Written by: Jill Remensnyder
I’m pretty good about keeping a positive outlook on projects. Go on Facebook or Twitter and all you have to do is post a comment about starting a new script or going into preproduction on your next film and you’ll have enough encouragement to take over the world. Social media provides some of the best self-medication on the market. If it weren’t for the daily affirmations, inspirational quotes, and upbeat updates from my friends about their writing and film projects I probably couldn’t get through the day.
Then it happens. There’s always that one person who posts something that makes you stop what you’re doing and ask yourself, “Does this apply to me?” The post I’m referring to happened the other day. It’s a quote from business consultant and author Jim Collins: Good is the enemy of great.
Dammit. This applies to me.
Coincidentally, moments before I read this I was raked over the coals about a story I’d been developing for the past eight months. It’s my own fault- I thought the story was so clever with all the twists, cliffhangers, and the big payoff at the end that was going to leave the audience speechless… If I died the next day I could rest for eternity knowing my swan song would be heard, produced, screened, and go down in history as a story well told. I pitched all my ideas to the director I’m collaborating with and waited for him to respond, preferably with some sort of trophy or award for my awesomeness. After a long pause he shrugged and said, “Meh. It’s good- but not great. What else you got?” I couldn’t respond. He killed my swan.
Good- but not great. Acceptable. Common. Average. Mediocre. Meh.
Let’s differentiate the difference between good and great. You wrote a script that’s good? Just finished editing a project that’s good? The world is full of good- people are doing good quality work on a daily basis. If it were easy, everyone would do it and they are. Great projects go above and beyond your expectations. They’re satisfying, memorable, and leave you wishing to aspire to the same level of quality.
Good gets the job done, but great gets you places.
It’s natural for any artist to question the validity and quality of their work. It’s imperative that we not only question our work, we seek answers to improve it. Sometimes coming up with the idea, nurturing it, and working through numerous drafts and edits is the easy part of creativity. How do you maintain momentum, especially when doubts start creeping into your head? You keep going.
Practice makes perfect. If that means being prolific and creating copious amounts of content in order to practice your craft, stay sharp, and improve yourself, by all means do it. Just make sure you’re challenging yourself to do your best work. For those who come from the quality over quantity camp, that’s fine too. Same rules apply. The only difference might be that the prolific artists are working at breakneck speeds and you’re creeping along like a character out of Barry Lyndon. Whether it’s a script, a film, a stop-motion animation, or any artistic medium, it’s a huge time commitment. Make sure it’s your best work for the sake of growing as an artist and all the people involved in bringing your vision to life.
Don’t adopt an attitude of “But so many awful films get made! There’s a huge market for crap!”
The world doesn’t need any more films about bad breakups that take place in coffee shops, fueled by an alternative soundtrack consisting of your favorite songs. Especially when the protagonist wakes up at the end of the film and it was all a dream. Unless you can do it in a way that’s never been done before and will keep audience members glued to their seats in spite of gulping down a 48 ounce soda before the trailers have even finished, by all means go for it.
But who determines what’s really Good vs. Great? It’s subjective. We learned that from Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012. Your good project might be exceptional to someone with the money and power to get it made. Then again, your great work- the best you can give- might be less than memorable and just average to the same person.
You might have a project that you know in your heart of hearts is the greatest thing you’ve ever made. But what if only a few people embrace your vision? Don’t be so quick to give up your baby just because it doesn’t speak to everyone. Revolutionaries are never very popular coming out the gate, only after the fact. Antonioni’s L’Avventura was so poorly received during its premiere at Cannes that he fled the theater in fear of being eaten alive. It went on to win the Jury Prize and garnered critical acclaim. (Personally, I didn’t care for the film and thought it was pretty weird. Different strokes for different folks, right?) Antonioni didn’t give up and neither should you.
How do I turn good into great?
I spent eight months (grrr) putting together this puzzle. There’s a good chance it’s going to take another eight months to rework my story and – if I’m lucky – finish it. This goes beyond typing FADE OUT at the end of the first draft. It means refining until it stands out from the crowd- that stands above the crowd.
Don’t settle for being good.
Could your script use another table read and some dialogue edits? Maybe you could tighten up the opening of that video you shot and edited. There are always opportunities to turn good into great. Don’t be one of these jokers who constantly posts online how moved they are by their own writing, or how great their next film is going to be. Let your work speak for itself. It’s easy to let people know whether or not something is good- it’s a hell of a lot harder to stop someone in their tracks and say that was great.
The good news is my swan survived. Will it make a full recovery and go from good to great? I hope so.
My name’s Jill Remensnyder and I’m a freelance writer and producer based in Portland, Oregon. I dove into film production headfirst in 1998. One term shy of earning my BA in Theater Arts, it seemed logical to put everything on hold in order to write, direct and produce a feature film. The following year I took my finished film to the Cannes Marketplace and doors started to open for future writing and production opportunities.