My wife took me to a movie last week called “Freedom Writers.” Starring Hillary Swank, it’s the story of an idealistic young teacher who goes into an East Lost Angeles high school to teach English. Stuck with Freshman English, her class is a mix of Latin, African-American, and Asian students with a single white kid tossed in. It’s a violent world, and most kids are divided by gang affiliation, but she grows to love them.
Once she begins to see the horrible world they live in, she works even harder to gain their trust. The school district doesn’t support her, (they’ve given up) so she gets 2 extra jobs to help pay for books and field trips.
She really discovers her passion working with the kids. In the Christian world, we’d say she found her calling. It gave her a new reason for living, and she poured her life into the work with remarkable results.
But she paid a steep price. The school administrators wouldn’t support her, other teachers hated her, and her husband finally left her (this was not what he bargained for in a marriage). And without his support, she eventually lost her house.
But at her lowest point, her father made an interesting statement: “In spite of everything, you’re lucky you’re one of the few people born with a burden.”
When I was a young filmmaker, I thought it was all about filmmaking. So I learned to operate a camera, learned to edit, took workshops and seminars around the country. I focused on technique. But I eventually realized I was a good filmmaker, but had nothing to say. It took me many years to realize that it’s not about filmmaking, it’s about the burden.
What’s your burden? What do you have to tell the world? What keeps you up at night? Until you know your burden, you’ll never create a film or television program worth anything.
In a perfect world, there should be a balance between burden and technique. Every week I receive screenplays, pitches, or proposals in my office from people with a burden, but no technique. Badly written scripts, inept proposals. Most from a deep burden, but almost all without any technique, or knowledge how to make it happen.
On the other hand, in my work producing secular commercials, I often see brilliant execution from filmmakers with nothing to say. They spend their lives doing brilliant commercials for clients – the kind you see on the Super Bowl broadcast, but they never are able to get their own projects off the ground.
That’s why we need that balance. Become the best writer, director, producer – or whatever – you can possibly be, then discover your burden. What’s the story or issue that defines your life? What do you want on your gravestone? What do you want the world to remember?
Why are you here?