I'm dedicating this blog post to my dad, Paul Dreyer. Have fun watching basketball with the rest of the Dreyer guys! And get some sleep.
And at times, extremely intense. I have not been able to avoid the irony of debuting a film called Fear while being gripped by intense fear, plus the hundreds of times I've written the word "fear" as I write and revise our press materials.
Late last night, after very little sleep the night before, several hours of fruitless work, and a midnight deadline approaching, I may have have started to weep while talking on the phone with my Dad.
It was like what I've seen with toddlers who are resisting taking their nap, or going to bed at night. There's a collapse that happens at the cellular level. It's like watching a human being suddenly turn into pixels and then all of the tiny colored squares fall to the ground.
My Dad stuck with me through this particular incident, even though it was (eventually) after midnight and he had to be at the airport the next morning by 5 AM. (I don't know that it would have made a difference in what happened, but I did not have this piece of information at the time.)
This isn't the first time my Dad's been there for me with a deadline fast approaching. There was that time in 1984 when my ninth grade science fair project was due, for example. And a few times since then.
One of the many pieces of content requested by Tribeca was the "Filmmaker Interview." My response to one particular question seemed particularly relevant when I woke up this morning. Both are below.
It’s Friday, December 4, 2015, and the Tribeca Film Festival’s submission deadline for short films is at 6 PM. I’ve got everything ready to go except for one single empty box. I am possessed. I have lost my sense of time.
I move around sentence fragments, trade out compound phrases for single words, cut adjectives.
I must find the exact 50 words that will perfectly describe my film.
At 5:20 I stop. I realize that the number of ideas I’m trying to squish into the required word count will not fit, maybe ever, but definitely not by the submission deadline. I give myself an ultimatum: whatever I’ve written at 5:30 will be what goes into the box.
I tell myself: these 50 words will not be the deciding factor about whether FEAR is accepted or rejected by the festival.
At 5:30, I paste my description into the form and by 5:40 it’s out of my hands and heading north.
Twenty minutes. There they were, those beautiful minutes, relaxed and inhabiting the shiny gap between potential and failure. That day, I took my ultimatum seriously. It might have been because I was holding myself accountable to my co-director, Andrea, or that I didn’t have anything riding on whether or not Fear was accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival. It was kind of a “why the hell not, you never know” decision.
Twenty minutes might not seem like a lot (no chiming in about submitting the day before the deadline — whatever). But it is to me, because perfectionism has cost me so many incredible opportunities, or made them much more difficult than they needed to be, leaving me too worn out to look forward to building on my achievements. The hardest thing has been missing out on opportunities for collaboration, which requires letting go of work before it’s perfect so other people can join me in the creative process.
I’ve gotten much better about identifying and resisting the siren’s call of perfectionism. As I’ve approached Tribeca and other opportunities for my work to find a wider audience, I feel like my perfectionism has responded by growing larger, as if this is its last chance to protect me from such foolish and dangerous escapades. Right now, I feel like I am dragging around the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man of Perfectionism. And it’s very human for me to be experiencing fear. I cannot predict the future and new experiences are heading my way. The fear isn’t the issue. It’s the brain freeze and how useless I’ve become as an evaluator of the content I produce. I write and rewrite until the writing process closely resembles several painful and simultaneous acts of plastic surgery.
The irony of fear stalling a publicity campaign for a film called Fear is not lost on me.
Fear’s tagline — “Sometimes, the only thing to fear is fear itself” — approximates my current situation. The big difference between now and years past, when a painful combination of depression, shame, and perfectionism formed an insurmountable entity of evil, is that now I have a last ditch strategy. I ask for help, a lot of help. I tell the same people (shout out to Mercury Studio, Durham, my awesome co-working community) I celebrated with when Fear was accepted into Tribeca that I am now sucking all the joy out of the experience. Just telling them helped. Learning I was not alone in taking this particular approach to success was a bonus.
I don’t expect every act of imperfection to result in an event on par with participation in the Tribeca Film Festival in a program guest curated by Whoopi Goldberg. That would be unrealistic. But I can only keep moving forward as a documentary maker — and as a human being — by strengthening my capacity for imperfection. I truly believe that “good enough” + collaboration paves the way to pretty damn great.