Perfectionism: The Destroyer of Worlds

Sarah FilmingI’m two weeks into writing my first feature film screenplay. It’s an idea I’ve been developing for five years with a stunning lack of dedication. I’ve spent far more time pitching the idea to people as something I was in the midst of writing, and at some point that started feeling like the truth.

Two months ago I was laid off my editing position at a Vancouver-based production company. It wasn’t unexpected as I was hired to fill the gap of work in between the major merger that the company was going though. Knowing my job was going to eventually end I started planning ahead for when it did. ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘I can finally buckle down and work on some projects.’.

And so, writing my screenplay become another bullet point on my long list of things I’m constantly putting off – including, but not limited to the following: working out, getting back into acting, finishing editing the short film I shot six months ago, dropping off that giant bag of clothes to the thrift store three blocks away from my house…and on and on.

I love structure. I love lists and excel spreadsheets and binders full of crisp white pages.

Going to university was almost a relief from the three years of minimum wage jobs and all night video game sessions that came after high school. I had a clear purpose and a clear goal.

After I graduated I didn’t lose that organized momentum. I interned at a theatre company and then the National Film Board, I worked various jobs on the set of several television programs and then started working with clients to document events or create promotional videos. I didn’t always have a job but I had a strong idea of what I needed to do to move forward.

I find that many strong qualities in people can often manifest themselves in very different ways. For example, I’m a perfectionist. Because of this I always did very well at the jobs I was hired for, which usually led to new ones once my contract had ended. This is something that I am very thankful for. But, on the flip side that perfectionism causes me to hold everything I create to such an impossibly high standard that it causes me to self-sabotage my work.

I mentioned previously that I was sitting on footage for a short film I shot earlier this year.

This was a major production in my career as an independent director – my first short film out of university which had a legitimate budget and an incredibly talented cast that agreed to go outside of their union fees to work with me.

It took two years from writing the script to getting it made. The script was shortlisted for the National Screen Institute Drama Prize, was chosen as one of four workshopped projects at The Whistler Film Festival and received a grant from The National Film Board. In the end with the assistance of a Indiegogo campaign, the grant we received and Aarrow Productions stepping in to co-produce we had $15,000 when we finally went to film.

We shot over two days, splitting our time between a large soundstage and a heritage hotel that we rented a portion of. I was able to pay the crew, the cast and rent all the equipment we wanted. I have never felt so comfortable being myself as I did during that shoot. I kept stopping and trying to take in everything so I wouldn’t forget it.

The shoot went well. This is where the perfectionism comes in handy: I had done so much work to prepare with my team that we were ready for anything. The entire weekend was an incredible experience that was largely without the stress and urgency that seemed unavoidable judging by how many pages we had to get through in a very short amount of time.

We wrapped and I very earnestly told everyone that I was going to start editing that next morning – and I honestly meant it. The film was backed up on three different drives, the audio was synched and the project file prepped and ready to go.

That was six months ago. That is where the other side of perfectionism began: That voice that tells you that nothing you do is good enough. Feeling like a fraud for convincing an entire group of people that you are a talented director. The fear that your best efforts are only painfully mediocre.

So I’ve had a difficult time completing the film.

I’m afraid of what I’ll discover about myself when I finish the final edit.

I understand that the first film of anyone is never going to be a masterpiece and no one expects that of me. But something inside me deeply believes that you’re either perfect or nothing. There is no spectrum in between.

This is not a healthy way to create art. This is something that often has me stalking away from the computer after I’m unable to write a perfect scene on my first attempt or banging on the keys on the piano when I hit a wrong note. I see creativity as something organic you have to nurture and I know that nothing can grow in these conditions.

With this mindset I often find myself holding others to an impossibly high bar, and sometimes I find myself going through the projects of people I don’t even know and picking apart what’s wrong with each of them. This has nothing to do with the quality of the work or the people involved – the person I’m really mad at is myself.

I know that no one holds me to as absurdly high of a standard as I do to myself. I know how unreasonable and ridiculous I’m being, paralyzing myself when I’m just starting to learn my craft. But most of all I know that this is something that has to stop, otherwise I really am going to be this mediocre and miserable person that I’m so afraid of becoming.

I set a space online where I’m challenging myself to post something every single day – stories, songs, artwork. They don’t have to be impressive, they don’t have to be refined and most of all they don’t have to be perfect.

This will be an ongoing project, posted at the apty named: Write Gooder


Sarah: I know that no one holds me to as absurdly high of a standard as I do to myself
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I have always been a storyteller – using my dolls as actors, writing in cramped cursive in my school notebooks and sometimes with a flashlight in the darkness to scare my sister before bedtime.

2 thoughts on “Sarah: I know that no one holds me to as absurdly high of a standard as I do to myself

    October 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    An artist once told me it takes 10 years of carving or painting before you can become a master of your craft. For writers and film makers it may be longer. You are. Dry talented so let yourself make a few mistakes because it’s part of the learning process.

  • Pingback:"Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval" -- I was late for my first shift as a Zombie at Fright Night's. This is What Happened... The Positivity Project

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