One of the hardest decisions to make as a filmmaker is which project to do. When it comes to making a decision as to whether or not to embark on a new project, it is important to consider is the cost. Every project will cost you three things: time, money, and energy. In fact, you could make the argument that most things in life will cost you in those three ways.
To ultimately make the decision, I ask myself two questions. The first is: Do I have the time, money, and energy to do this project? The second: Am I willing to spend the time, money, and energy to do this project? Answering these questions will tell you if any project is worth doing, but some of these factors tend to outweigh others.
Time is always against you as a filmmaker. Finding the time to do your passion project while you’re trying to earn a living is never easy. I’ve made movies while working a full-time job, and it’s difficult. When I had a day job, I shot on the weekends and edited weeknights after work. It wasn’t easy. It sapped a lot of my energy. I didn’t have a lot left over when I went to work the next day after staying up late working on an edit, but I was able to finish the project because I was willing to spend the time, even it took me twice as long as it would have if I didn’t have the day job. If you’re working a project in your spare time, just be patient and realize it’ll take you a bit longer, but if it’s worth it you’ll be able to finish what you started.
Then there’s the question of money. Doesn’t it always come down to money? Let’s say you have a great idea, and you have the time and the energy to do it, but you don’t have the money. Can you get the money? Can you complete the project on a smaller budget? I’ve had many instances where I had the will and the time to do a project but no budget. You can do a lot with time and energy, but no project costs nothing. Even shorts I’ve filmed in a day and edited over the weekend have cost me something (lunch for the cast and crew, props, media, etc.).
If you don’t have what you need, are you willing to spend the money to get it? How do you get around not having enough money? Be creative, be flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors and always look for bargains. If you can’t afford to buy or rent equipment, borrow it from a friend, or better yet, ask him to be a part of the production. There’s always a way if you’re willing to work to get there.
Having the stamina to finish a project is just as important as starting it. It takes a great deal of passion to do that. The best project is one you can finish. It can be demoralizing to start a project and not complete it, so whatever you choose, make sure you can take it through to the end. Anyone can start a film, finishing one is what makes you a filmmaker.
Then there’s the second question, the “will” side of the equation. You may have everything you need to do the project: time, money, and energy, but is it worth it to you? Having the passion to do a project is just as important as having the know-how. In some cases it’s more important.
What’s in it for you doesn’t always have to be a question of monetary gain. It can be a chance to work with good actors, or a great writer, or a DP you like. A project can also be a chance to sharpen your skills as an artist, make you a better writer, director, cameraman, editor, etc. When I made The Jessica Project, it was all about seeing if I could make a series depending on myself as the entire crew. At the time, I hadn’t directed in a while. I wanted to get in shape as a filmmaker, and I used that project as an exercise. Sometimes we need that. The creative muscle must be used, stretched, and worked if it is to be of use when we need it. Sometimes doing a small project is the perfect way to flex that muscle.
My suggestion is, if you’re just starting out, is to start with a smaller project, something you know you can complete. Make a short movie that you can shoot in a day with some people you can trust to show up on time and do their parts for the production. Finishing a project is a good way to build confidence in yourself. Even if the project isn’t perfect, you’ll have a finished film and learn a ton of valuable lessons.
As I’ve gotten older and more experienced I’ve found these decisions to be more difficult. They stakes of every project are raised when you have limited time. It’s important to weigh the options carefully and figure out which project will get you closer to your goal.