THE CURSE OF EARLY SUCCESS
In 2012, I made my first proper short film, An Saileach. Just myself, my relatively cheap little camera and one actor. It was filmed across the road from my house in London, with my actor friend, James Barbour, playing the lead and only role.
The soundscape for the whole piece were lyrics that I wrote, which were performed to the tune of Mo Ghile Mear by my actress/singer friend, Margaret Kilcoyne. I recorded her singing in my kitchen. It was made with zero budget and the entire film is one minute long (I have linked it below). A simple film by most standards.
I entered the film into a small number of festivals so see what the process was like (yes, I had not even experienced entering a film festival) and to my great surprise, the film got selected for a number of them, with the biggest being Raindance Film Festival in London. I genuinely could not believe it. The lad from Cork did well for himself. Some friends flew over from Ireland for the screening and we had a proper Irish knees up. What a night!
Then came the next question and a question I grappled with for a number of years after, where do I go from here? In reality I had no idea what I was doing. Still very much a novice. In my eyes, the success of the film had been somewhat of a fluke. It was certainly very unexpected and it was my inexperience of the film world that lay down the struggle that followed. In hindsight, it was actually quite a lonely place to be. Feeling out of my depth. Fake it til you make it is all well and good but it takes its toll.
The festival success was the start of long journey of being overly self-critical. Anger at my apparent lack of progression after the film - how can anyone be this lazy? Anger at my apparent lack of talent - how could I ever even think I was a good filmmaker? Anger at my lack of technical knowledge - how could anyone know so little? The voice of judgment was loud and clear and many a night I would wonder what the hell am I going to do? Rarely did I publicly show the lack of confidence but it was there every step of the way.
But with all things, time is a great healer and unbeknownst to myself, a little part of my brain decided to ignore the bombastic and confrontational voice of judgment and simply got on with it. Small project after small project. Smaller but important achievements along the way. Never boastful, never comparing to events gone by. Over time, the judgement over the early success began to wain and the voice of reason found some confidence. "Look at this achievement". "Look at that achievement". Small words of encouragement here and there. Small words that over time add up to something much greater.
It's almost been ten years since I made An Saileach. I was not ready for the small success it had and if I had the chance to go back and give myself one bit of advice, it would be this. Once you complete one project, move on to the next. It's important to celebrate the wins, even the smallest wins but if you think that success is the end goal of anything you create, then you're in big trouble. Success can be intoxicating. It gives you a false sense of your own importance. You feel invincible and it is that feeling that can come back to bite you in the arse.
I am now older, wiser and far more up to speed with this world of moving images. The end goal is no longer the focus. The focus is the process. Building up a body of work that I am proud of (nearly 250 projects completed to date). I recently got selected as a finalist in the David Puttnam screenwriting award, a first for my screenwriting.
I teach a film program in France. Helping my students learn the fundamentals of filmmaking and helping them find the love for their own process. At least I hope they learn that. Perhaps, like my younger self, they also yearn for success and maybe reaching that point and realising how empty it all is, is a rite of passage for us all. I just hope that it comes much later in their film careers than it did for me. Time is a great healer and a great teacher. I'm grateful to still be alive and kicking in the film world and I love it more now than I ever have.
An Saileach - one minute short film
Produced/Written/Directed/Filmed/Edited by Brian Benjamin Dwyer
Thanks for reading.
Brian Benjamin Dwyer
Madra Mór Productions