At what point do you consider a project complete?
Hang around with a bunch of filmmakers and you’ll realize that nothing is ever entirely finished. There’s always something else to tinker with, a special effect to smooth over, a line of dialogue that could be reworked to be just a little bit better. Part of this is the creative process; the filmmaker looks at his work and sees places he wants to improve upon, no matter how good the subject material already is. Special effects-laden films tend to suffer from the “never finished” syndrome, reemerging every ten years or so to benefit from new technology. George Lucas is an easy example to point out, although some might argue he takes this to extremes.
So how do you decide you’re done, and that your project is ready for distribution? In some cases, it’s not a personal decision; the movie may have a deadline, and your production company may look at it, announce “it’s good enough for us,” and start in on a marketing campaign. In an ideal situation, though, you get to determine whether things are really wrapped up or not.
In the best-case scenario, it’s an intensely personal decision, one made after careful scrutiny of the film and everything related to it. Take note of what you’re doing. When you consider stopping the reel and making further changes, are you changing something because it really, truly needs to be changed? Or are you just adjusting things because you like making adjustments?
The curse of the creative individual is that the brain is always, always working. Nine times out of ten, you aren’t just looking at your movie and thinking “Aha, that’s a great flick.” No, your brain is going over all the reasons it isn’t working for you, all the lighting problems you’re just seeing now, all the ways the music could more appropriately highlight the emotional impact. As you play over these scenarios in your head, the movie becomes worse and worse, and suddenly this project you’ve spent months working on needs a complete reworking.
The thing to remember is that this happens to everyone in a creative field. Writers, artists, musicians, and moviemakers all go through phases where they can’t stand the work they’ve completed, where they look at their project and feel the thing needs to be gutted if they hope to salvage it.
The key is not to do that until you know you actually need to.
But how do you decide you need to?
That’s where we’ll pick up next month…