media multi-taskers against light media multi-taskers in a series of memory and attention challenges.  The heavy multi-taskers got trounced. They were more easily distracted, and had greater difficulty filtering important information from irrelevant information. Since a movie director’s job is almost entirely centered around deciding what is important and what isn’t for any given scene, it’s critical to cultivate a sense of focus.

Go with the Flow

Eliminating distractions is all about getting into a mental state that psychologists call ‘flow.’ You’ve probably experienced flow many times without realizing what it is.  When you’re working on a creativeproject and lose all sense of time and self-awareness, that’s flow. Researchers have found that flow is “correlated with optimal creative performance” — in other words, creative work is done faster and better when you’re in a state of flow.

Flow is also associated with improving skills. To keep the brain engaged, while in a flow state you will challenge yourself with harder and harder tasks. Tackling these challenges produces a feeling of accomplishment that creates a positive feedback loop that pushes you to strive for more.

Flow can also occur in groups. The first draft of the screenplay for the movie Bridesmaids was reportedly written in six days, in marathon sessions of improvisation and joke-generating.

Turn Deadlines to Your Advantage

Say what you will about film festivals, but their deadlines can be a great motivator to finish a film. There’s a reason for this: a deadline concentrates the mind and forces you to ignore distractions.

An artificial deadline can work just as well as a real one, but there are some tricks that will help you stick to it. You can set rewards (write 10 pages, eat a cookie) — or punishments (if you don’t write 10 pages in a day, no X-box). But I think the best trick is to use the force that makes facebook so addictive: social status. Let your friends know — by tweeting, emailing, whatever — what your goal is and charge them to shame you if you don’t succeed at it. I have friends who check with each other every week to make sure the other ones are writing. Welchers have to buy dinner.

These tips may sound easy, but they take practice. Ironically, I disobeyed them many times while writing this short piece. But I can say from experience that they do work. Here’s another that’s worked great for me: stop reading stuff on the internet and start making movies!

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MasteringFilm, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for aspiring and current filmmakers. No matter what your filmmaking interest is, including directing, screenwriting, postproduction, cinematography, producing, or the film business, MasteringFilm has you covered. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of filmmaking, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.