Friday 12 February 2010

Criticism and Rejection.

A couple of years back, I met this musician. We were getting along really well, talking about each others projects. And we were both into the whole 'positive thinking' thing, and we were talking about how we hate all the negative people and all that stuff. We were like, y'know, everybody the day after they've just read 'The Secret.' It was all very inspiring and touching to have found a friend -- and I remember telling her how I hate the way that people can be belittling. What always really pissed me off was when people would say "how are your little films going?" and "Are you still doing the filmmaking? Still giving it a go?" It would always get to me. The musician woman agreed, she hated all that too. And then she said "what are you currently working on?"

"I'm just doing this little short film, nothing serious," came my reply.

"Aha!" she said, "just a LITTLE short film!" I was doing to myself EXACTLY what they do to me.

How could I expect others to think of my work as important and brilliant if I myself saw it as 'little' and 'nothing serious.' That's not how I see my work, it's not how I feel about my work - but I realised that, so often when talking about it, I put myself down. I started thinking back to screenings where there have been Q+A sessions. I always handled these Q+A sessions really well, I guess I was quite likeable because I'd always do this "I'm a little nobody making films and having fun" schtick, but it didn't really serve me that well, really, because I was putting myself down needlessly.

If you observe what you hate about the judgements and criticisms you receive, you can be pretty sure that you give them to yourself far worse. Just ask any actor heading into an audition. The Casting Director really doesn't need to judge the actor's acting, because the actor already has. In fact, most of the time, after auditioning for only six minutes; an actor will have, in their head, a definite perception of what the opinion was of their acting talents, height, weight, look, voice, personality. When rejection inevitably comes, it's usually because the person wasn't right for the role. But the person rejected knows the 'truth' - that it was because they're overweight, too short, with small breasts, weird eyes, a deep voice, and because they were boring. No-one else can really reject us when we're like this, because we do it to ourselves, over and over and over again.

The seeds of rejection get placed every day, moment to moment, in really subtle ways. I think we all have this successful version of ourselves that we dream about who sits on the Letterman couch, and playfully talks about their work like they're Tom Hanks promoting their latest flick. Yet we see this version of ourselves as who we'll be when we're ready/better/successful/had surgery/gained confidence/got rid of rustiness.

Not that the when-I-am-famous version of you is a complete waste. You should fantasise about it, really FEEL it. Feel what's it's like to have the role, be holding the award, spending the money. You'll probably feel relaxed and at ease now. You need to take that back with you to your audition/first draft/interview, because that's part of you, that's who you are -- you need access to that now rather than the self-hating, nervous-wreck you've become.

Take a moment to think of the criticism or way of being rejected that hurts you the most. And then notice how you do it to yourself. Criticism is painful. Really painful. But when someone tells you/implies that you're a wasteful, talentless, no good piece of shit - it's not really them that's hurting you, it's you, because deep down - you've feared those very things all along.

It doesn't have to be this way. Spot that voice in your head, the one that criticises you and second guesses you. It's like this.

I want to play that role.
You're not attractive enough. You're not interesting enough.

I am writing a screenplay about the NYPD.
What the fuck do you know about the NYPD? You're pathetic. Everyone will see the holes in your script!

I want to get back into acting again.
You're not ready! You're too much of a mess! You're rusty!.

I want to direct a feature.
you're not quite ready.

I want to think about directing a feature.
you're not quite ready.

I want to be a costume designer.
you're not quite ready.

Nobody is quite ready. You're only ready when you do it. It's just getting over that belief system that is the tricky part.

I speak like I'm an expert, I'm not, I am more than capable of smashing myself to pieces every single time. I guess all I'm saying is, to the rest of you, you're not alone, and we should talk about this stuff. And perhaps we should realise; it isn't earthquakes, genocides and terminal illnesses; it's film & TV. We should get up off the floor and go to the stuff that our inner child's demand.

Care to share?


  1. Great post and it doesn't apply only to acting, directing or writing but just about anything in life.

  2. You're right. Nothing seems likely until it happens.

  3. Excellent post - sometimes we hate acting like we know what we're doing so that those who DO know what they're doing (in our minds, just about everybody else) don't call us out on the fact that we're making it up as we go along.

    But EVERYONE is making it up as they go along!