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During my first term at UCLA, I had the privilege of taking a class with Howard Suber. For anyone interested in how stories are told –be they in books or on the big screen — or merely in human nature and the patterns of human behavior, his perspective is consistently enlightening and often entertaining. His book, The Power of Film, is one of the best books I have read about character and story.

But all this is merely preface for what I’m getting at.

Yesterday, during our last day of class, Howard discussed the importance of what he calls the GOYA principle (Get Off Your Ass). The course itself is geared primarily towards filmmakers, be they screenwriters or producers or directors (or some combination of the three). The focus of his argument was that one shouldn’t wait until one has funding before making a movie. You just make the movie — and you’ll find the necessary funds along the way. 

But the point is that you make, you create, because you have to. And you keep doing it, over and over. Partly because that’s who you are, and what you do, if you are an artist, but also because you have to create in order to discover your voice, your signature. Others will recognize your own potential only after you, first, have recognized it — and done something about it.

In movies, the hero is often told “you’ll never amount to anything,” and at the point in the film where this is said, it is true. Because at that point, the hero has not discovered his or her voice. But we know, as experienced moviegoers, when someone says that to a hero, that it is only a matter of time until the hero does discover his or her voice, and then the awesomeness happens.

Courage, for the hero, is boring. We are used to seeing courage on the big screen. Bravery, on its own, is overrated. What is interesting is defiance — when the hero defies the odds in order to find his or her voice. That’s what we love to see, and that’s what we must remember in terms of our own lives and our own projects. 

So first, we need defiance against the “odds” — and we all know how many odds are against us: finances, recognition, distribution, time, resources, self-doubt, just for starters…

But then, secondly, and this is another time where life imitates art, the discovery of the “answer,” of your voice or signature or sound, often comes accidentally. It may be something discovered while looking for something else, as was the case with penicillin. The crucial part, the significant part, the life or death part, is that you are paying attention enough to recognize it–and then duplicate it. We need to be paying attention.

Like with penicillin, most would have just thrown out a moldy petri dish, rather than dig deeper (and discover antibiotics). Life gives you a million opportunities. The question is how many of them you notice and actually pursue.

So not only do you need perseverance, but you need to be paying attention. Sometimes that thing you think you want so badly ends up being irrelevant — except for the fact that it leads you somewhere else entirely.

But you’re never going to get there if you don’t get off your ass. Make something.

And remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t have the luxury of the Rocky montage. You’ve got to live each day wondering if you’re going to get anywhere and somehow believing that you will. Maybe you’ll be the exception, but it’s more likely that success will happen slower than you ever imagined. And that everyone else around you will seem to get that elusive success faster (or at least that’s how it will feel to you). Or maybe they’ll just get married and get promoted and buy houses and have kids, while you’re still trying to make your next movie. And you’ll feel like a failure because every hurdle that you face seems smaller than the one just around the corner.

But if it was easier, everyone would do it.

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