Whether you are an actress just starting out or a seasoned writer with 49 IMDB credits to your name, every artist struggles with confidence at one time or another. Sure, when you look through social media at all the success stories and not so humble-brags it can feel like confidence is never an issue for other people, but I am here to assure you it is.
I have personally been through seasons in life when I felt that I should just stop creating altogether. I remember feeling that perhaps the world would be a better place if I just kept my head down and worked at some desk job, or maybe dig ditches. Anything but create another film.
Through time and experience, I have learned a few tricks that have helped to me stay on track and feeling confident most of the time. Not an easy feat for an artist!
TIP 1: BECOME A STUDENT OF THE CRAFT
I think a lot of trepidation for artists comes from lack of education.
If you are endeavoring to act in a short film for the very first time but have not read any books on acting, taken any acting classes, or spoken to any experienced actors around town, you are no doubt going to feel very nervous going into your first shooting day. If you are a writer attempting to pen your first screenplay but haven’t learned the rules of story structure (or think they don’t apply to you), you are going to be in for a rough ride and many failed drafts ahead.
If you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you possibly prepare for the million different issues that can arise at every stage of filmmaking? As the enormity of your project begins to come into view, you will inevitably start to lose confidence if you don’t have a solid understanding of your craft. You will fail without even knowing why. That’s what makes people quit. When you know the issue, you can fix it.
The great thing is, these days education can be had for free. You don’t need film school or expensive acting classes. Your two main resources are the library and the internet. I know you area all avoiding the library but I am telling you, it’s to your detriment.
Go to the library and take out 7 books that apply to your area, be it acting or writing or directing. Actually read them. Take notes as you go in a binder. Meditate on the lessons given in each as you go about your day. Google terms and concepts you don’t understand. Give yourself a custom PhD, free of charge. It might sound like a lot of work – and that’s because it is.
Here are some starting points:
The Intent to Live by Larry Moss
Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen
Audition by Michael Shurtleff
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky
A Challenge for the Actor by Uta Hagen
Secrets of Screen Acting by Patrick Tucker
If you do this, I promise you that your next project will be more successful because you will have learned how to prepare for it. And guess what? After you complete a few projects and read a few books, you will have both experience and education. You will feel confident going into your next project.
TIP 2: LEARN TO VIEW FAILURE THROUGH A NEW LENS
Failure often results in a lack of confidence. I mean, it’s only nature that you feel bad after not achieving your goal.
Let’s say you wrote your first screenplay and nobody liked it. You sent it off to writing competitions, online awards programs, the Blacklist, your friends, and even a couple local directors. You sent it and all you heard was crickets for weeks and weeks. Nobody cared. Not exactly a confidence boosting experience!
I assure you, all is not lost.
First, let me congratulate you on actually finishing your screenplay. Even finishing a bad screenplay is better than 97% of other so called screenwriters you see out there on the internet. Seriously, I think a lot of people like to talk about writing more than they actually write, you know, pages and scenes. You finished what you set out to do. Pat on the back, buddy.
Second, let’s take a look at what many famous writers have said about failure:
“Do not simplify. Do not worry about failure. Failure is a badge of honor. It means you risked failure.” — Charlie Kaufman
“You’re going to fail so many times. Just fail better. You’re going to mess up. You have to. And you’re going to do work that is problematic politically and personally and work that is devoid of spiritual engagement, and your job is to keep trying to find your place in that work every time.” — Tarell Alvin McCraney (Oscar-winner for Moonlight)
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” — Octavia E. Butler
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” — Richard Bach
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
What I take from these famous writers is that as you grow in your craft, you come to see failure as part of the process. As you should. Does a baby go from crawling to running straight away? Do young t-ball players hit the ball over the fence on their first swing? Can an English speaker read a Chinese dictionary and immediately begin speaking fluent Mandarin? Of course not. Why do artists expect perfection straight away? It’s ludicrous. Give yourself a pass. You are human. As you begin to view failure as a chance to learn, your confidence will improve.
TIP #3: UNDERSTAND THAT BAD NOTES (FEEDBACK) DON’T EQUAL A BAD PROJECT
Have you ever shown your work to someone expecting praise and receiving harsh criticism or worse yet, no response at all? It is important to realize that not all films are for all people. We can test the accuracy of this statement right here, right now.
Did you love ALL of the following movies?
Shape of Water
I bet you didn’t love them all. But guess what? All of these films have won an Oscar for Best Picture in the last 10 years. Are any of them bad films? Of course not. They are all works of art. Are they all for you? No. Every person is different and therefore all notes are different.
I personally adored Parasite. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time. But you know what? I could barely finish Birdman and you couldn’t pay me to watch Moonlight. No shade on the creators, just not my cup of tea. And that’s okay.
Take the good notes with the bad. Trust in your own vision. Once you start to see that some people really do love your work, you can hold your head up high when you see a bad note or two.
TIP #4: LEARN TO TRUST YOUR INNER VOICE
This tip could almost fit into Tip 3 above, but it is so important I have decided to give it its own section in this blog post.
The most important tool an artist has at their disposal is their inner voice. It’s that little nudge you feel in your gut that tells you to use a slightly darker shade of red in your painting. It’s that whisper in the night that plants a seed of a story in your heart. It’s that melody that seemingly comes from nowhere as you pick up your guitar.
Our inner voice is what guides us as storytellers. The more we trust it, the more our confidence blossoms.
I still recall a conversation I had about 12 years ago with a colleague in an elevator. The irony isn’t lost on me that what I am about to describe is a literal elevator pitch.
I was working in a marketing department at the time and still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. While walking towards the elevator, a colleague began complaining about having writer’s block. She had a commercial script to deliver by end of the week and was frustrated by her lack of progress with the concept, let alone the script. As the elevator doors closed and we began to ascend the building, this feeling came over me that I had a great idea. I pitched it to her off the cuff. She chewed on it for a bit and her eyes widened with excitement. She loved it.
Initially, she let me ghost write the script for her but eventually ended up giving me credit. I received three or four kudos from colleagues after they watched the finished spot. It was then that I started to believe that my inner voice was worth listening to. I went from coffee getter to writer in one elevator ride.
That very same voice has guided me through to 18 wins for Best Short Film at over 60 film festivals in the past five years. When I started telling people I wanted to start writing and directing, very few people believed I could do it. But I listened to my inner voice and kept going. I think you should too. I bet your inner voice is telling you to do some amazing things.