Good Experience vs. Bad Experience

We’ve heard the saying before, that “all experience is good experience, even a bad experience.”

That saying suggests that we learn something even from time wasted.

But, what if I told you that not all experiences are good for you, and in fact, some experiences can be harmful to your career. And, because of this, you ought to think twice before jumping at the next opportunity that comes your way.

Because not all opportunities are helpful; some are harmful.

Early in our careers we are filled with ambition and drive. We work those long hours in pursuit of our passion, pausing just long enough between gigs to catch our breath. But then one day, we wake up and find that those 12-18 hour days on set aren’t as exciting anymore. We discover that spending all night in subzero temps in the pursuit of “art” is way more challenging than it used to be.

One day we wake up to find that we’ve lost some ambition and drive.

Our Projects Affect Our Passion

What is it that changes us? Did we get older? Did we get wiser? Yeah, it’s a bit of all those, but in truth I know plenty of older film industry veterans who are as energized and busy as they were when they first started out.

So, I don’t think it’s the aging that changes us. I think it’s the types of projects we chose to work on that ultimately wear us down or build us up. And, if you’re not careful, choosing too many of the wrong projects can kill your passion.

After graduating film school it’s exciting to get a call from another filmmaker or production company saying they want you to crew for them. And when the phone’s not ringing off the hook, you often think it’s better to be busy and circulating amongst others than sitting at home. But, what you don’t see is that every challenging film shoot syphons a bit of your energy. And when a project that you put tons of time and effort into fails to ever see the light of day, or does nothing to move your career, it can be harmful to your career.

It can be a passion killer.

Not All Projects Are Equal

The good news is that moviemaking has gotten a whole lot easier than it used to be.
The bad news is that moviemaking has gotten a whole lot easier than it used to be.

What’s bad about it is that anyone can be a filmmaker, and with a bit of social media pizzazz someone with virtually no experience or schooling can promote themselves as the exact opposite.

At MPI, we spend part of the last semester educating filmmakers on what to look for when deciding whether to work with someone. What kind of credentials should a producer have to warrant working for them? If the producer lacks credibility, are they offering pay? If not, will the experience benefit your career in some way?

These are important questions to ask yourself. It’s also important to ask a potential employer for their credentials. And, if they lack experience, what might be the allure for you? An example might be that the production company is willing to give you a major crew position. Being Director of Photography on a feature right out of film school is certainly a notch in the career belt.

Beyond the producer’s track record, you should look to how the potential employer promotes their finished product. Do they take their films into the festival circuit? Do they spend a year with the film building awareness and trying to secure distribution? These things matter, as they ensure the film will find some kind of audience beyond a screening for friends. And, if a film can find an audience, it often proves a worthwhile experience.

A film needn’t be a blockbuster success in order for it to have been a valuable experience for you. But you want to be proud of it, and proud to say you worked on it. But if you walk onto the next film set and do your best to avoid bringing up a previous project, then it likely wasn’t good for you or your career. And working on too many of those can significantly impact your drive and passion.

Working on too many of those “go nowhere” projects can be a passion killer.

Choose Wisely

Remember, not all experience is good, especially if the experience drained some of your ambition and failed to do anything for your career. So, do your dreams a favor, and research the person you’re going to give your experience to. Just because Hollywood isn’t calling doesn’t mean that whoever IS calling is worth devoting so much time and energy to.

Chose your projects wisely and you’ll never run low on passion and drive.