“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence” – Calvin Coolidge
This is a hard business. Anyone who expects to roll out of bed or step off a plane at LAX and immediately become a successful screenwriter, producer or actor is in for a rude awakening. As much as Los Angeles is a place where dreams come true, it’s also a place that they falter, but your dreams can only die if you let them.
If it were easy to find success in the film and television world, everyone would be doing it. I’m sure many can relate to the friend or family member who told them at the beginning of the process, “It’s too hard, don’t try.” Many people think this way. There are also a lot of people who are willing to take a shot or two at success before throwing in the towel. If your plan is to dip your toe into the muddy waters of developing and selling creative ideas and you think that you’ll quickly come up with a grand idea that someone else will run to the finish line, it is unlikely that you will get far.
If you want to be successful, you need to commit to doing the work and staying in the game. You need to persist.
Persisting doesn’t mean continuing to bark up the same tree over and over again. That’s akin to banging your head against a wall. It means that you’ve made a commitment to yourself that you are approaching your craft with a long-term plan, not a six-month dalliance. Success takes time and selling your first idea is going to require you to build both your network and your skills. The longer you are in the game, the bigger your network will become and the more respect you will earn. You’ll learn who your core collaborators are and you’ll start to see what works.
I’ve had a lot of failures and made a lot of mistakes, but each one has taught me something. It’s great to know what doesn’t work so you can focus on the things that do. In almost every biography of a successful individual, there are moments of self-doubt and sadness. It’s a natural part of trying to reach for the brass ring and everyone goes through it. The key is to not let these moments defeat you. The only way you can ensure that you won’t reach your goals is to stop trying.
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In The Producers Brain, I wrote about the difference between having a vision and a plan. It’s hard to have plans in a business as fickle as Hollywood, but it’s easy to have a vision. Know who you are and where you want to go. If you hold tight to your vision, you’ll be able to quickly adapt when your plans need to change. It will allow you to keep going instead of getting angry that your best lead didn’t pan out.
If you are struggling, don’t get jaded. Nobody wants to work with a producer or writer who is always a downer. It’s your enthusiasm and excitement for your ideas that will ultimately allow them to sell.
It’s also important to understand that creative pursuits are hard for everyone.
It’s easy to get angry when someone passes on one of your ideas or a high-level executive doesn’t follow through on their promise to be helpful, but remember that they’ve had to struggle to get where they are too. If something doesn’t work out, let it go and move on. You can always follow up in a few months once you’ve made more progress to explain how well things are now going. Who knows, you might get a different answer.
Remember, it’s the power of your relationships that will allow you to succeed long term, so focus on building them instead of tearing them down. The longer you keep at it, the more respect you’ll gain from industry insiders. They’ll see that you are serious about your pursuits and not a one trick pony looking for a quick buck.
If you commit yourself to continuing to learn, network, and grow in pursuit of a vision, it won’t seem hard to keep going. If you can accomplish this, you’ll have found that little light inside of you that will allow you to keep your head up when things get hard. You’ll have found the power of persistence and be well on your way to making your dreams come true.
David Kaufmann is an independent film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He began his career as an NBC Page at Saturday Night Live. He spent over nine years handling film and television licensing and development at Major League Baseball where he helped create critically acclaimed films like Moneyball and 42. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Richmond and holds an MBA from NYU Stern with a focus on the media business and creative producing. He is an active member of the Producers Guild of America. For more on David, please visit his IMDB or LinkedIn.