Choose Yourself – Seth Godin on Filmmaking

I saw this posted on Seth Godin’s blog earlier this week, and it seemed to be written specifically for most of my filmmaker friends.

Getting picked (need to vs. want to)

Sure, it’s fun to be picked, anointed, given social approval for what you do—the newspaper writes you up, you get invited to speak at graduation, your product gets featured on the front page of a website or blog…

The thing is, it’s really difficult to get picked, and those doing the picking don’t have nearly the power they used to. (Pause for a second to consider that double math problem: there are way more offerings, creators and choices, and, at the same time, an order of magnitude more media outlets, each with far less power than Oprah or Johnny ever had).

More than twenty years ago, at what he then believed was the high point of his career, Marc Maron auditioned for Saturday Night Live. Lorne wasn’t impressed, nor was he kind, and Marc didn’t get picked to become a cast member.

Today, of course, Marc’s podcast is popular, lucrative and fun. Marc didn’t get there because someone picked him, he picked himself (in fact, now he’s the one getting pitched).

In the SNL instance, Marc had a career path where he needed to get picked. Unless a casting agent or booker picked him, he had nothing.

With his podcast, though, Marc might still want to get picked, but he’s going to do just fine if he’s not. By growing from the grassroots, Marc finds his own power. Not because he’s still doing the same thing. No, because he’s doing a different thing, in a different way, for a different audience, monetizing it differently.

The artist who struggles in obscurity, unfairly ignored because he hasn’t been picked–that’s a poignant sight. But at some point, the artist has the obligation to seek a different path, one that isn’t dependent on a system that doesn’t deserve him.

It’s easier than ever to imagine a successful project or career or organization that isn’t dependent on being picked by those with power.

If you’re frustrated that you’re not getting picked, one plan is to up your game, to hustle harder, to figure out how to hone a pitch and push, push, push. But in the era of picking yourself, it seems to me that you’re better off finding a path that doesn’t require you get picked in order to succeed.

Normally, I would have just tweeted that out and forwarded it to a few of my not so twitter savvy friends. (“I mean, if you don’t follow me on twitter… you don’t know how to use it properly,” says the man with the blog. =) But the very next day, Seth posted a ‘rebuttle’ to voices that suggest you only hear about people and projects because they are good.

But I don’t want to do that, I want to do this

Some of the response to yesterday’s post (and just about every time I talk about ‘picking yourself’) is predictable, sad and frustrated/frustrating. I’d have a lot easier time if I was in the business of telling people how to get picked, if I was working to uncover the proven, secret, time-saving tricks guaranteed to get you noticed…

“It’s my turn.”

I know you worked hard on paying your dues, on building your skills and in being next. We all know that. But that doesn’t mean that the picking system is going to work when you need it to. It’s not going to get you into the famous college of your dreams, or featured in a PR blitz or published by Knopf.

“The only way for me to do what I love (play the flute, trade stocks, volunteer with kids, spread the word about my cause…) is to get picked.”

This is, to be really frank, nonsense. If, for example, you graduated from the Eastman School of Music, there are many ways to play the cello that don’t involve auditioning for an orchestra. You can play house concerts, you can play on the street, you can build your own tribe, you can organize your own ad hoc orchestra. None of these things are official, none of these things are automatic, none of these things are guaranteed. So?

If you want to devote your work and your efforts to getting picked, that’s your choice, and more power to you. But I think it’s dangerous to start with the assumption that you have no choice.

I heard from a writer who invoked the Josh Bell story about the famous violinist who is treated shabbily by the mass commuter audience, because of course, to them, he’s not famous at all. This is supposed to be proof that it matters if you’re famous (picked) as opposed to good. In Josh’s case, he’s both. But if you can’t be picked to be famous, at least you can become remarkable.

If you can’t get invited to the main stage of TED, then do a TEDx talk, and make your talk so good it can’t help but spread. And if you can’t get invited to a TEDx, then start your own TED-like event. And if you can’t figure out how to organize people, connect them and lead them, perhaps you could focus more energy and risk on that very skill.

If you’ve built an app that won’t be profitable unless you’re featured on the front page of iTunes, the problem isn’t with the front page of iTunes, the problem is with the design of your app. Ideas built to spread are more likely to spread.

If your plan requires getting picked and you’re not getting picked, you need a new plan. I’m betting it will turn out far better in the end, but yes, indeed, I understand that it’s harder than being anointed. Your talent deserves the shift in strategy that will let you do your best work.

The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to pick yourself. The problem is that it’s frightening to pick yourself. It’s far easier to put your future into someone else’s hands than it is to slog your way forward, owning the results as you go.

Grateful Dead vs. Bay City Rollers.

Or like Nike says, “Just do it.” The gatekeepers don’t know what they’re guarding anymore and if you do something worthwhile, folks will find you. It’s an interesting perspective in a world still drunk off of studios, networks, lables and syndicates. It used to be that you had to choose between professional or amateur  Now you have to decide between having integrity and chasing the wind. Just do you. It’s like Cee Lo Green said about himself years ago, “I could be a pretty good thug but that wouldn’t compare to a great me.” Lables are out the window, build your brand.

When I get wound up and frustrated with the patience required with the process of being a filmmaker and artist, Seth usually says something like this that gives me permission to take a deep breath and relax.

If you want to start your day thinking about positioning yourself in business be it show-business or any other business, or if you’re a creator be it a writer, inventor or painter, Seth’s is a great place to start your day.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Godin’s work, he’s the author of

  • Tribes
  • The Purple Cow
  • The long Tail
  • The Icarus Deception
  • Linchpin
  • The Dip
  • V for Vulnerable
  • Unleashing the Idea Virus
  • What Are You Going To Do With That Duck?
  • All Marketers are Liars
  • We Are All Weird
  • The Big Moo
  • Small is the New Big
  • The Big Red Fez
  • Meatball Sundae
  • Free Prize Inside
  • And other titles.

If you’re not motivated by what Seth has to say, you’ve got to be impressed by how prolific he is.

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One Response to “Choose Yourself – Seth Godin on Filmmaking”

  1. Flora says:

    I posted a survey to ask how to best break into the film/tv industry just five seconds ago:-) All I had to do was follow Seth. You answered all my questions, calmed my middle aged jitters and made me laugh.

    You’re worthwhile knowin’.

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