It’s Summer. Good young people are graduating. Here’s some tips if you want to break into filmmaking. 

We all get caught up in the past. Thinking about things we should have done a bit differently or moves we should have made. Case in point, there are at least two key moments in my life that I messed up (there’s many more, but who’s counting? I am).

Both were meetings that were set up for me in Hollywood. One was with Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg’s company) and the other was with Disney. Pretty big meetings with pretty important people.

To give some context around this, this was in the nineties and I was in my twenties. I had arrived in LA about a year before, and was making more money than I thought possible working as an assistant propmaster on some very big commercials. Massive budgets. I was traveling around the country, had fallen into a very nice gig, and was naive enough to think that the money burning a hole in my pocket was the be all and end all. It’s easy to fall into that way of thinking.

So when I took these meetings, I didn’t have the right mindset. I wasn’t leaning in and I wasn’t nearly as eager as I should have been. I had a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.

Which was the kiss of death. Instead of being scrappy and saying ‘I’ll do whatever it takes ‘, I played it cool. Too cool for school.

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Gratitude is an interesting animal. If it’s at the front of how you carry yourself, it will kick open doors. If it’s forgotten, it will eat your opportunity for lunch until it’s gone. And though I was polite and professional, I didn’t truly understand the moment. Gratitude and excitement and wanting to get it done should have won the day. Instead, it took a backseat to my own hubris. The Disney job? It wasn’t offered to me and wasn’t a good fit anyway.

The Amblin job? I could have had that one. I would’ve had to take a huge paycut and start at the bottom again. I would’ve had to show some crazy incredible enthusiasm. But it was there for the taking. Right there.

And who knows where that would have taken me.

But that bird’s flown. Regret is an assassin. So the lesson is learned:

If you’re starting out, you’ll have to be scrappy. And eager. And excited. You may have to work for no money and endure even longer days. It might look ugly and you might think you’re above all that. And it might be true. You might be above all that.

But I wasn’t. I confused self-importance with reality. So do the work, play the looooong game, do whatever it takes. Look yourself squarely in the eye. All the other stuff doesn’t matter. Not the money, certainly not the title. Not any of that other B.S. at the outset.

What matters is the opportunity. Say yes to the universe. And go for it.

What’s your advice to your younger self?

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AuthorChris Donaldson