Round-up: when your kid wants to make movies

Life is slowly returning to normal around here. The kids are both back in school, the power is on, and we got an unexpected side benefit from Hurricane Sandy: a family get-together (as other parts of the clan are still without power). Sleepovers with cousins rock.

In the news this week…I keep thinking about a guest post at the NY Times’ Motherlode blog from Dan Fleshler called “Help — My Daughter Wants to Make Movies.” Fleshler’s daughter is about to graduate from college, and wants to make documentary films that will change the world. He’s torn about what to tell her. After all, he wanted to be a novelist and wound up in PR. Public relations turns out to feature jobs with steady paychecks and health insurance. He wants to encourage his daughter to do something where she can make a living. On the other hand, there are plenty of people in this world who will step on her dreams. Why should her own father do it too?

My husband and I have conversations about this sort of thing all the time. What would we say if one of our children grew up and told us he/she wanted to be an artist? A choreographer? A musician? My husband is a bit circumspect. I tend to think, why not? At least while you’re young you can try it. You can also be smart about it. There are certain skills necessary to make a living in a creative field which, from my conversations with people in the above categories, I tend to think are pretty universal.

1. You need to be a good networker. That’s important in all fields, but especially in fields that constantly involve finding new projects and that don’t have clear career paths. If you know you want a certain kind of career, college is a great time to try to meet people in that field, because people are shockingly willing to help students. Random people are a different matter.

2. You need a portfolio. Start working on stuff you can show people. If you want to be a choreographer, for instance, you need to be choreographing dances and getting dancers to perform them, and taping them so you can show them to interested parties. 

3. You need to be entrepreneurial. In the above example, if you’re just choreographing your first pieces, you might need to put together your own dance troupe of other choreographers and dance students pliable with pizza (or salad, as the case may be) to stage your works. Then you’d help stage other choreographers’ works. No one is just going to hand you a crew of dancers, a performance venue and a check until you’re, like, Twyla Tharp.

4. You need to be patient. Over time, you will get better, your network will improve, and you’ll start to have more work. Fleshler mentions that he wrote two novels that never got published. I think I’m up to four! 

5. You need to be OK with loving 50-75% of your work. Frankly, I think this is plenty. It beats the average job, where you love 25% or less! There are lots of ways a documentary filmmaker can make money in related projects. Book trailers seem to be a good business. So are wedding documentaries and family histories. With 168 hours in a week, there’s enough time to do those lines of work and save the world too. Plus, you never know when someone you meet on a book trailer project will turn out to have a connection that will be very helpful to you in the high art part of your work, too.

I may write more about this topic in future posts, because I think it’s a good one.

In other news:

The Frugal Girl is continuing with her Christmas series. I liked this one on “Ten Christmas Experience Ideas,” and I also liked a previous post on “More Experiences, Less Stuff.” The goal is not to simplify Christmas just to simplify. It’s to make it merry.

Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids suggests “Let’s Kill the ‘Kids Get Poisoned On Halloween!’ Myth.” There’s no epidemic of neighbors poisoning apples that they give to kids who come to their doors. This seems to be one of those dark cultural narratives that are more about our deep fears than our rational ones. Which brings up an interesting, if not entirely related question: at what age do you consider kids old enough to trick or treat on their own (or supervise their younger siblings)?

I started watching HBO’s Weight of the Nation documentaries. They posted the whole movies online. I’m really fascinated by the obesity crisis in America (I’m not sure why).

I recently came across Teachers Pay Teachers, a website where teachers can buy other teachers’ lesson plans. I think it is awesome. If teachers put a lot of time and effort into making a great lesson on some topic, why not make some extra cash off that? It’s also highly efficient for other teachers. You can get what your peers have decreed is a great lesson on, say, metaphor, quickly and easily.



6 Responses to Round-up: when your kid wants to make movies


  1. Leslie H says:

    A great book on the subject of choosing an unconventional career is Quitter by Jon Acuff. It’s full of wise moves for using a conventional job to get to your dream job. I got a copy for my 4 twenty-something children, who have dreams beyond what they are currently doing. I learned from it too because, as a fifty-something, I still have a few dreams I want to pursue. The practicalities of life can be stifling sometimes, but Acuff encourages you to use the mundane to accomplish your dreams. Great read — and it expands on the list you’ve given above.

    • Laura says:

      @Leslie H – adding it to the book pile! (or electronic book pile as the case may be)

  2. Twin Mom says:

    I think you have a good list. One point I would also include is location. My husband’s job in rural Oregon definitely limits my options right now. How do you think your writing career would have progressed differently if you had stayed in Indiana? The internet facilitates communication with people we know or people they know, but I have not found it as useful for making truly new connections.

    • Laura says:

      @Twin Mom- one of the reasons I moved to New York is because I thought it would be easier to make connections in my industry. That turned out to be partially true, not 100% true. The writers I know who live elsewhere make a few networking trips per year to NY or DC (esp if they cover politics, policy, etc) The brilliance of the internet is that you don’t have to see people daily/weekly/monthly to stay in touch. I’ve met most of my editors in person (not all of them!) but not many times.

  3. Nother Barb says:

    Timely post, as my son is a freshman majoring in (gulp) acting. In looking at the bios of local theater company members, I notice that in a single company a good number went to the same college, across many years. So it appears that the Entrepreneurial spirit started the company, Networking builds it, Patience keeps it going, it helps members build Portfolios, and, since many seem to also have other jobs, they must Enjoy half their work. Twin Mom is right on about Location, too: we live in a great midwestern theater town with plenty of established theaters and new ones coming and going all the time. I’d be happy if my son were established in regional theater so we can see him perform from time to time, and so there are more opportunities for work in-between or concurrent with roles. (His department chair is quite clear on this: they WILL have other jobs along the way.)

  4. Nother Barb says:

    I meant to point out that this is true in many theater companies, not just in one particular one.